Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Chick-fil-a's online menu

Chick-fil-a’s online menu

Poring over millions of travel expense reports always reveals some interesting data gems. For example, business travelers have a new found love for Chick-fil-a. We are also ordering take out food to eat in our hotel rooms more frequently.

That’s what we are hearing this week from Certify, a big expense management software company that analyzes several million expense reports to create its quarterly SpendSmart Report.

The most-expensed vendors from last quarter include Starbucks, Delta, Marriott, National Car Rental, as well as Costco, Shell and Amazon.

Certify says that meals constituted 21% of all travel and entertainment (T&E) receipts it analyzed,  followed by airlines (16%), hotels (13%) and car rentals (5%).

Here are some other interesting nuggets from the latest Certify study. See the infographic below, too.

>Business travelers love fast food, especially Chick-fil-A, which was the highest rated. Chipotle and Dunkin Donuts round out the top three highest rated restaurants. (I’m not sure if this is because we love fast food, or it’s ubiquity…maybe a little of both?)

>We also love to eat in our hotel rooms. In New York, a restaurant food delivery company called Seamless is now the #1 most expensed restaurant vendor the city, beating out Starbucks.

>Delta is the most expensed airline followed by United and American, but Southwest and Alaska are the highest rated.

>The cheapest place for dinner on the road is Philadelphia, averaging $37, while the cheapest lodging is in Dallas at an average $205 per night.

>The priciest town for dinner and hotel is, as always, New York at an average $71 for dinner and a whopping $422 per night for hotel, while Houston came in as the next highest city at $315 per night.

Where do YOU eat out most often when you are on the road? Is fast food a staple for you? Leave your comments below the infographic!

–Chris McGinnis

Speaking of spending: Are you in the market for a new credit card? How about a big fat sign up bonus? This week the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card bumped its sign up bonus to a whopping 70,000 points for a limited time. Plus you get one free night at a class 1-5 hotel just for signing up and spending $2000 in the first three months. Learn more on our Best Credit Cards for Business Travelers page.

 

SpendSmart_Q2_14_shorten-01-(1)

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

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

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

AIRPORTS

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

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

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

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

 GROUND

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

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

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

INTERNATIONAL

An Air India Boeing 777 (Photo: Tom Turner)

An Air India Boeing 777 (Photo: Tom Turner)

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

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

HOTELS

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

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

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

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

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

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

– Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

This is a screenshot of Gogo pricing on a recent BOS>SFO flight (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

This is a screenshot of Gogo pricing on a recent BOS>SFO flight (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

During long summer flights, one of the best ways to tune out the crowded, hot conditions on the plane is focus on something else… like your email or social networking sites.

Thankfully, getting connected via wi-fi in the air is getting easier and faster thanks to advances in technology.

But it’s not getting any cheaper.

With the price for purchasing a day pass with Gogo during a flight now topping $30, here’s some advice on how to save some money.

Gogo is by far the largest inflight wi-fi provider, offering service on more than 2,000 planes including those of Delta, Virgin America, Alaska, United (p.s. flights), American, US Airways and AirTran among others.

The easiest way to save money is to PRE-purchase a Gogo day pass for $16 from the Gogoair.com web site (that rate increased $2 this month from $14). Even if you don’t end up using the pass on the intended flight, it’s good for a year so you can use it later.

The key to saving money with Gogo is to PRE-purchase your pass

The key to saving money with Gogo is to PRE-purchase your pass

Another good way to save is to pre-purchase a smartphone day pass for just $8. It won’t work with your laptop or tablet, but if all you plan to do is monitor email and check in on social sites with your phone, this is an excellent, money-saving option. (Plus, it’s increasingly tough to get the laptop open when flying in coach anyway!)

On shorter flights, or for just a quick check in on longer flights, Gogo offers a 1-hour pass for just $5.

Now, for those technological advancements. Last year Gogo began rolling out a newer, 3x faster service called ATG-4. At first, only a handful of planes had ATG-4 onboard, but rollout is now at a rapid clip.  For example, Virgin America announced this week that all 53 of its A320 aircraft how have the newer, faster service. (You know your plane has ATG-4 when you look at the plane and see two toaster sized white bumps on the  side of the fuselage, as well as a fin-like antenna on the bottom. See video below.) Delta says that about half of it’s wi-fi enabled fleet now has ATG-4 installed.

On recent Virgin flights with ATG-4, I’ve definitely noticed a difference. It’s not perfect, but it’s better.

Did you know that Uber is now offering $30 off your first ride when signing up via links on TravelSkills? Come on! Sign up and ride in style! 

Gogo and other providers like Honeywell and Panasonic are busy working on new satellite-based solutions to balky inflight connections, which is great news. The problem is that the new systems will not be widespread for years. I’ve heard a handful of positive reviews of JetBlue’s new Fly-Fi system (now on 49 planes @$9 per hour but free during beta), but have not had a chance to try it yet. Have you? My experience with United’s satellite-based system has been spotty at best (it’s been “out of service” on nearly every flight for me), but I did receive emails from a TravelSkills reader flying to Australia recently, which is a pretty cool feat when you think about it!

To me, inflight wi-fi is the greatest thing to happen to business travel since the rollout of the jet engine on commercial flights. Even though the technology is far from perfect, I’ve used it enough to know that I’m not going to get the same speed or reliability that I get at home or the office. And there are times I don’t get the service at all, which only serve to remind me how reliant I’ve become on having wi-fi on the plane.

What about you? What’s your experience been with in-flight wi-fi? Have you used systems other than Gogo on airlines such as JetBlue or United or Southwest? Please let us know about your experience.

–Chris McGinnis

(Disclosure: Gogo is a regular sponsor of the #TravelSkills chat on Twitter www.travelskills.com/chat. Virgin America is a sponsor of this blog.)

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5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

Southwest 737 decked out in California state flag livery (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Southwest 737 decked out in California state flag livery (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

By now we all know this summer is toast when it comes to airfare deals. That means bargain hunters have had to wait around for any honest-to-goodness bargains.

Those deals arrived today.

This morning Southwest Airlines and AirTran kicked off a big three-day fare sale for late summer (and fall) trips starting Monday, August 25 and running through Wednesday, December 17 that other airlines are sure to match. (UPDATE: So far, we’ve seen matching sale fare pages posted from JetBlue, Virgin America , Delta, United, American )

To get the deals, you must book now through Thursday, June 5 at midnight in your time zone.

Get two free round-trips on Southwest! Click here for details

These deals are great for late summer…and pretty good for the slower fall season. You can bet your sweet bippy that those late summer fares will be snapped up in just the first few hours of this sale, so act fast.

Or, if you get stuck and can’t find a sale seat, check competing airlines that might be slow to match the sale, and have not sold out.

Examples:

$100 round-trip between Chicago and Memphis or Baltimore and Boston; San Francisco and Las Vegas

$200 round-trip between Atlanta and New York or Ft Lauderdale; Seattle and San Diego or Austin and Denver; Oakland to Denver or Phoenix

$260 round-trip between Washington DC  and Houston Hobby

$300 round-trip between Atlanta or Chicago and  Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco

Find sale fares on Southwest Airlines website

There are restrictions: Sale fares are not available on Fridays or Sundays, the busiest days of the week for flying. Blackout dates are September 1 (Labor Day) and November 21-December 2 (Thanksgiving).

If you are planning to fly to/from Nevada or Florida, here’s a weird rule in Southwest’s fine print: “Travel to Florida or Nevada is valid Sunday through Wednesday only.  Additionally, travel from Florida or Nevada valid Tuesday through Friday only.  Travel between Nevada and Florida is valid on Tuesdays and Wednesdays only.”

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

Chris McGinnis

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Virgin America wants YOU, business traveler

(Photo: Virgin America)

(Photo: Virgin America)

Fresh from announcing its first annual profit, San Francisco-based Virgin America is busting out all over.  This week it proudly announced that that US Department of Justice selected Virgin alone to compete with Southwest Airlines at close in, convenient Dallas Love Field (DAL). It’s also making other moves to make it more attractive to business travelers. (Previous post)

First, let’s look at Dallas. Attempting to set its sassy self apart from Southwest’s no-frills flights, Virgin’s announcement stated that it will be, “the only carrier at DAL to offer a consistent, upscale product on every flight with three classes of service [first, premium economy, economy], as well as wi-fi, in seat power outlets, confirmed seating and touch-screen seat back entertainment.”

Part of what has held Virgin back on some routes is its thin schedule, something that’s a turn off to business travelers who value frequency due to changing plans. So in Dallas, it’s going in big. On Oct 13, it will offer three round trips per day between DAL and Washington Reagan National (DCA), San Francisco and Los Angeles. Starting Oct 28, 2014, it will offer four round trips per day from Dallas to La Guardia airport. Departures are in the morning and late afternoon– just what business travelers like. Plus, Dallas Love Field, New York La Guardia and Washington National are small, close in and convenient… all about 15 minutes from downtown (when traffic is light)– a huge draw for business travelers. In some cases, it might make sense for a traveler from SFO or LAX to connect through Dallas to be able to fly into La Guardia instead of the distant JFK or EWR. Would you? Please leave your comments below.

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Check out close-in, cuddly Dallas Love Field compared to distant DFW (AllAirports.net)

Check out close-in, cuddly Dallas Love Field compared to distant DFW (AllAirports.net)

Then, in 2015, it plans to bulk up its DAL schedule, with daily round trips to Chicago O’Hare and additional daily flights to SFO, LAX, DCA. That’s starting to sound like a hub operation to me. I would not be surprised to see Virgin add flights to other cities in the eastern half of the country, too, which means that flyers from its western hubs at SFO and LAX could connect to (hopefully) cities like Atlanta, Miami or New Orleans. Virgin has 10 new jets on order for delivery in 2015-2016, so they are going to have to fly somewhere! Note: While Virgin has a deal with DOJ, to operate at Love Field, it still must pass muster with the City of Dallas, according to this USA Today story. 

To celebrate the new service, Virgin is offering a great deal– just $160 round trip to all cities it will serve from Dallas, if booked by 11:59pm CT on Saturday, April 26. Details here. 

There was even more good news for Virgin this week when JetBlue announced that it would ground its 2x daily “Nerd Bird” flights between SFO and Austin. On the same day JetBlue announced its pullout, Virgin announced it would expand at Austin-Bergstrom with a second daily SFO nonstop. The new service will start on July 8 with business travel friendly early morning and late afternoon departures. The only other carrier in the lucrative SFO-AUS market is United, which offers five daily roundtrips.

In its scramble to take advantage of its new landing slots at New York La Guardia, Washington National and now Dallas, Virgin is having to re-jigger its fleet quickly. As a result, it’s withdrawing from the Philadelphia market in October.

What do you think about Virgin’s big moves? Would you be more likely to choose Virgin if you could connect in Dallas to more cities? Fly via Dallas to connect to La Guardia? Please leave your comments below! 

--Chris McGinnis

A long, hot and expensive summer ahead

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

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

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

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

Nonetheless, summer is the best time of year to get out and see the world, visit family and friends, or just get away from the grind to relax and renew. And with the economy percolating along, business travel is as important as ever.

So here’s my advice on making the best of the coming summer season.

HIGH PRICES. High demand is going to mean high prices, especially for those planning to visit popular destinations along the coasts, near national parks and amusement parks in the U.S. Remember, you will not only be competing with fellow Americans for those airplane seats, restaurant tables and hotel rooms–the U.S. Department of Commerce expects a record 72.2 million tourists from other countries in 2014. Perennially popular European destinations such as London, Paris and Rome will remain stubbornly expensive for summer visitors.

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

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

WHEN TO BOOK? Make air and hotel reservations now if you plan to travel on or around the summer’s long weekends (Memorial Day, July 4 or Labor Day) and just about any time during the “peak of the peak” weeks of July and early August. If you don’t make reservations early on, you’ll not only be shut out of any price breaks, but you’ll likely to have to settle for less desirable middle seats on the plane, or “garden views” instead of water or skyline views at hotels. You might also not be able to find the right size rental car for you or your family.

CALENDAR CHECK. Memorial Day is Monday May 26th this year. The 4th of July falls on a Friday this year, making for a compact, very busy, crowded weekend. And Labor Day is Monday, September 1.

FLEXIBILITY COUNTS. While summer is the most expensive time of year to travel with “deals” few and far between, those who can travel in early June or late August are most likely to pay the lowest rates. For those with schedules not dictated by school calendars, the “shoulder seasons” of May and September offer the very best rates due to lower demand. Generally speaking, summer airfares are least expensive for trips on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

canadian-flag-640US DOLLAR. Canada has become newly affordable due to a recent 10% decline in the value of its dollar compared to the US dollar. (Currently, a Canadian dollar goes for about 90 US cents) As a result, demand for vacations in Canada is up– for example, Best Western reports that advance bookings for summer stays at its hotels in Canada are up 17.7% compared to this time last year.

EUROPE. Despite economic doldrums in Europe, the euro and British pound have held up relatively well. For example, right now you need nearly 1.70 US dollars to buy a British pound or $1.40 for a euro. Airfares from the US to Europe are up 7% over last year, according to the Airlines Reporting Corporation. You can avoid high costs and still enjoy a European adventure by heading to eastern European countries that don’t use the euro such as Poland, Hungary, Turkey or Croatia. Among western European countries, the least expensive are the “PIGS”–Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain.

Editor Chris McGinnis hitting the road

Editor Chris McGinnis hitting the road

HIT THE ROAD. It doesn’t cost a cent to check your bag in the trunk of your car! If high airfares and increasing fees could keep you grounded this summer, take a road trip instead. The average price per gallon across the US should run about $3.57 this summer, a penny less than last summer. While we’ll likely see the typical early summer bump up in gasoline prices, the overall trend is down. According to the US Energy Information Agency, the average price of a gallon of gas in the US fell from $3.63 in 2012 to an average of $3.51/gal in 2013. This year, the agency expects the average price to continue to fall to $3.45 and even lower–to $3.37 per gallon in 2015.

THE BIG THREE. When shopping around for the best hotel rates, be sure you are comparing apples to apples. This means you always need to know what’s included in the rate…and what’s not. You’ll find the most value at hotels that include the “big three” amenities in their rates: wi-fi, breakfast and parking. If you can’t tell what’s included in the rate from a hotel’s website, always call to find out before you click the “buy” button! A family of four can start off the day saving about $40 by staying at a hotel that includes breakfast in the rate. And you could end up paying $50+ for parking at some downtown hotels.

(Chris McGinnis is Best Western’s travel trends expert and business travel blogger on youmustbetrippin.com where this post originally appeared)

--Chris McGinnis

Best new credit cards for business travelers

creditcardwalletThere is no such thing as the “best” credit card for frequent flyers. But there is a best one for YOU based on your travel and spending habits.

Here’s our list of top picks– it should help you decide which one is best for YOU! 

Remember, when you get a new credit card via the links provided below, TravelSkills earns a commission. This is what keeps us in business cranking out meaningful content and practical advice. If you are in the market for a new card, please do so via the links below. THANK YOU!

Best all around cards: Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Barclaycard Arrival Plus World MasterCard. Both offer nice 40,000 mile sign up bonuses (after spending $3,000 in first three months), and you can use miles on several airlines, hotels and other travel providers. Neither charges irritating foreign transaction fees. And the Barclaycard now has Chip & PIN for easier use overseas. That 40,000 mile bonus with Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is good for $500 in travel when booking through Chase Ultimate Rewards, plus it now offers primary rental car collision coverage (most cards provide secondary coverage).

Best for United flyers who don’t spend enough to have Premier status: United MileagePlus Explorer Card. Offers Premier perks like waived checked bag fees and lounge passes for those who don’t fly or spend enough to get status. Also offers bonus miles for United purchases. Plus, you earn a 30,000 mile sign up bonus after spending just $1,000 in first three months!

Best for travelers who love Southwest’s no frills approach to travel: The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card offers a nice 25,000 points sign up bonus  (enough for one roundtrip flight) after spending just $1,000 in first three months, plus a 6,000 point bump every year on your cardmember anniversary. In addition, it does not charge foreign transaction fees, and offers two points per dollar spent on Southwest and AirTran flights.

Biggest Sign-up Bonus. British Airways Visa Signature Card 0ffers a nice 50,000 mile sign up bonus after you spend $2,000 in the first three months, 2.5 Avios for every dollar spent on BA, and a free companion ticket (any class) when you spend at least $30,000 in a year. Plus there are no foreign transaction fees.

Best for folks who spend a lot of time in Marriott Hotels: Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card. For a limited time, get a 70,000 point bonus and a free night after spending $2,000 in the first three months. You also get a free night (in a category 1-5 hotel) every year after your anniversary date. 

Best card for those who spend a lot of time in Hawaii… or would like to spend more! The Hawaiian Airlines World Elite MasterCard. It offers a nice 35,000 mile sign up bonus (after spending $1,000 in first 90 days), a 50% off companion pass and a waived check bag fees. Mahalo!

Best for Virgin America devotees (new in Jan 2014): Virgin America Visa Signature Card

Best for frequent Delta flyers who don’t spend enough to earn Medallion status: Delta/Amex SkyMiles credit card 

This is by no means an exhaustive list! Please help out your fellow business travelers and tell us which card you use most…and why…in the comments below. THANKS!

–Chris McGinnis

Shoes + New STL flight + New A321T + Where’s the luv? + T3E cities + Free ice cream

We’re going to spend the next few days getting caught up on the Bay Area Travel News you need to know! Let’s go:

Get ready for increased scrutiny of shoes at the airport (Thomas Hawk / Flickr)

Get ready for increased scrutiny of shoes at the airport (Thomas Hawk / Flickr)

NICE SHOES. Here we go again. Get ready for increased scrutiny of your footwear at the airport. Today the feds warned airlines to pay particular attention to the possibility of terrorists attempting to hide explosives in shoes– on feet or in hand luggage. As usual, officials did not cite a specific incident, threat or plot that lead to the warning. Here’s another warning for you: Keep your seatbelt fastened! Did you hear about the Cathay Pacific flight from SFO cruising across the Pacific and hitting a patch of rough air over Japan last night? See the scary scene as reported by CNN here. Winter is the peak time of year for flight turbulence, so always keep that seatbelt fastened!

FREE ICE CREAM. Now that I have your attention… Today Virgin America announced that it has teamed up with popular San Francisco ice cream purveyor Humphry Slocombe to provide dessert for its first class passengers on transcontinental flights starting March 4. But don’t fret if you can’t afford one of Virgin’s creamy white first class seats…. anyone with a Virgin America boarding pass can get a free scoop between March 4 and June 30 at either Humphry Slocombe store in SF (in the Mission and at the Ferry Building). To help determine flyer favorites, Virgin is giving away free scoops at the airport today. The flavors are specially concocted for the carrier, and include “Coconut Blond Ambition (lemon, coconut & marshmallow cream),” “Red Hot Banana (with smashed Red Hot candies),” and “Butter by Moodlight (brown butter & berries).”

SFO-ST LOUIS. Frontier Airlines announced today that it would offer nonstop from SFO to St Louis starting June 13. Flights will operated on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only using an Airbus A320. Introductory fares are as low as $218 round trip. By June, Frontier will have turned St Louis, long ago abandoned by American Airlines, into a mini-hub with nonstops to 10 destinations.

American Airlines's new Airbus A321T coming to SFO in March! (American Airlines)

American Airlines’s new Airbus A321T coming to SFO in March! (American Airlines)

AMERICAN’S NEW BIRDS. American Airlines will begin flying its new Airbus A321T on the lucrative SFO-JFK route on March 6 with two flights per day. By June 11, American will use the A321T exclusively on the route, completely replacing its old-but-comfy wide-body B767s. The “T” in the name stands for “transcontinental” since the plane will be used exclusively on flights from JFK to SFO and LAX. The new 102-passenger aircraft that sports lie flat seats in first (10) and business class (20). There are 72 seats in economy class. JetBlue’s new A321s that include the cool “Mint” class seats arrive on the scene on October 26—and can be booked starting March 30.

 

What's missing from this picture?

What’s missing from this picture?

LITTLE LUV FOR BAY AREA. Southwest Airlines made a lot of noise last week about its new flight schedule from its hub at close-in and convenient Dallas Love Field due to the lifting of the Wright Amendment this fall. But there was one big problem with the announcement: The route map shows that Southwest has no immediate plans to offer nonstop from the Bay Area to Dallas Love. An opportunity for Virgin America? Maybe. A spokesperson told TravelSkills: “We’d be very interested in expanding our low-fare, upscale service into Love Field should the opportunity arise.”

WHICH FLIGHTS AT NEW T3E? TravelSkills snagged a few more interesting morsels about usage of T3E from United: Initially, United plans to have about 50 departures and arrivals at the new terminal. A spokesperson said that it is, “targeting primarily long-haul, narrow-body routes from Boarding Area E—for example flights to Newark, JFK, Dulles and Chicago.” United said it’s also using Boarding Area E for flights to Seattle and Los Angeles, markets where it’s facing tough competition from Delta.

Air China's new 777 on SFO-PEK is a very nice upgrade from the tired old 747 that was previously on the route

Air China’s new 777 on SFO-PEK is a very nice upgrade from the tired old 747 that was previously on the route

AIR CHINA TO BEIJING. Following in the footsteps of many other carriers, Air China has switched out its daily (and elderly) Boeing 747-400 for a shiny new B777-300ER on its daily SFO-Beijing service. Air China’s B777 has eight first class suites, 42 lie flat business class seats and 263 economy class seats (with 32 inches of pitch).

ATTENTION RSS FANS. If you read TravelSkills via an RSS feed, we urge you to sign up to get our blog updates via email instead. We will soon switch to a new email service and host, which could impact our RSS feed. Please take a minute and sign up here. Only takes a few seconds and we don’t want to lose you! 

– Chris McGinnis

And just in case you missed it, here are some of our most popular, recent TravelSkills posts :

Bikini-clad safety video

Stormy weather slowing you down? Here’s why

What’s next for SFO?

United biz class giveaway + New Chicago flight + MileagePlus deadline + Southwest overwater + Rocketmiles

First look inside United’s new terminal at SFO

New Year. New credit card?

American & US Airways at T2 + Sonoma airport expands + UberX + Delta/Virgin + EVA expands

United transcon bonus + United 787 domestic + Fewer 747s + Delta vs Alaska

The BEST credit cards for TravelSkills Readers

What to do if pulled over by the police [Infographic]

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New airline rules… New credit card?

Time for a new credit card? (Chris McGinnis)

Time for a new credit card? (Chris McGinnis)

It’s time for a reassessment. As we all know, airline programs are changing. And as frequently happens when things change, there are winners, and there are losers.

As airlines refine the focus of their frequent flyer programs on big spenders, it’s probably time for small or medium spenders to reconsider the cards they carry in their wallets.

Why? Because earning points via credit card sign ups and spending is one of the easiest (if not the easiest) way to earn enough points to take free trips.

For small and medium spenders, who will likely start choosing their flights based on price, convenience and service instead of blind devotion to frequent flyer program, it’s probably a good idea to consider new cards tied to flexible programs that offer broader benefits and not just airline miles. That means it’s time move to a multi-purpose card tied to a rewards program that can be used across a wide variety of airlines and other parters.

I did just that last year…and have been reaping the rewards ever since.

Last year I signed up for a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card last year, spent $3,000 in the first three months and earned a tidy 40,000-point bonus.

Then I used the card frequently for the rest of the year, eventually earning 65,000 points. Then, using the Chase Ultimate Rewards booking tool, I redeemed those points for an Air Canada trip to Ottawa for my mom’s big 80th birthday party this summer. Flying to Canada during the summer is expensive, and that ticket would have cost me dearly—about $800. But since I played my cards right, it didn’t cost a dime. (Except that Air Canada took a $35 fee for a specific seat reservation.)

Later in the year I signed up for the popular new Barclaycard Arrival Plus World MasterCard. I spent $3,000 in the first three months and earned another 40,000 point sign up bonus. Using the card frequently, I was able to redeem the points to help reduce the cost of a price ticket to Puerto Rico over Christmas. I did that because when redeeming Barclaycard miles, there are no blackout dates.  If a seat is available, you buy it, and then use your miles to pay the bill.  The number of miles you use is based on how much the ticket costs. Easy!

I still hold on to my American Express Platinum card, but my relationship is getting tenuous. What’s great about the card is that it’s tied to the robust Membership Rewards program. It also reimubursed me for my Global Entry membership, provides $200 a year in statement credits for airline ancillary charges, and gets me into Delta Sky Clubs and Centurion Lounges. But every year that $450 bill comes around, I keep thinking… do I really need it this much? Maybe I could just pay the $50 fee for club access? Hmm.

There is no such thing as the “best” credit card for frequent flyers. But there is a best one for YOU based on your travel and spending habits. (Here’s our list of top credit card picks.)

If you are convinced it’s time to change some things in your wallet, here are two of the best general purpose cards to get right now due to their generous signup bonuses, reasonable spend requirements, and waived fees for the first year.

>Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

This is probably the best choice for TravelSkills Readers because of Chase’s close ties to United and ability to easily transfer points. (Plus, the card is made out of metal and has a nice heft to it!)

  • Annual fee of $95 waived the first year.
  • Points can be transferred to airline partners including United, Southwest, British Airways, Korean Air, and or hotel partners like Hyatt or Marriott among others.
  • Redeeming points for travel (instead of transferring them to airline mileage programs) gives a rate of 1.25 cents per point. With a signup bonus of 40,000 points, that equals $500 worth of travel. (Hello! No brainer here. Sign up!)
  • The card now comes with a built in microchip that makes it easier to use overseas where chip cards are more prevalent
  • Earn TWO points per dollar spent on travel (fares, fees, inflight purchases, hotel, taxi, rental car, tolls, etc.) and dining, and one point for everything else. On the first Friday of each month, you earn three points per dollar spent on dining.
  • Book your trips via the Ultimate Rewards website and you earn three points per dollar spent.
  • No foreign transaction fees—a savings of 2-3%, which means a savings of nearly $100 on an overseas trip where you spend $3,000.
  • On your annual anniversary holding the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase rewards you with an additional 7% bonus based on the points you earned during that year

>Barclaycard Arrival Plus World MasterCard

This is one of the best of a new crop of cards that came out last year, with many of the benefits of the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, plus, it offers two points per dollar spent on ALL purchases. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World MasterCard also made Nerd Wallet/Money Magazine’s list of best credit cards for 2013-2014.

  • Annual fee of $89 waived the first year.
  • Earn two “miles” per dollar spent (on everything).
  • Spend $3,000 in first 90 days and earn 40,000 miles (which equates to $440 toward travel purchases)
  • There are no foreign transaction fees, and the card has new chip & PIN technology, which means you can use it in Europe at unmanned subway and train kiosks.
  • Redeem miles via the card’s program for travel (one mile equals one dollar), and also receive a 10% mileage rebate on points spent on travel during your first year.
  • In an unusual twist, miles earned are redeemed for statement credits on almost any travel related purchase such as airline tickets, cruises, rental cars, and hotels. Basically, you buy travel using your card, then use statement credits to reduce or eliminate the travel charge.
  • The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World MasterCard offers a free subscription to TripIt Pro (typically $49), which helps you to organize boarding passes, travel itineraries, and flight notifications in one convenient app.

What cards do you carry in your wallet? Why? Please leave your comments below. 

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

– Chris McGinnis

Track MQMs + Coach upgrade + Economy Comfort MQDs + Delta’s secret 360 club + More

2014 MEDALLION TRACKER NOW ONLINE…No need to worry about Delta keeping tabs on your status for the New Year. A new tracker is now available on Delta.com under the My Delta section of your SkyMiles profile. It keeps check of your Medallion qualification metrics: MQMs (miles), MDQs (dollars), and MQS’ (segments)… it will also keep track of your Delta American Express credit card spend (as you remember, spending $25,000 in 2014 will provide a waiver for meeting Medallion Qualification Dollar spend next year). Effective Jan. 1, the tracker will also appear on the Delta app. Happy flying (and spending) in the New Year!

MORE ECONOMY CLASS COMFORT…Delta has boosted its international economy class with some nice recent enhancements. Delta offered many of these benefits nearly a decade ago, but cut back in economic hard times. The goodies are back for travelers though. In addition to recently announced free cocktails for economy passengers, now everyone will receive a large bottle of water and small amenity kit with eyeshades and socks among other travel items on long-haul flights. Delta is the only North American airline to offer these added benefits to coach passengers.

DELTA SEAT PURCHASES QUALIFY FOR MQD SPENDING…Purchasing Economy Comfort or a preferred exit row/bulkhead seat on your next flight in 2014? Well, you have more incentive now. That purchase will count toward your MQD spend. Previously, Economy Comfort brought more than added legroom; on international flights, it also brought free cocktails. This new MQD perk sweetens the pot, especially if you are getting close to hitting a threshold.

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DELTA CEO SAYS NO TO LOUD TALKERS…In a sigh of relief for most airline passengers and crew, Delta CEO Richard Anderson has publicly stated that there will be no in-flight cell phone calls permitted aboard Delta aircraft, even if other airlines decide to allow it. Other airlines, including Southwest, have also come forward saying they would not allow it on their flights. (Texting during flight? Bring it on, airlines. But please keep it cheap.)

LESS BUSINESS, MORE ECONOMY SEATING…Delta is pulling BusinessElite seats from several of its 777 and 767 aircraft in the coming year to make room for extra rows of Economy. Certain routes stimulate more demand in the back of the aircraft, and this will give Delta more flexibility to maximize revenue in certain markets. Certain 767s will lose 14 seats up front and gain 20 in Economy while 777s will lose 7 seats up front and gain 24 in Economy. There is already a subset of 767s in the Delta system that has fewer BusinessElite seats.

Delta 360 members are likely the ones getting views like this (from a Porsche on the tarmac) (Photo: Delta)

Delta 360 members are likely the ones getting views like this (from a Porsche on the tarmac) (Photo: Delta)

DELTA 360 TESTED FOR TOP ATLANTA FLYERS…Delta has been quietly sending out invitations to Delta 360, its high-revenue, elite offering (similar to United Global Services and American Concierge Key). There is no published revenue amount to qualify, and invitations were only sent to a subset of customers mostly in the Atlanta area. If it goes well, Delta hopes to expand the program, which comes with a dedicated reservations line and special monitoring of flights on the day of travel to proactively assist with connections and rebooking, if necessary. It seems to be a super-secret trial program right now reserved for Delta’s highest mileage, biggest spenders.  Surprised TICKET reader (and 2 million miler) LR provided us with a heads up on the program last month. He wrote: “Did I miss the article on Delta’s new 360 Priority program? I got an invite to 360 about a month ago, and when I called the Diamond line last night I was routed to a very competent 360 operator.  Pretty interesting.” Have you received an invitation? Noticed anything different when you travel so far? Please leave your comments below. 

MORE SEATTLE FLIGHTS…New Delta flights from Seattle bound for Juneau, Alaska and San Jose, California will keep flyers on the go. Also planned is an extra Seattle-Anchorage flight to leading to three daily nonstops in the peak summer season. This furthers the battle between Delta and hometown carrier Alaska Airlines. This Delta/Alaska tussle has re-kindled talk of an eventual Delta takeover of Alaska Air… what do you think?

Green Coat Airport ValetAVOID HOLIDAY HASSLES WITH VALET PARKING AT ATL! Have you noticed the flurry of men and women in green blazers on the lower level passenger pick up areas at ATL? They are new parking valet attendants from GreenCoat Auto Concierge & Valet service. For $20 per day, you can now drive to the airport, leave your car with a GreenCoat at the terminal, and head off on your trip. The valet will drive your car to a secure, indoor, off-airport lot and park it. When you return, just call GreenCoat and let them know you’re coming, and an attendant will bring your car back to the airport terminal, hand it over to you, and you drive home. Nice! GreenCoat has just signed on as a sponsor of The TICKET so you’ll be hearing more about the service in coming months. Give it a try and let us know how it goes! NOTE: ADVANCE RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED. Special for TICKET readers: First timers get 1,000 Delta SkyMiles! 

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HOLLYWOOD SNEAK PEEK…During December passengers aboard Delta flights are enjoying a sneak peek at the new movie, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” Lucky TICKET contributor Ramsey Qubein chatted with one of the movie co-stars, Kristen Wiig, in Seattle as she returned from filming in Iceland earlier this year. Visitors to Delta’s Facebook page between Dec. 4-27 have the chance to win up to 50,000 SkyMiles through the Mitty-inspired “Stop Dreaming and Start Doing” sweepstakes.

Delta's newest jet, the Boeing 737-900 (Photo: Drewski / Flickr)

Delta’s newest jet, the Boeing 737-900 (Photo: Drewski / Flickr)

NEW SPIRIT OF SEATTLE PLANE…Delta has dubbed one of its newest Boeing B737-900 aircraft, the “Spirit of Seattle,” in honor of local customers and employees. The plane features a special livery and promotes its recent expansion at Sea-Tac. Flight attendants are also wearing pins commemorating the Spirit of Seattle. Expanded service from Seattle includes new flights to Fairbanks, Alaska and Vancouver, Canada, both of which will begin next summer. Have you flown on the 737-900, Delta’s newest aircraft? What do you think? By the end of the year, Delta will have a dozen of the shiny new jets in operation.

TICKET NEWS HITS FACEBOOK FIRST. When there’s news you need to know, The TICKET frequently posts it on our Facebook page first (and eventually it makes its way into a The TICKET.) So if you want to be among the first to know, join the thousands of TICKET readers who get a regular dose of fare deals, travel news, and advice via our Facebook page. Come on and join the fun…and stay informed.

GERMANY GOES ALL LIE-FLAT…If you are traveling between the U.S. and Germany on Delta, all business class seats now feature the latest flat-bed product with staggered single seats by the windows and two seats in the center section. Delta flies to Germany from Atlanta, Detroit, and JFK. From Atlanta, Delta flies to Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich, and Stuttgart.

KLM New business class

FLAT-BED SEATS COMING TO KLM’s ATL FLIGHTS…Eventually. SkyTeam partner KLM is rolling out new flat-bed business class seats on its aircraft beginning with the Boeing 747 fleet of aircraft. Five aircraft feature the new seating and are appearing on routes like San Francisco and JFK to Amsterdam. The new seats extend to sleeping cocoons with larger entertainment screens than business class on Lufthansa and British Airways. By late spring 2014, the entire fleet of jumbo jets will be retrofitted guaranteeing flat-bed seats up front on 747 flights from Houston, San Francisco, Chicago, and JFK to Amsterdam among other international destinations in the KLM route network. Next up for the new seating will be the B777-200 fleet. Plans are in place to have flat-bed seating on all KLM long-haul aircraft in the coming years. For now, KLM flies the Airbus A330 to Atlanta, which still has the angled flat seats, but these will be updated over time as well.

DELTA TO BOOST DALLAS FLIGHTS…Delta is planning to expand its operation at Dallas Love Field should it get the green light from the U.S. Department of Justice. It has to bid on the gates, which are being made available thanks to the merger between American and US Airways. The new flights would include nonstop service to Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and New York LaGuardia. Additional frequencies on the existing route to Atlanta would also be added.

Chris McGinnis & Ramsey Qubein 

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Virgin SFO-LaGuardia + AA’s newest jet + Global Entry delays + more

New York City's three primary airports: Newark, LaGuardia, Kennedy

New York City’s three primary airports: Newark, LaGuardia, Kennedy

VIRGIN AMERICA: SFO TO NEW YORK LAGUARDIA? Earlier this month San Francisco-based Virgin America snagged 12 slots at New York’s popular (but creaky) La Guardia Airport. Wouldn’t it be nice to fly nonstop from SFO to close-in LaGuardia (LGA) and only have to deal with a 20-minute hop into Manhattan instead of that 40+ minute, traffic-clogged slog in from JFK or Newark? Alas, the NY Port Authority has “perimeter rules” that forbid flights from more than 1,500 miles away. HOWEVER, exceptions have been made to this rule. For example Denver International, which is 1,600 miles away received an exemption from the rule. Oddly, the rule does not apply on Saturdays and back in 2004, now defunct American Trans Air (ATA) proposed nonstop service from LaGuardia to SFO with continuing service to Honolulu. In 2009, Senator John McCain tried (but failed) to abolish the perimeter rules at both LGA and Washington-National. So, Virgin America could apply for an exception to the rule, but will it? Despite several tries, Virgin would not reveal a peep to TravelSkills about plans for its shiny new slots. Most speculation centers on Virgin flying into LGA from a city it serves within the perimeter, such as Chicago or Dallas. So we’ll just have to wait and see. If Virgin were granted an exception to La Guardia’s perimeter rule, would you choose that over its flights to Newark or JFK, or those of its competitors? Leave your comments below!

Mock up of AA biz class on A321T

Mock up of AA biz class on A321T (CLICK on image for video)

AMERICAN’S NEW A321s SFO-JFK. Last week American Airlines was showing off it newest plane, the Airbus A321 Transcontinental, which will enter service in the JFK-LAX route on Jan 7. What about SFO? Here’s what American told TravelSkills: “The A321T will begin serving JFK-SFO on March 6, 2014 with two frequencies. On April 1, we’ll increase operation to SFO, operating three of four frequencies with the aircraft. Frequencies will increase to five starting June 11 and will be operated exclusively by the A321T.” The new three-class Airbus (with a business class nearly identical to United’s new p.s. service we reviewed last month) will replace the comfortable, but aging, Boeing 767′s currently on the busy route.

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IS GLOBAL ENTRY TOO POPULAR? We’ve heard from several TravelSkills reader about wait times in excess of 80 days for Global Entry personal interviews at the SFO enrollment center…so we checked with Customs and Border Protection and they told us that there are still a handful of openings in the 30-60 day window. So if you still have not signed up, be prepared to wait. To get Global Entry, you first fill out on online application, then schedule an appointment for your personal interview at one of about 25 enrollment center locations across the US. Interesting factoid: The Global Entry program is five years old, and just admitted its one-millionth member. There are now 44 Global Entry locations. (Global entry is but one prong in TravelSkills’s famous No-Hassle Travel Trifecta.)

BUSIEST HOLI-DAYS. Here’s a map of what the holidays will look like in terms of air travel volume. Will you be red, green or yellow this year?

Screen Shot 2013-12-01 at 1.18.27 PM

UNITED TALKING POINTS EXPOSED. Interesting to see an internal United Airlines Sales talking points memo exposed on Bloomberg last week. United distributed the memo to its salespeople to help deal with the roar or complaints over its Mileage Plus devaluations announced earlier this year. It’s a good read on the main points of the painful program changes.

(Photo: Ho John Lee)

(Photo: Ho John Lee)

ALASKA FIRES BACK AT DELTA WITH DOUBLE MILES…Delta recently launched several new routes from Alaska Airlines’ Seattle hub while simultaneously pushing a double miles promo on those flights. Alaska is fighting back with a double mileage promotion of its own. Between now and May 31, 2014, Alaska flyers can earn double mileage and double elite qualifying miles on flights between Seattle and several U.S. cities including Oakland, San Jose, and San Francisco. Register here before travel and rack up big-time points. Delta has recently matched Alaska’s move, and it’s offer double Medallion-qualifying miles on flights to/from Seattle. Registration required. United has jumped on the bandwagon, too. Registration here.

Chris McGinnis 

 

And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

Best/worst days for holiday trips

New terminal at SFO: hard hat tour (photos)

16 brand new, must see NYC hotels

Update: United p.s. fleet SFO-JFK

Asia on sale + PreCheck newbies + United wi-fi + Free airport parking + Nancy Pelosi

Virgin first class sale + Hilton HHonors downgrade + Chase Sapphire w chip + United dumps ExpertFlyer

More A380s + Cathay discounts biz class + SJC courts Asia + Double Elevate pts

>Southwest FINALLY joins PreCheck

>United to allow handhelds below 10K feet

>Travel advice fit for a Queen (Latifah!)

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Best & worst days for holiday trips

(Photo: Bert Kaufmann)

(Photo: Bert Kaufmann)

Holiday travel season usually mimics the peak summer travel season, which this year was very busy and very expensive, so I expect the same for the upcoming holiday season.

Screen Shot 2013-11-30 at 9.26.07 AMWhen’s the best time to buy airline tickets? Due to high demand, there simply are not any real airfare “deals” on the peak days around Christmas and New Year’s this year. Travelers who want the most convenient flights on their preferred airlines should book as soon as possible to get seats on those flights…otherwise they will likely be stuck paying the same high price for “dog flights” that depart super early or late, they’ll have to sit in those dreaded middle seats, or make several stops en route to their destinations. My favorite sites for shopping for air travel this year: Kayak.com and Routehappy.com.

Should I drive or fly this year? I always stick to the five-hour rule: If you can drive to your destination in five hours or less, it’s likely smarter to hit the road instead of the skies during the holidays. This is especially true for families traveling together. Good news this year is that gasoline prices are at their lowest in many years. One of my favorite new smartphone apps for driving trips is Waze, a GPS-based mapping tool that uses information provided by other drivers to help you avoid traffic, road hazards…and speed traps.

Screen Shot 2013-12-01 at 1.18.27 PM

What are the best days for traveling this year? The good news about this year’s holiday season is that it is longer than usual with Christmas and New Year’s falling on Wednesdays– the full season will be over two weeks long, which means more wiggle room for travelers. (Compared to a season when Christmas and New Year’s both fall on say, Sunday, which makes for a much more compact, crowded and expensive season.) Smart travelers will depart on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and return on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day to avoid the biggest crowds and snag the lowest fares.

London in January? Why not? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

London in January? Why not? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Are there any alternatives or hidden secrets to getting good deals this year? If you have the flexibility to travel during the slowest times of year, the so called “dead weeks” of early December and early January, you can save 50%-70% on airfare or hotels. For example, airfares to Europe can be remarkably inexpensive during winter months. The best sites to shop for these dead week deals: Hotwire.com, Priceline.com and TravelZoo.com. It’s also a good idea to check out airline or hotel social media streams on sites like Twitter or Facebook to look for short term, last minute sales.

Is now a good time to redeem points or miles for trips? It’s nearly impossible to use airline frequent flyer awards during the blacked out, heavily restricted peak holiday season. Instead of dealing with those frustrations, focus on your credit card points! For example, the when redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you are not subject to blackouts or other restrictions. If a seat is available on any airline, you can get it!

What about airline baggage fees? If possible, avoid checking bags during the holidays– the risk of your bag getting lost and ruining your trip is just too high. Try to learn to live out of a carry on. If you have too much for a carry on, ship your bags ahead of time, but do so at the “ground” rate at UPS, FEDEX or the Postal Service. Shipping a 25 lb bag via next-day or two-day express is just too expensive.

What’s a good way to avoid holiday travel stress? Always try to book nonstop flights because you double your chances of a delay or cancellation with a one stop flight, even though you might save a few bucks. Another stress-busting move: Consider staying over in a hotel when visiting families during the holidays– rates at new hotels like a locally owned Best Western in or near suburban office parks hit annual lows during holidays (due to the lack of business travelers), and facilities are usually new and nice. Having your own space at a hotel is a big relief for both the traveler and the host during the stressy holidays.

Doesn't that look more appealing than a lumpy sofa bed? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Doesn’t that look more appealing than a lumpy sofa bed at the in-laws? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

‘Tis the season for Holiday Travel and I’m pleased to announce that I’ve teamed up with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card to produce a series of travel tips and advice for those heading over the river and through the woods this year. 

Chris McGinnis 

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CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF THE TICKET? Then follow us on Facebook! Join the thousands of TICKET readers who get a regular dose of fare deals, travel news, and advice via our Facebook page. Come on and join the fun…and stay informed.

Best/worst days for holiday trips

(Photo: Bert Kaufmann)

(Photo: Bert Kaufmann)

Holiday travel season usually mimics the peak summer travel season, which this year was very busy and very expensive, so I expect the same for the upcoming holiday season.

Screen Shot 2013-11-30 at 9.26.07 AMWhen’s the best time to buy airline tickets? Due to high demand, there simply are not any real airfare “deals” on the peak days around Christmas and New Year’s this year. Travelers who want the most convenient flights on their preferred airlines should book as soon as possible to get seats on those flights…otherwise they will likely be stuck paying the same high price for “dog flights” that depart super early or late, they’ll have to sit in those dreaded middle seats, or make several stops en route to their destinations. My favorite sites for shopping for air travel this year: Kayak.com and Routehappy.com.

Should I drive or fly this year? I always stick to the five-hour rule: If you can drive to your destination in five hours or less, it’s likely smarter to hit the road instead of the skies during the holidays. This is especially true for families traveling together. Good news this year is that gasoline prices are at their lowest in many years. One of my favorite new smartphone apps for driving trips is Waze, a GPS-based mapping tool that uses information provided by other drivers to help you avoid traffic, road hazards…and speed traps.

Screen Shot 2013-12-01 at 1.18.27 PM

What are the best days for traveling this year? The good news about this year’s holiday season is that it is longer than usual with Christmas and New Year’s falling on Wednesdays– the full season will be over two weeks long, which means more wiggle room for travelers. (Compared to a season when Christmas and New Year’s both fall on say, Sunday, which makes for a much more compact, crowded and expensive season.) Smart travelers will depart on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and return on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day to avoid the biggest crowds and snag the lowest fares.

London in January? Why not? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

London in January? Why not? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Are there any alternatives or hidden secrets to getting good deals this year? If you have the flexibility to travel during the slowest times of year, the so called “dead weeks” of early December and early January, you can save 50%-70% on airfare or hotels. For example, airfares to Europe can be remarkably inexpensive during winter months. The best sites to shop for these dead week deals: Hotwire.com, Priceline.com and TravelZoo.com. It’s also a good idea to check out airline or hotel social media streams on sites like Twitter or Facebook to look for short term, last minute sales.

Screen Shot 2013-11-29 at 4.25.17 PM

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card now comes with an embedded microchip for easier use overseas

Is now a good time to redeem points or miles for trips? It’s nearly impossible to use airline frequent flyer awards during the blacked out, heavily restricted peak holiday season. Instead of dealing with those frustrations, focus on your credit card points! For example, the when redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you are not subject to blackouts or other restrictions. If a seat is available on any airline, you can get it!

What about airline baggage fees? If possible, avoid checking bags during the holidays– the risk of your bag getting lost and ruining your trip is just too high. Try to learn to live out of a carry on. If you have too much for a carry on, ship your bags ahead of time, but do so at the “ground” rate at UPS, FEDEX or the Postal Service. Shipping a 25 lb bag via next-day or two-day express is just too expensive.

What’s a good way to avoid holiday travel stress? Always try to book nonstop flights because you double your chances of a delay or cancellation with a one stop flight, even though you might save a few bucks. Another stress-busting move: Consider staying over in a hotel when visiting families during the holidays– rates at new hotels like a locally owned Best Western in or near suburban office parks hit annual lows during holidays (due to the lack of business travelers), and facilities are usually new and nice. Having your own space at a hotel is a big relief for both the traveler and the host during the stressy holidays.

Doesn't that look more appealing than a lumpy sofa bed? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Doesn’t that look more appealing than a lumpy sofa bed at the in-laws? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

‘Tis the season for Holiday Travel and I’m pleased to announce that I’ve teamed up with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card to produce a series of travel tips and advice for those heading over the river and through the woods this year. 

Chris McGinnis 

 

And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

New terminal at SFO: hard hat tour (photos)

16 brand new, must see NYC hotels

Update: United p.s. fleet SFO-JFK

Asia on sale + PreCheck newbies + United wi-fi + Free airport parking + Nancy Pelosi

Virgin first class sale + Hilton HHonors downgrade + Chase Sapphire w chip + United dumps ExpertFlyer

More A380s + Cathay discounts biz class + SJC courts Asia + Double Elevate pts

>Southwest FINALLY joins PreCheck

>United to allow handhelds below 10K feet

>Travel advice fit for a Queen (Latifah!)

***

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Asia on sale + PreCheck newbies + United wi-fi + Free airport parking + Nancy Pelosi

The stunning interior courtyard of the Capella Singapore hotel (Chris McGinnis)

The stunning interior courtyard of the Capella Singapore hotel (Chris McGinnis)

SINGAPORE AIR PUTS ASIA ON SALE. Singapore Airlines offered up some remarkable deals to warm winter destinations throughout Asia this week, but you need to act by Dec 2, or before they sell out. From SFO, fly to Seoul, Hong Kong or Singapore, then connect to over 30 cities in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia or Korea. All inclusive economy fares start as low as $694 (Seoul)… but most are in the $1000 range. That’s a great deal! The window of opportunity for travel is quite large, too, extending from January 15 through May 15. Details/booking here.

(Photo: Jaxworld)

(Photo: Jaxworld)

WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? Have you ever been in the PreCheck line along with someone who has no idea why they are there? Ive noticed is a lot lately. And I’ve heard from TravelSkills reader who wonder the same thing. How could someone in the PreCheck line NOT know what it is, or that they don’t have to remove shoes, belts or laptops when they go through? Turns out it’s because the TSA has vetted them, allowing them to use the PreCheck lane to relieve the pressure on the regular lanes. Here’s what TSA spokesperson Nico Melendez told TravelSkills: “Currently, TSA’s Secure Flight system uses information provided when making a flight reservation – such as name, date of birth, and gender – to identify and prevent known or suspected terrorists or other individuals from gaining access to airplanes or secure areas of airports. TSA will now use that information to identify passengers who present a lower risk to aviation security and offer those passengers expedited screening. This initiative will occur on a flight-by-flight basis and will not require passengers to enroll in a DHS Trusted Traveler program. If a passenger is eligible for expedited screening for a particular flight, a TSA Pre✓™ indicator will be embedded in the barcode of the boarding pass so that when scanned at the checkpoint, the passenger may be referred to a TSA Pre✓™ lane….This process will allow TSA to maintain its high security standards and create greater efficiency while offering more travelers the benefit of expedited screening through TSA PreCheck lanes.”

Eva Air's Hello Kitty themed plane landed at SFO today! (SFO Facebook page)

Eva Air’s Hello Kitty themed plane landed at SFO today! (SFO Facebook page)

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iPad rentals on Southwest Airlines (Photo: Dave Zatz)

iPad rentals on Southwest Airlines (Photo: Dave Zatz)

SOUTHWEST RENTS IPADS ON THREE ROUTES…Southwest is taking a page from the legacy airlines exploring new ways of offering inflight entertainment. Now it allows travelers to borrow iPad2 devices on flights between Chicago Midway, Denver, and Oakland. Checkout stations in the terminals of these airports will allow travelers to swipe a credit card to borrow a device and return it at their destination. Once on board, Southwest’s partnership with DishTV allows iPad users to stream live TV free of charge to the iPad (or any personal device if you already have one of your own). This unique promotion is available aboard all of Southwest’s wi-fi-equipped aircraft, which by the way, can now offer true gate-to-gate connectivity using its satellite-based Row 44 wi-fi system. Gogo, used by Virgin, Delta and many other carriers does not operate below 10,ooo feet.

FLY BA MUCH? Get the new British Airways Visa Signature® Card and earn a tidy 50,000 Avios points.

UNITED BEATS DELTA TO INTERNATIONAL WIFI CONTEST…United now offers more international, long-haul flights with wi-fi capability than any other North American carrier. Delta had announced its intention to outfit aircraft beginning this year, but snags with certification have caused a slight delay. United, however, already offers the capability aboard 13 of its Boeing 747-400 aircraft flying long-haul routes, mostly from SFO and LAX. More than half of United’s Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft operating domestically feature the same satellite wi-fi system. United still uses the Gogo air-to-ground system on the Boeing 757 transcontinental p.s.  aircraft, flying between JFK and Los Angeles and San Francisco. Overall, there are 100 United aircraft with wifi currently and the number is growing. Have you tried it? How speedy is it?

Oakland's new 236-ft , $33 million control tower is officially dedicated this week (Oakland Int'l Airport)

Oakland’s new 236-ft , $33 million control tower is officially dedicated this week (Oakland Int’l Airport)

FREE HOLIDAY PARKING PROMO AT OAKLAND RETURNS…Between Nov. 28 and Dec. 19, flyers can park free for up to three days in the daily lot at Oakland airport. The only stipulation is that their flight must depart midweek on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. To get a free parking coupon, if you qualify, visit: http://t.co/SayyNzzk81.

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Diane Feinstein flying home from DCA with the Giants last winter (Twitter)

Diane Feinstein flying home from DCA with the Giants last winter (Twitter)

NANCY PELOSI LOVES VIRGIN?…We’ve heard from several TravelSkills reader that Bay Area US rep Nancy Pelosi is now a regular on Virgin America’s daily roundtrip between SFO and Washington-Reagan National Airport. Even more interesting: she flies in coach! Can anyone else verify? And apparently, Diane Feinstein fancies Virgin America, too, but from this photo, it appears the Senator sits up front.

NEW BUY ONBOARD MENU FOR UNITED…Economy travelers have new options on United now that a refreshed Choice menu has been unveiled. No one ever said airplane food is glamorous, but this is as good as it gets in coach these days. The “Bistro on Board” concept will be available on board flights of 3.5 hours or longer within North and Central America. Breakfast menu items include a ham and Swiss baguette; a sweet cheese pastry; and a morning energy selection of a hard-cooked egg, cheese, grapes, a wheat roll and almond butter. The lunch and dinner menu offers  a caprese baguette; a bacon, lettuce and tomato wrap; and a roast beef and cheddar baguette, as well as an Asian-style noodle salad and artisan cheese selection. (Menus change with the seasons) Have you tried it yet? Please leave your comments below. 

+++

Chris McGinnis 

And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

Virgin first class sale + Hilton HHonors downgrade + Chase Sapphire w chip + United dumps ExpertFlyer

More A380s + Cathay discounts biz class + SJC courts Asia + Double Elevate pts

>Southwest FINALLY joins PreCheck

>United to allow handhelds below 10K feet

>Travel advice fit for a Queen (Latifah!)

>New landing procedure at SFO should help w delays! Hallelujah!

>Big, bad United MileagePlus surprise 

>Virgin’s new Safety Dance

>Riding the Red Carpet Route to London! 

>Double Miles on United & Southwest

>$100 hotels in NYC 

>Two posh new lounges coming to SFO 

***

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Virgin first class sale + Hilton HHonors downgrade + Chase Sapphire w chip + United dumps ExpertFlyer

Virgin's cushy first class seats look like big white marshmallows (Virgin America)

Virgin’s cushy first class seats look like big white marshmallows (Virgin America)

BIG SEATS, BIG SALE ON VIRGIN. To keep the those posh seats at front of the plane full during Thanksgiving week, Virgin America announced a flash sale today— those normally pricey first and main cabin select seats are on sale at 50% off, but only for bookings made by midnight tomorrow night (Nov 20) for trips between Friday, Nov 21 and Sunday, Nov 30. Get the deal by booking at VirginAmerica.com and using the promo code: BESTSEATS. These are VERY good deals… esp first class to Vegas for $300 round trip!

Sample roundtrip fares from SFO:

Main Cabin Select / First Class:

New York JFK: $600 / $2028
Newark: $580 / $1548
Washington DC $488 / $1346
Los Angeles: $210 / $248
Seattle: $254 / $460
Las Vegas $232 / $300

HiltonHHonorsLogoHILTON HHONORS NIXES POINTS AND FIXED MILES OPTION…Hilton has been unique among major hotel brands for allowing hotel guests to “double dip” by earning both hotel points and a fixed number of airline miles for their stay (typically 500 miles). Effective Jan. 6, 2014, guests can continue to double dip with airlines, but miles will be earned at a rate of one mile per dollar spent—no more fixed rates. This significantly downgrades the mileage earning option, and most travelers would be wise to switch to the “points and points” option allowing bonus Hilton HHonors points instead of “points and miles.” This is, yet another, indication of travel companies adjusting their loyalty programs to award travelers based on revenue.

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CHASE SAPPHIRE PREFERRED ADDS MICROCHIP TECHNOLOGY… The popular Chase Sapphire Preferred Card can now come with an embedded chip like those found in cards issued outside the US. Many retailers and travel suppliers overseas have difficulty accepting the traditional magnetic strip card used in the US so the addition of the chip should help with global acceptance. To get a card with a chip, just call the number on the back of your Chase Sapphire Preferred Card . Chase will send the new card (same # and expiration date) via UPS to you for free. Important: This is a chip and signature card, not a chip and PIN card, which means that a human being must still be present for you to sign for your purchase. Since it’s not a chip and PIN card, it will not work at unmanned European train station ticket kiosks—you’ll still have to go to the window and sign for tickets. When I called for mine, the Chase representative told me that if asked for a PIN at point of purchase, the user should just press “cancel” which will prompt the merchant to obtain a signature. Chase Sapphire Preferred also waives foreign transaction fees and provides points with Ultimate Rewards, which can be redeemed on airlines like United, British Airways, Korean Air, Marriott, and Hyatt among others. It’s also currently offering a nice sign up bonus of 40,000 points.  This is what puts this card at the top of nearly every list of top cards for frequent travelers. Apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card  here. (Disclosure: TravelSkills earns a small commission when you apply via links posted here.)

EXPERT FLYER LOSES STAR ALLIANCE AWARD DATA…ExpertFlyer.com, a popular tool used to research flight availability and search for award seat space, has lost the ability to access award space data to Star Alliance carriers. This seems quite suspicious considering United just slashed its award chart making it more expensive to book tickets effective Feb. 1, 2014—and no doubt more travelers are making award ticket reservations between now and that date. Could United have played a role in the removal of this data from ExpertFlyer to make it harder to find space? Not all Star Alliance airlines appear in award searches via United.com. Luckily, travelers with an All Nippon Airways frequent flyer account can still log in to see complete Star Alliance award availability and then phone United to make their reservations.

EMIRATES/VIRGIN AMERICA BECOME LOYALTY PARTNERS…Members of Emirates and Virgin America’s frequent flyer programs can earn and burn their miles on each other’s flights. Until now, the only other easy way to earn and redeem miles on Emirates (without flying Emirates directly) was by using Alaska Airlines miles, which provides a similar partnership. Virgin Elevate now partners with two of the worlds finest airlines.. Emirate and Singapore. Not bad! 

Chris McGinnis 

And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

More A380s + Cathay discounts biz class + SJC courts Asia + Double Elevate pts

>Southwest FINALLY joins PreCheck

>United to allow handhelds below 10K feet

>Travel advice fit for a Queen (Latifah!)

>New landing procedure at SFO should help w delays! Hallelujah!

>Big, bad United MileagePlus surprise 

>Virgin’s new Safety Dance

>Riding the Red Carpet Route to London! 

>Double Miles on United & Southwest

>$100 hotels in NYC 

>Two posh new lounges coming to SFO 

***

Subscribe to TravelSkills-  via e-mail!

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Chris & Queen Latifah talk holiday travel (VIDEO)

Queen Latifah called for holiday travel advice last week and we delivered!

She flew BAT editor Chris McGinnis down to LA (Delta Shuttle), met him at the airport with Mercedes SUV transfers, and put him up at the Hotel Palomar in Westwood for one night.

Chris McGinnis and Queen Latifah on the Queen Latifah Show set in Los Angeles

Chris McGinnis and Queen Latifah on the Queen Latifah Show set in Los Angeles

On show day, more limo transfers to the Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City for the taping of the seven-minute segment. The Queen provided my own private green room, with a small sofa, desk, snacks, bathroom. Other guests that day included Cloris Leachman and the Irish band Kodaline.

We taped the segment in front of a live audience from two first class airline seats in the middle of the set! the Queen was warm, personable and a LOT of fun (I expected no less!). Did you know that Queen Latifah’s real name is Dana Owens? That’s what everyone behind stage was calling her. (I just called her “your Majesty!)

Then a rush to LAX (thankfully the day before the incident at Terminal 3) and back to San Francisco.

What a fun day!

See part of the segment above…. or check out the show notes I sent prior to appearing on the show.

Holiday travel- Holiday travel season usually mimics the peak summer travel season, which this year was VERY busy and VERY expensive, so I expect the same for the upcoming holiday season

·         Best time to buy tickets- Due to high demand, there simply are not any “deals” on the peak days around Christmas and New Years this year. This year, travelers who want the most convenient flights on their preferred airlines need to book by Nov 10 to get seats on those flights…otherwise they will likely be stuck paying the same high price for “dog flights” that depart super early or late, middle seats, or multiple stops on non-preferred airlines. My favorite sites for booking air: Kayak.com and Routehappy.com

·         Alternative travel options that people don’t think about- If you have the flexibility to travel during the slowest times of year, the so called “dead weeks” of early December and early January, you can save 50-70% on airfare. Best sites for deadweek deals: Hotwire.com, TravelZoo. Another alternative is to consider staying over in a hotel when visiting families during the holidays– rates at new hotels in or near suburban office parks are at annual lows during holidays, and facilities are nice. Having your own space at a hotel is a big relief for both the traveler and the host during the stressy holidays.

·         Best days/times for traveling- Good news about this year’s holiday season is that it is LONGER than usual with Christmas and New Years falling on Wednesdays– the full season will be over two weeks long, which means more wiggle room for travelers. (Compared to a season when Xmas and New Years both fall on say, Sunday, which makes for a much more compact season)

·         Luggage issues– Do not check bags during the holidays. If you have too much for a carry on, ship ahead of time, but do so at the “ground” rate at UPS or FEDEX. Shipping overnight or two-day is too expensive.

·         Rewards. It’s nearly impossible to use airline frequent flyer awards during blacked out peak holiday season, so this is the time of year to focus on using credit card rewards such as Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards which do not have blackout dates. Also, hotel programs like Best Western Rewards offer non travel awards such as gift cards to big stores like Sears or Target that are perfect gifts

·         How to make holiday travel less stressful– see above– stay at a hotel instead of on the lumpy sofa bed of your relatives. Rates are dirt cheap during holiday season. Also, always try to book nonstop flights because you double your chances of a delay or cancellation with a one stop flight, even though you might save a few bucks.

Chris McGinnis 

And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

>New landing procedure at SFO should help w delays! Hallelujah!

>Big, bad United MileagePlus surprise 

>Virgin’s new Safety Dance

>Riding the Red Carpet Route to London! 

>Double Miles on United & Southwest

>$100 hotels in NYC 

>Two posh new lounges coming to SFO 

>Airline cat fight benefitting TravelSkills Readers 

***

Subscribe to TravelSkills-  via e-mail!

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Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard – $89 Annual Fee Card     Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard - $89 Annual Fee Card

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more on purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. 40,000 bonus miles equates to $400 off your next travel redemption!
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months after account opening. After that, variable APR, currently 14.99% or 18.99%, based upon your creditworthiness
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • No mileage caps or foreign transaction fees
  • Get 10% miles back when you redeem for travel statement credits (i.e. redeem 25,000 miles for travel and get 2,500 miles back)
  • Use your card to book through any airline, hotel or discount travel engine with no blackout dates or seat restrictions
  • Easily redeem your miles for statement credits towards all or a portion of your travel purchases within the last 90 days
  • Complimentary online FICO® Score access for Arrival cardmembers

Double miles on United, Southwest + $100 hotels in NYC

Flying down the coast on a fine fall day peering down at Pacifica & Devil's slide (Chris McGinnis)

Flying down the coast on a fine fall day peering down at Pacifica & Devil’s slide (Chris McGinnis)

When demand for air travel declines during the fall and winter months, airlines and hotels roll out promotions to keep us on the road and in the sky, which helps build up those banks of loyalty points.

For example, yesterday United MileagePlus launched a double miles promotion valid during the very slow weeks leading up to Thanksgiving– from now through November 21 only. But the promo is full of catches and limiting loopholes.

For example, you’ll only earn double miles on domestic US flights in the contiguous 48 states, which is a clear sign that this promo is a reaction to Southwest’s double points offer (see below).

It only applies to flights booked and flown between now and Nov 21.  So for example, if you already have a reservation to fly United next week, you won’t earn double miles on it.

Finally, and most irritatingly, it also does not apply to the lowest fare classes. And as usual, the double miles are BONUS miles and do not count toward your annual PQMs.

Registration is required and you’ll find full details here.

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(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards kicked off the double points promo last week, good for all flights booked and traveled between now and Nov 21.

What’s nice is that this DOES apply to Southwest’s cheapest Wanna Get Away fares, where you’ll earn six bonus points per dollar spent. More expensive Anytime fares earn 10 bonus points and Business Select fares earn 12 bonus points.

Registration is required and you’ll find full details here. 

Virgin America is offering double Elevate points through Dec 31 to those booking more expensive (and roomy) Main Cabin Select or first class fare. Details here.  Virgin has also slashed fares for trips during the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Check out the deals here. 

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It’s not just airlines trying to pump up the volume during slower months…. hotels are getting in on the act, too.

For example, Best Western is offering up to 20% off its standard rates for those booking on its website and selecting “Internet Only” rates for stays between now and Nov 24. It’s also offering a nice bump of 1,000 points to members of Best Western Rewards. Details here. (Disclosure: I’m a contributor to Best Western’s YouMustBeTrippin.com blog.)

Anyone who has traveled to New York recently has felt the pain of some of the highest hotel rates in the country. But that will change during the cold dark weeks of early January.

Newly renovated lobby at Affinia Manhattan hotel (Affinia)

Newly renovated lobby at Affinia Manhattan hotel (Affinia)

From Jan 3-12, you’ll find rates of $100, $200 and $300 available at a variety of properties, (many of which currently go for nearly $500 a night), so the savings can be substantial.

For example, the popular Affinia Manhattan is going for $100 per night; the hip and brand new Refinery Hotel (garment district) and Jade hotel (Greenwich Village) are going for $200 per night. For $300 you can squeeze in the trendy new Thompson LES (Lower East Side) for $300.

For a full listing of participating hotels and how to get the discount see this. 

Chris McGinnis

 

Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard - $89 Annual Fee CardSPONSOR: HOW TO GET A $400 AIRLINE TICKET FOR $89…and help out TravelSkills?: Want to snag an easy 40,000 bonus miles? Earn 2x miles on all purchases? Avoid obnoxious foreign transaction fees? Get TripIt Pro for free? Check out the new Barclaycard promo here or at the bottom of this post. Easy peasy! Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard – $89 Annual Fee Card We earn a small commission when BATs sign up, so if you are in the market for a new card, help us out and sign up! It’s quick and easy.

And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

>Two posh new lounges coming to SFO 

>Airline cat fight benefitting TravelSkills Readers 

>8 things to like about Delta’s new California Shuttle

>Clock is ticking on latest Fall/Winter nationwide fare sale

>United’s newer, thinner seat

>Delta dumps SFO-Tokyo flight

>Slideshow of the swish new Star Alliance lounge at LAX

***

Subscribe to TravelSkills-  via e-mail!

Are YOU signed up for TravelSkills- TravelSkills? If not, why not? Subscribe to TravelSkills via e-mail!

 

Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard – $89 Annual Fee Card     Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard - $89 Annual Fee Card

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more on purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. 40,000 bonus miles equates to $400 off your next travel redemption!
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months after account opening. After that, variable APR, currently 14.99% or 18.99%, based upon your creditworthiness
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • No mileage caps or foreign transaction fees
  • Get 10% miles back when you redeem for travel statement credits (i.e. redeem 25,000 miles for travel and get 2,500 miles back)
  • Use your card to book through any airline, hotel or discount travel engine with no blackout dates or seat restrictions
  • Easily redeem your miles for statement credits towards all or a portion of your travel purchases within the last 90 days
  • Complimentary online FICO® Score access for Arrival cardmembers

 

 

 

 

 

First fall/winter fare sale worth a look

SouthwestTail

Southwest Airlines announced a three-day, nationwide fare sale today that will likely be matched by most other airlines across the country within 24 hours.

The prices are decent, but these fares are not available on key dates around the Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Years season. (See fare chart below.) Today, Travelocity reported that holiday airfares are 7% higher than last year’s holiday season…and last year was expensive.

These fare only apply to trips during the so-called “dead weeks” in early December and early January. They do not include travel on busy Fridays and Sundays.

However, if you have the flexibility to travel during the dead weeks, these fares represent good value. Here’s why:

>They are perfect for business travelers who may want to visit a client one last time this year, or early next year.

>They offer some good opportunities for end-of-year “mileage runners” hoping to gain or maintain elite status.

>They are also a nice break for flexible fliers who may not be able to shell out the big bucks for overpriced flights on key dates around the holidays.

>If you are planning to ski this year, Southwest offers plenty of great deals to cities near western ski resorts.

Here’s the Southwest fine print. Look for similar fares (with identical restrictions) to pop up on other carriers within one or two days.

These low fares are available for purchase on southwest.com starting Tuesday, Oct 8 through Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, 11:59 p.m. for the respective time zone of the originating city, for travel every day of the week except Fridays and Sundays, Dec. 4 through Dec. 18, 2013, and Jan. 7 through Feb. 12, 2014. For travel up to 500 miles, fares are $49 one-way. For travel 501 to 1,000 miles, fares are $99 one-way.  For travel 1,001 to 1,500 miles, fares are $129 one-way.  For travel 1,501 plus miles, fares are $149 one-way.

 Route Thanksgiving Peak: Nov 27-Dec 1 roundtrips Dead Week Deal: Dec 11-14 roundtrips
ATL-New York LGA $550 $197
ATL-Chicago MDW $355 $197
ATL-Orlando $375 $98
ATL-Denver $415 $238
ATL-LAX $573 $337

(Nonstop fares searched on Southwest.com Oct 8, 2014 and subject to availability and change)

HOW TO GET A $400 AIRLINE TICKET FOR $89: Want to snag an easy 40,000 bonus miles? Earn 2x miles on all purchases? Avoid obnoxious foreign transaction fees? Get TripIt Pro for free? Check out the new Barclaycard promo here or at the bottom of this post. Easy peasy! Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard – $89 Annual Fee Card

Chris McGinnis

*****

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First fall/winter fare sale announced

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Southwest Airlines announced a three-day, nationwide fare sale today that will likely be matched by most other airlines across the country within 24 hours.

The prices are decent, but these fares are not available on key dates around the Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Years season. (See fare chart below.) Today, Travelocity reported that holiday airfares are 7% higher than last year’s holiday season…and last year was expensive.

These fares only apply to trips during the so-called “dead weeks” in early December and early January-February. They do not include travel on busy Fridays and Sundays.

However, if you have the flexibility to travel during the dead weeks, these fares represent good value. Here’s why:

>They are perfect for business travelers who may want to visit a client one last time this year, or early next year.

>They offer some good opportunities for end-of-year “mileage runners” hoping to gain or maintain elite status.

>They are also a nice break for flexible fliers who may not be able to shell out the big bucks for overpriced flights on key dates around the holidays.

>If you are planning to ski this year, Southwest offers plenty of great deals to cities near western ski resorts.

Look for similar fares (with identical restrictions) to pop up on other carriers within one or two days, so be sure to shop around. Increasingly, Southwest does not always offer the lowest fare in any given market. 

Here’s the Southwest fine print.

These low fares are available for purchase on southwest.com starting Tuesday, Oct 8 through Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, 11:59 p.m. for the respective time zone of the originating city, for travel every day of the week except Fridays and Sundays, Dec. 4 through Dec. 18, 2013, and Jan. 7 through Feb. 12, 2014. For travel up to 500 miles, fares are $49 one-way. For travel 501 to 1,000 miles, fares are $99 one-way.  For travel 1,001 to 1,500 miles, fares are $129 one-way.  For travel 1,501 plus miles, fares are $149 one-way.

 Route Thanksgiving Peak: Nov 27-Dec 1 roundtrips Dead Week Deal: Dec 11-14 roundtrips
SFO-New York JFK $680 $332
SFO-Chicago $547 $292
OAK-Seattle $415 $178
SFO-Denver $445 $197
SFO-Los Angeles $198 $98

(Notes:  Nonstop fares searched on Southwest.com & Kayak.com on Oct 8, 2014 and subject to availability and change.)

HOW TO GET A $400 AIRLINE TICKET FOR $89: Want to snag an easy 40,000 bonus miles? Earn 2x miles on all purchases? Avoid obnoxious foreign transaction fees? Get TripIt Pro for free? Check out the new Barclaycard promo here or at the bottom of this post. Easy peasy! Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard – $89 Annual Fee Card

Chris McGinnis

***

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Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard – $89 Annual Fee Card     Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard - $89 Annual Fee Card

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Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

Better SFO wi-fi + more TSA lanes + Southwest rules + OAK Connector + 50% p.s.

Here’s part 2 of our catch-up on the most important travel news for TravelSkills Readers from the last couple months. We’re sending out a couple installments of TravelSkills this week. ICYMI, here’s Part 1 of this week’s catch up!

Here's the hipster landing page you'll see when logging on to SFOFREEWIFI

Here’s the new hipster landing page you’ll see when logging on to SFO FREE WIFI

BETTER WIFI AT SFO. Logging on the (thankfully free) wi-fi at SFO became a clutter free experience this summer with an upgrade to a newer, faster network. Instead of a greeting of irritating ads, you can now log on with one click accepting terms and conditions, and boom, you are good to go for up to two hours.  Look for “SFO FREE WIFI.” When the airport is busy, the connections tend to slow down a bit, but hey, you get what you pay for, right?

The walls obscuring construction of SFO's T3 Premium security checkpoint (Chris McGinnis)

The walls obscuring construction of SFO’s T3 Premium security checkpoint (Chris McGinnis)

PREMIUM SECURITY EXPANSION AT SFO. Have you seen boarded up area adjacent to United’s Premium Security entry point (F-3) on the far western side of Terminal 3? Apparently, it’s hiding a significant expansion (six lanes, up from current four) of the frequently clogged security checkpoint, but we’ve not been able to squeeze any more details (such as opening dates) out of SFO yet. Stay tuned.

BART OAKLAND CONNECTOR UPDATE. The project to add an elevated spur line from BART’s coliseum station to Oakland Airport is on time and should open this time next year. The 3.2-mile ride should take just eight minutes and while fares have not been finalized, they could range from the current bus shuttle fare of $3 to as high as $8. The San Francisco Business Times reports that the project was initially pegged at just $100 million, but the final tab will be closer to $500 million. Now if we could just get BART to circle the Bay with a stop at San Jose Airport, we’d be world class! Will you be more likely to use Oakland Airport with the addition of the rail link? Please leave your comments below.

CHOOSE RENTAL CAR FROM PLANE? Yep. National Car Rental’s Emerald Club members will soon be able to fire up their phones when the plane touches down and using the new National smart phone app, choose among a real time display of available cars by make, model, even color. It’s sort of a virtual version of National’s popular Emerald Aisle where travelers who have reservations for a mid-sized or large car are allowed to choose any car on the lot. The new app will work at airports in Omaha, Richmond and Tulsa starting September 30 and National says it should be working at a total of 25 airports by the end of the year. Check out this video (above) of National’s Rob Connors explaining how it all works.

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Screen shot 2013-09-18 at 10.30.03 PM

(discoverlosangeles.com)

NEW LAX TERMINAL OPENS. This week marks the long awaited opening of the new $1.9 billion Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX. At 150,000 square feet, it’s half again as large as its dingy predecessor. The new curved-roof terminal we’ve all watched under construction in recent years is bathed in natural light, full of electronic art, mod furnishings, upscale dining and retail, new airline clubs and fantastic views of the tarmac and runways. (Sounds a lot like SFO’s Terminal 2, no?) The terminal is still a work in progress– it won’t be fully opened until 2015. To see more, check out this slideshow from the LA Times.

SOUTHWEST NO-SHOW NOW IN EFFECT. On Sept 13, Southwest’s new no-show policy went into effect. Customers who cancel a Wanna Get Away or Ding fare before departure can reuse their funds toward future travel without a change fee as in the past. Customers with other higher priced fully refundable fares either request a refund or hold funds for future travel. HOWEVER, if the ticket is not changed or canceled within 10 minutes of departure (no show), travelers lose the entire value of the ticket.

Inside San Diego's snappy new Terminal 2 West (Chris McGinnis)

Inside San Diego’s snappy new Terminal 2 West- those wavy lights are actually an art installation (Chris McGinnis)

SAN DIEGO MODERNIZES. Terminals at San Diego International’s 60s-vintage Lindberg Field are in dire need of repair or replacement. Flying Virgin America out of SFO’s state-of-the-art Terminal 2 last month and arriving at San Diego’s dingy old Terminal 2 East was a real eye opener. However, peering out from the old, dark eastern side of Terminal 2 I saw something bright and shiny and was pleased to be able to take a walk over to the new western wing of Terminal 2—and the difference was like night and day. In August, United opened a sparkling new 6,000 sq ft United Club in this new space. The United Club features spectacular views of the Point Loma seaside community, balcony lounge seating within the atrium and a centrally located buffet and bar. United is consolidating its operations at SAN, relocating all gates to Terminal 2 West and moving all its ticket counters there. No word yet on when much the much needed refurb of Terminal 1 (Southwest, Alaska) and Terminal 2 East (Virgin, others) will occur.

p.s. HALFWAY THERE. United says that it now has reconfigured eight of its 15 p.s. service flights to/from JFK and SFO/LAX. All planes should be completed by the end of this year. Have you flown on the refurbed 757 yet? How was it? Please leave your comments below.

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MORE MONTREAL. Did you know that Air Canada offers nonstops between SFO and Montreal during summer months? Starting this November, the 5.5-hour flight will transition to year-round using an Airbus A319. The Air Canada flight departs SFO at 8:10 am and arrives Montreal at 4:30. On the way back it departs Montreal-Trudeau at 5:35 pm, arriving SFO at 9 pm.  TIP: Air Canada offers some very competitive transatlantic fares from SFO via Montreal… and since it’s a member of Star Alliance you’ll earn MileagePlus points.

RENO-TAHOE. When Southwest pulled out of the Oakland-Reno market this year, Allegiant stepped in with fares as low at $40.00 each way on its Friday and Sunday (only) roundtrips. Allegiant also flies from Oakland to Bellingham WA, Eugene OR, Phoenix/Mesa AZ, Provo UT. Note that it only offers flights on certain days of the week—none daily.

Fares falling for fall flights to Hawaii!

Fares falling for fall flights to Hawaii!

MORE HAWAII. Beginning January 5, 2014, Hawaiian Airlines will offer daily wide-body 767 flights between Oakland and Honolulu, increasing its flights from four times a week. Daily service between Oakland and Kahului, Maui will continue as scheduled. In addition, Hawaiian Airlines will start new annual summer service between Oakland and Līhue, Kauai three times a week, and Oakland and Kona four times a week running from June 14 to August 15, 2014. We have started noticing the decline in Bay-to-Hawaii fares that comes during fall months… below $500 in some cases. When you seen anything near $300 roundtrip, you know you have a deal so grab that!.

MORE ONTARIO. United is adding a fifth daily flight between SFO and Ontario (ONT) starting December 19th using a CRJ-200.

ICYMI, here’s Part 1 of this week’s BAT news catch up!

Like what you are reading? Then please PLEASE forward this link to at least three frequent travelers and tell them to sign up for the Bay Area Traveler! THANKS!

Chris McGinnis

***

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