US airlines vs Emirates, Etihad, Qatar. Who cares?

Open Skies

This chart illustrates how quickly gulf carriers have added US destinations compared to US carriers adding Gulf destinations

Just as Etihad announced that it would be flying its new three-room “residence” aboard an A380 to New York ($64K round trip) this year, US airlines American, Delta and United made their case today against Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.

The US carriers contend that these Gulf carriers have received over $40 billion in subsidies from their governments, which has distorted the market and given them unfair advantage over US carriers. The subsidies include things like interest-free “loans” with no repayment obligation, free land or government assumption of fuel-hedging losses.  US Airlines presentation

The US carriers say that these subsidies run counter to the spirit of “Open Skies” agreements formed in 1992, and they want the US government to re-open and modify these agreements to address the distortion brought on by these subsidies.

This ranking chart shows how quickly gulf carrier capacity has grown since 1998

This ranking chart shows how quickly gulf carrier capacity has grown since 1998

Here’s a PDF of the US airlines argument. Since most TravelSkills readers are also business people, I would be very interested to hear reactions to this argument.

Related: How Emirates welcomes a new plane [photos] 

Take a spin through the bullet points and charts laid out here (it’s a quick read) and leave your comments below! 

Consider answering these questions: Are US airline justified with their position or are they just whining? Are Gulf carriers unfairly subsidized, asking US carriers to play in a distorted market and trying to cover that up? Have you flown a Gulf carrier? Would you? Do you even care? Why?

US Airlines presentation

–Chris McGinnis

Breakfast scones and "bagel sticks" are part of the new breakfast menu coming to United Clubs (Photo: United)

United Clubs upgrade food & renovate

6 practical, protective or fun phone cases

+++

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<
Like what you just read? Then say so! Scroll back up to the top and LIKE the post on Facebook, post it on Linked In and/or tweet it!

facebook like

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

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

Don't miss the travel deals posted on TravelSkills!


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

(Photo: The Digitel / Flickr)

(Photo: The Digitel / Flickr)

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

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

There are a few wrinkles to Hilton’s offer:

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

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

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

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

Related: Hilton’s current double points promo

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

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

Here are the details of Hilton’s announcement today:

Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 9.03.22 AM

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

Chris McGinnis

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

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

+++

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<
Like what you just read? Then say so! Scroll back up to the top and LIKE the post on Facebook, post it on Linked In and/or tweet it!

facebook like

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

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

Don't miss the travel deals posted on TravelSkills!


5 ways to do good on your next trip

Make someone happy on your next biz trip...and it may come back to you (Photo Lisa Parker / Flickr)

Make someone happy on your next biz trip…and it may come back to you (Photo Lisa Parker / Flickr)

Let’s face it, business travel can suck the soul right out of you.

There are myriad ways, however, to put that “good” right back into your trip, small things that don’t take a lot of effort but that leave the road better than when you found it.

Here are five great ways to give back when traveling:

At your hotel, see that bathroom amenities are put to good use when you leave. Clean the World, one of my favorite travel nonprofits, collects and recycles soap and shampoo from hotels to distribute to at-risk populations and prevent hygiene-related illnesses and death. If your hotel doesn’t participate in Clean the World (check for signage or consult the website), leave a brief note at the front desk for the general manager to suggest they join. Amenity Aid is a similar program, but you need to mail the products to its Rhode Island facility (or drop-off locations in RI).

(Photo: Rachel Titiriga / Flickr)

(Photo: Rachel Titiriga / Flickr)

Donate spare change to a good cause. Since 1994, UNICEF and American Airlines have partnered in the Change for Good program. The “hat” is passed on board participating AA international flights, and donation boxes are located in some Admirals Clubs and Flagship Lounges, too. MeaningfulChange coin collection boxes are situated at TSA security checkpoints across the U.S., and the money is donated to partner nonprofits. Similar but airport-initiated collections at Denver DIA and Vancouver YVR support local charities. Don’t see a place to donate as you scramble to head for home on an international flight? Go old-school and just give your remaining coins and bills to a child—guaranteed to make that kid’s day!

West Coast – New York LaGuardia flights on horizon?

Did you think your crazy-busy travel schedule means you can’t mentor a young person? Not so. You could be mentoring, even as you wait at the gate for your next flight. Digital mentorship is a growing trend, often doesn’t require a long-term commitment, and is as easy as an email exchange. I’ve mentored through studentmentor.org, but there are plenty more organizations out there, including icouldbe.org, which focuses on helping at-risk middle and high school students stay in school and achieve.

Similarly, it’s easy to “micro-volunteer” when you’re hanging out in your hotel room. At skillsforchange.com, fill out a brief profile and they’ll periodically email you with nonprofit challenges that fit your skill-base. I’ve had challenges as simple as “Help us come up with a catchy name for our spring fundraiser.” Or at helpfromhome.org you’ll find a smorgasbord of opportunities from citizen science projects to letter writing. As their website says, “You can dip in and dip out with absolutely no commitment.”

Bloodbath for airlines a boon for travelers

Finally, traveling offers endless opportunities to just reach out to others who are stressed. When Mother Teresa was asked how people can best make a difference, her answer was simple: Smile. “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do,” she said. While you’re at it, why not take it a step further: Voice the compliments that cross your mind. Think the mother entertaining her busy toddler is doing a great job? Say so. Admire the skills of the Excel power-user in the seat next to you? Say so. Really enjoyed your meal at a restaurant? Walk back in the kitchen and tell the chef. Impressed that the pilots pulled off a smooth-as-ice landing in the crosswind? Say so.

Travel would be so much more enjoyable if we all were a bit kinder to each other.

Do you have any travel practices that make the world a little better? Please share in the comments.

–Nancy Branka

+++

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<
Like what you just read? Then say so! Scroll back up to the top and LIKE the post on Facebook, post it on Linked In and/or tweet it!

facebook like

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

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

Don't miss the travel deals posted on TravelSkills!


Restrictions on free-flowing airport booze?

American Airline's self serve bar at its LAX Flagship lounge (Photo: Lounge Buddy)

American Airline’s self serve bar at its LAX Flagship lounge (Photo: Lounge Buddy)

It happened again yesterday. As I was putting this TravelSkills post together, yet another boozed up traveler described as “uncooperative and combative” was taken into custody at LAX  and was dragged away “kicking and screaming.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 7.59.32 AM

Headline from today’s LATimes.com

The US Federal Aviation Adminstration (FAA) deals with around 150 air rage incidents every year and over the past 20 years has had to take action against more than 4,000 passengers. Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority reported 114 air rage incidents (many fueled by alcohol) in the UK in 2014, up from 85 in 2013, 47 in 2012 and 39 in 2011 according to the Daily Mail.

It’s become so bad that the British Air Transport Association is now putting pressure on airport sales of booze. “Passengers are responsible for their own behaviour, but airport bars and duty free shops can play their part by making sure they sell alcohol responsibly,” said Nathan Stower, the association’s CEO, in The Telegraph.

As incidents like this increase, I’m wondering if we’ll soon see efforts to cut back on the “open bar” concept at airport lounges, because it seems that many of these incidents begin at the airport, and then play out on board.

Fortune’s 10 most admired (travel-related) companies

I also wonder what effect restrictions on free-flowing airport booze may have on the burgeoning business of airport lounges.

To help understand, I asked Tyler Dikman, the founder of the popular Lounge Buddy app about this. Here’s our Q&A.

Q: Are there regions where “open bar” is more prevalent/less prevalent or illegal?

LoungeBuddy: In some parts of the world, where alcohol consumption is not the accepted norm due to religious reasons, you may find far fewer open bars at airport lounges, or even a complete ban on alcohol sales and distribution. In general, most lounges around the world feature open bars with unlimited well drinks. Self-serve open bars are typically found in Europe and Asia, where high-end lounges are more prevalent, and there is less stigma against drinking. International airlines that operate airport lounges in the US, such as British Airways and Emirates, continue to provide self-serve open bars. While virtually all US airline lounges now have open bars, only a select few feature self-serve bars, such as the United Global First Lounges and American Airlines Flagship Lounges.

Bartenders on duty at Delta's Sky Club in Atlanta (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Bartenders on duty at Delta’s Sky Club in Atlanta (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Q: Do you think that airport clubs may resort to more controlled “bartender only” drinks? Why or why not?

Internationally, we actually see the opposite. Upscale lounges such as the newly renovated The Wing First Class Lounge at HKG now feature a self-serve champagne bar. We see a continued liberalization of the self-serve alcohol policy across Europe and Asia, as well as Australia. In the US, domestic lounges remain tight-fisted with alcohol, keeping bottles behind the bar, and even charging extra for premium beer, wine, and spirits. We don’t see this policy changing in the near future.

Q: Does the drunk passenger situation seem to be more prevalent overseas than in the US

The short answer is no. With hundreds of millions of passengers passing through airports in the US each year, the likelihood of encountering the few bad eggs will of course increase. Air rage incidents can occur anywhere, and we’ve seen reported spikes in the UK, China, and other countries. Most of this, of course, can be attributed to the overall increase in passenger traffic over the past decade.

Q: How valuable is the “free” cocktails component of club membership?

We find that most travelers who purchase club memberships typically value comfort, privacy, and convenient business amenities the most. However, complimentary beer, wine, and cocktails are certainly a very popular aspect of the airport lounge experience as well. In terms of value, if you consider that a typical cocktail at an airport bar costs approximately $15 including tip, then just two to three drinks in an airport lounge can represent the cost of a standard one-time entry pass ($35 – $50). With an annual lounge membership, the value of these free drinks can be even greater. Of course, we don’t recommend purchasing a membership for the sole purpose of overindulging in alcohol at the airport lounge. However, we do find that alcoholic beverages remain one of the most popular amenities inside the lounge.

What do you think? Should airports restrict booze sales? If so, how would that impact your decisions around airline lounge use? Please leave your comments below. 

–Chris McGinnis

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

Planespotting 101: Boeing 757, 767 (latest)

Planespotting 101: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320

Planespotting 101: MD-80/90 & Boeing 717

+++

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<
Like what you just read? Then say so! Scroll back up to the top and LIKE the post on Facebook, post it on Linked In and/or tweet it!

facebook like

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

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

Don't miss the travel deals posted on TravelSkills!

 

 

 


Fortune’s 10 most admired (travel-related) companies

Apple's iPhone, seen here in leather, has become a frequent travel essential (Photo: Omar Jordan Fawahl / Flickr)

Apple’s iPhone, seen here in leather, has become a frequent travel essential (Photo: Omar Jordan Fawahl / Flickr)

This week FORTUNE magazine churned out its annual list of “most admired” companies.

While most of the top 10 are not specifically travel-related companies, they all have a profound impact on our daily lives as frequent travelers. Here’s what I mean.

1) Apple. Think about how Apple has transformed the travel experience with the iPhone and iPad. These days 48% of TravelSkills readers access the blog from mobile devices and we have Apple to thank for that. And Apple has been pumping soothing music into our ears for years helping us to forget about cramped cabins and screaming babies, right?

Related: 6 tips for taking better iPhone pics

2) Google. I can’t think of a company that has altered the travel experience more in the last decade than Google. Most helpful for me as a frequent driver is its new Waze map app– a wizard at showing me short cuts around traffic, and keeping me alerted to speed traps. Then there’s flight status. Did you know that you can enter “Delta 134″ in the Google search bar and get immediate flight status? Or enter “SFO JFK” and get an immediate “ballpark” figure on flight price. Oh, and then there’s ITA Matrix, the best airfare research tool out there. The list goes on and on…

3) Berkshire Hathaway. In addition to owning NetJets, which is perhaps the best known provider of private jet services, Berkshire Hathaway is a big provider of travel insurance, most recently rolling out an innovative new protection product called Aircare that pays you up to $1,000 for things like missed connections or long tarmac delays.

4) Amazon. Let’s face it, frequent travelers rarely have time to shop. With Amazon at our fingertips, we can order nearly anything online from the plane or hotel room and have what we need at home when we get there. Sorry SkyMall! Related: SkyMall bankruptcy no surprise

Starbucks in Dubai? (Photo: Joi Ito / Flikr)

Starbucks in Dubai? (Photo: Joi Ito / Flikr)

5) Starbucks. We just wrote about how frequent travelers should strive to soak up local culture by drinking coffee like locals do. But do we always do so? Or is the most frequently phrase we use overseas, “Where’s the nearest Starbucks?” In addition, Starbucks and Delta just partnered and will serve a whopping 68 million cups of coffee this year on Delta flights.

Related: Coffee 5 ways in 5 cities…or Starbucks?

6) Walt Disney. Walt Disney not only touches us when we are on vacation with the kids, but when we are standing in line at TSA, which took its queue control technology from Mickey.

7) Southwest. Despite the fact that it’s not always the lowest fare option any more, Southwest’s no-nonsense business practices around boarding planes and not charging penalties for itinerary changes resonate with frequent travelers. I just wish they still had an AirTran-like business class section for those long flights…but that would probably just complicate things.

Check in at the new American Express Centurion lounge at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Check in at the new American Express Centurion lounge at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

8) American Express. Were it not for a large cash infusion and long term support from American Express, Delta Air Lines would likely not be around these days. Frequent travelers also love AMEX for its new Centurion clubs and highly regarded Membership Rewards program.

Related: First look Centurion Club at SFO

9) General Electric. It’s not just lightbulbs. The GE conglomerate is one of the largest jet engine manufacturers in the world.

"I'll just have a diet Coke." (Photo: Jellidonut / Flickr)

“I’ll just have a diet Coke.” (Photo: Jellidonut / Flickr)

10) Coca Cola. The other most frequently used phrase by frequent travelers? “I’ll just have a diet Coke.” Or a “Coke light” when overseas. Right?

Other travel companies near the top of the most-admired list?

19) Singapore Airlines

27) Boeing

37) Marriott International

39) Delta Air Lines

Here’s the full list of 2015’s most admired companies from FORTUNE.

–Chris McGinnis

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

Planespotting 101: Boeing 757, 767 (latest)

Planespotting 101: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320

Planespotting 101: MD-80/90 & Boeing 717

+++

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<
Like what you just read? Then say so! Scroll back up to the top and LIKE the post on Facebook, post it on Linked In and/or tweet it!

facebook like

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

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

Don't miss the travel deals posted on TravelSkills!

 


Loews shakes up hotel biz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Chris McGinnis

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

Planespotting 101: Boeing 757, 767 (latest)

Planespotting 101: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320

Planespotting 101: MD-80/90 & Boeing 717

+++

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<
Like what you just read? Then say so! Scroll back up to the top and LIKE the post on Facebook, post it on Linked In and/or tweet it!

facebook like

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

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

Don't miss the travel deals posted on TravelSkills!

 


Are lower fuel costs resulting in lower airfares?

How will lower fuel costs affect airfares? (Photo: Deni Williams / Flickr)

How will lower fuel costs affect airfares? (Photo: Deni Williams / Flickr)

Will falling fuel costs result in lower airfares? Is it too early to book holiday trips?

Earlier this month I had a meeting with the scientists behind the new airfare prediction website FLYR, at their headquarters in downtown San Francisco. After that meeting I came up with some fare-related questions that TravelSkills readers might like to ask these smart guys.

Last week I asked them to help us predict what spring-summer airfares will look like this year. (see that post)

Today, I’ve asked them to examine what impact lower fuel costs might have on airfares later this year… and into the holidays.

Q: Will airlines lower fares at the last minute for travel to Europe this summer due to sharply lower fuel costs? Will decreased demand from Europeans due to weak currency situation bring prices down compared to last year?

FLYR: In general, we do not recommend waiting until the last minute for any airfares unless it is absolutely necessary (see previous post to learn why). Regarding fuel costs and currencies, these are issues that we at FLYR recently examined, due to the immense public interest in the recent plunge in crude oil prices.

03

We observed that over the rise and fall of jet fuel prices in the past two decades, airfares are remarkably stable in comparison. Part of this lies in the relative elasticity of demand between the two products. See the charts above (and below) which compare what we pay in fares to what airlines pay for fuel. Note how inflation adjusted airfares have remained nearly flat over the last 20 years, while fuel prices have jumped around wildly. 

Another reason fares are not heavily affected by fuel prices is the use of fuel price hedging by airlines (the extent of the practice varies by carrier). When fuel prices are hedged in monthly, quarterly, or semi-annual contracts, airlines get a better sense as to what operational costs look like in the near future. Likewise, these hedges act as a buffer against sudden changes in spot prices.

Predicting spring-summer airfares

04

The quarter-on-quarter changes since 2007 represent some of the most volatile periods for energy prices in recent history. Even so, you can see a counter-cyclical-like movement trend between fuel prices and airfares. It’s not really a counter-cyclical relationship of course; rather, it’s a one or two quarter lag before any drastic changes show up in airfare pricing.

Similar to commodities hedging, currency fluctuations are also hedged by a number of carriers with global reach. Therefore, we expect that a large part of the recent currency swings will be absorbed at the carrier level. Any effects felt at the consumer level (if at all) would take time to hit.

Q: For Holiday season travel, I need to travel on peak days around Xmas….should I book my ticket home for the holidays NOW or should I wait?

FLYR: There’s definitely a feeling of dread when it comes to booking holiday travel — not least due to the skyrocketing fares on certain peak days. That said, we found that the trajectory of holiday vs. non-holiday airfares is actually very similar. So what accounts for the extra cost of airfares?

There are two primary factors at work. First, certain discount fare classes are completely removed from holiday inventory, so needless to say holiday travelers shouldn’t count on snagging a “killer deal” during peak travel dates.

Second, travelers tend to book a few extra weeks in advance due to the relative importance of holiday travel and the fear factor associated with expensive holiday airfares (talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy!). Our advice? Expect to pay more – not because you necessarily missed a lower fare, but because there were fewer lower fares to begin with. Book your holiday trips a few weeks earlier than you normally would, but certainly no need to book (or stress about the holidays) nine months in advance.

See previous post about predicting spring-summer airfares

–Chris McGinnis

In Case You Missed It…

>American sets schedules for first 787 Dreamliners.

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

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

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

Planespotting 101: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320

Planespotting 101: MD-80/90 & Boeing 717

+++

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<
Like what you just read? Then say so! Scroll back up to the top and LIKE the post on Facebook, post it on Linked In and/or tweet it!

facebook like

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

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

Don't miss the travel deals posted on TravelSkills!

 


Should United pay for its mistakes?

Mistake fares make flyers feel like kids in a candy store (David Blackwell)

Mistake fares make frequent flyers feel like kids in a candy store (David Blackwell / Flickr)

In a widely publicized case, United posted several unbelievably cheap fares on its website yesterday due to a currency conversion error.

How cheap? How about $74 to fly between New York and London…in business class? 

A fare like that is clearly a mistake and not just a super low fare. 

Once the mistake was uncovered, word quickly spread through social media, and thousands of tickets were booked and ticketed on United.com.

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 4.00.33 PM

You can change your country of purchase in the upper right side of United’s web site.

To book the mistake fare on United.com, users had to lie about the country from which they were booking the tickets (switching from the US to Denmark), which then mis-priced the fares due to a currency conversion glitch. (See image above to see how you can change this.)

Once it realized its mistake, United contacted the ticket holders and told them that their tickets would be voided and that payment would not be processed.

Then the squawking began.

Trip Report: JetBlue Mint class [photos]

Should United (or any other airline) be forced to honor these mistake fares that pop up from time to time? 

No, I do not think so.

As much as we love to jump on the airlines for their greed, and our desire to “get back at them,” we need to remember that they are run by human beings…and that human beings make mistakes.

Human beings are generally willing to forgive mistakes, right?

Let’s consider a “kid in the candy” store analogy– admittedly imperfect, but I think you’ll get my drift:

Photo: Anthony Easton / Flickr

Photo: Anthony Easton / Flickr

A kid walks into the Mom & Pop candy store and discovers that Mom has mistakenly priced $1 chocolate bars at just 10 cents. He buys three and then runs into the street to tell all his friends about Mom’s mistake.

The kids rush the store– before mom has had the time to get her price gun out to properly price the candy bars.

They grab all the chocolate bars and demand that she sell them for 10 cents as marked.

When mom says, “sorry kids, I made a mistake and can’t sell these to you for just 10 cents, you have to pay the correct price,” they all squeal and moan and leave the store.

Would it be fair to force mom to sell the kids that candy at the wrong price?

I don’t think so. She might choose to sell them at that price anyway as a goodwill gesture, but I don’t think that she must make good on her mistake.

Plus, I think it’s unethical for the kid to run into the street screaming about Mom’s mistake. It’s equally unethical for the kids in the street, who know that this is a mistake, to rush the store demanding their 90% off candy.

Do you agree? I bet not… especially when I look at the results from an NPR poll taken in December 2013. It was part of a story about mistake fares from Delta titled:  The Price Is Wrong And You Know It: Do You Buy That Ticket?

NPR poll

The DOT is apparently investigating this whole affair, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear your comments about mistake fares! Please leave them below.

–Chris McGinnis

 

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

Planespotting 101: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320

Planespotting 101: MD-80/90 & Boeing 717

+++

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<
Like what you just read? Then say so! Scroll back up to the top and LIKE the post on Facebook, post it on Linked In and/or tweet it!

facebook like

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

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

 

 

 

 


Eeeuw! Watch flu particles disperse on plane

Sneeze alarm. With the flu spiking this month (putting frequent travelers on the defensive) you might get a little paranoid when a fellow passenger on your flight sneezes.

Did you ever wonder just how far that sneeze can travel? Check out the above video — if you dare.

Researchers at the FAA Center of Excellence at Purdue University, created this simulation of a sneezing passenger to study the mechanics of pathogen travel in airplane cabins.

As you can see in this video, it is the ventilated air that spreads the germs around the cabin. So even if the passengers immediately next to you aren’t sick, you can still pick up a bug.

So,  go to Walgreens and buy a face mask– it could come in handy if you get sick on a trip and don’t want to spread your germs… or if you want to protect yourself from a wheezy seatmate.

Google’s flu trends page shows where you are most likely to encounter the flu virus right now… the darker orange shows where flu cases are currently spiking.

Google's Flu Trends map for Feb 8

Google’s Flu Trends map for Feb 8

Did you get a flu shot this year? Did you know that it’s likely not effective against the current strain of the flu making rounds right now?

Be careful out there! Wash up frequently.

–Chris McGinnis 

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

Planespotting 101: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320

Planespotting 101: MD-80/90 & Boeing 717

+++

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<
Like what you just read? Then say so! Scroll back up to the top and LIKE the post on Facebook, post it on Linked In and/or tweet it!

facebook like

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

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

 


KAL’s new biz class + Cheap biz class to London + Airline scents + Busiest airport? + Spate of new hotels

KALnewbizseat

Korean Air updates biz class. New “Prestige Suite” business class seats are coming at Korean Airlines, offering 180-degree recline, privacy panels that can be raised or lowered, 17-inch video screens with smartphone-style touch-screen handsets, and a configuration that lets window seat passengers get into the aisle without disturbuing their neighbor. The new seats will first appear on KAL’s A330-300s between Seoul and Guangzhou, Singapore and Hanoi, and will be installed on all of the airline’s new long-haul planes, including A330-300s, 777-300ERs, 747-8s and 787-9s. Meanwhile, Korean and American Airlines have announced a new code-share pact; although it only affects one route — with KAL’s code going onto AA’s Seoul-DFW flights — it has some observers wondering about the Korean carrier’s intentions regarding its membership in the SkyTeam alliance, since American is part of the competing Oneworld group.

10am PST on Sunday (Doppler)

10am PST on Sunday (AccuWeather – Doppler)

Stormy travel. A new winter storm is bearing down on the Northeast and airlines have started issuing waivers for flights through Tuesday Feb 10. Delays at Boston Logan are already in the two-hour range. Heavy rain in the Bay Area is having a huge impact on San Francisco flights, too, with delays approaching 2.5 hours. Plan accordingly! See FAA Airport Delay map

Related: Why SFO suffers so much during rain

JetBlue-Icelandair code-share. JetBlue has filed for government approval to begin code-sharing with Icelandair. The airlines’ plans call for JetBlue’s code to go onto seven Icelandair routes from the U.S. to Reykjavik as well as eight connecting routes from there to Europe, while Icelandair would put its code on a number of JetBlue’s domestic routes from New York JFK and Boston.

How does your airline smell? From the Wall Street Journal regarding so-called airline signature scents: “Delta’s offering is Calm, a [lavender-and-chamomile mixture] that it sprays in airplane cabins and infuses in the hot towels it gives out in premium classes. It has been spreading Calm for about two years, joining a handful of other carriers vying for olfactory distinction by developing their own individualized odors. The fragrant fliers include United, Turkish and Air Canada’s low-cost Rouge. Spain’s Iberia is close to launching its own aroma, and Alaska Airlines is working on one.” Full story.

Lacompagnie757

La Compagnie now flying nonstop Newark-London (Luton). Photo: La Compagnie

 

Business airline flies Newark-London. La Compagnie, which introduced all-business-class service last summer between Newark and Paris, is adding another aircraft, and that will allow it to kick off Newark-London flights on April 24. But it won’t fly into Heathrow or Gatwick — instead, La Compagnie will operate from London’s Luton Airport, about 32 miles north of the city center. The airline’s 757-200s have 74 seats in a 2×2 configuration. The London service will initially operate four times a week, increasing to six by June, and La Compagnie is offering an introductory fare of just $1,007 roundtrip for travel through June 30; purchase deadline is April 24- that’s quite a deal for business class across the pond. Would you bite?

The CLEAR Card’s six-month gift card is specially priced this week only (thru Feb 14) at just $49– that’s nearly half off the standard price of $90. Read all about it here: 8 things every frequent flyer wants

Look for the unpainted outline near the top of the T on the 717

The easiest way to tell the difference between at MD-80/90 and a Boeing 717? The 717 has an unpainted outline near the “stabilizer” at the top of the tail’s T shape. See it above? Check our Planespotting 101 series for more tips!

AIRPORTS

Mine’s bigger (or busier) than yours. Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson airport officials have long been proud of holding the title for “world’s busiest airport”, which they have held since 1998 and retained again in 2014 — but only in terms of passenger count. Measured by flight activity, Chicago O’Hare beat out Atlanta last year with 884,586 scheduled flights vs. ATL’s 846,777 — no doubt helped by ORD’s addition of a new runway in late 2013. Atlanta still reigns supreme in passengers, however, with 96.1 million in 2014, a gain of 1.9 percent. But to be safe, the city has formed a committee of business leaders to figure out how Atlanta can hold onto its number one ranking. Meanwhile, Dubai last year surpassed London Heathrow for the first time in international passengers (70 million vs. 66 million), claiming the title of world’s busiest international airport.

8 things every frequent flyer wants

HOTELS

The new Hilton Munich Airport (Photo: Hilton)

The new Hilton Munich Airport (Photo: Hilton)

Hotel news: Hilton, Four Seasons, Hyatt etc. In news of hotel openings and rebrandings this month, Hilton has cut the ribbon on the 389-room Hilton Munich Airport, providing direct access to the terminal building; it’s a rebranding of the former Kempinski … A pair of Bogota, Colombia properties have closed for renovations in preparation for reopening later this year, both as new Four Seasons hotels. They are the historic Hotel Casa Medina Bogota and the modern Hotel Charleston Bogota … Hyatt opened its third hotel in Istanbul; the five-star Hyatt Regency Istanbul Atakoy is in the upscale Atakoy residential area, not far from the airport and from Taksim Square … Another new Hyatt has made its debut in Manila. The twin-towered Hyatt City of Dreams is less than two miles from Ninoy Aquino International Airport and not far from the SMX Convention Center … Fairmont Hotels has a new location in Indonesia — the 380-room Fairmont Jakarta is in the Senayan Square complex in the heart of the central business district.

Hilton comes to Love Field. The former Wyndham Hotel at Dallas Love Field, just a quarter of a mile from the airport, is now the DoubleTree by Hilton Dallas-Love Field. The 244-room hotel went through a $2 million renovation prior to rebranding; it offers free Wi-Fi and a shuttle service to the airport or anywhere within five miles of the property.

In Case You Missed It…

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

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

 

New breed of hotel discount sites

End of the hotel room phone?

5 key questions to ask at hotel check-in

+++

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<
Like what you just read? Then say so! Scroll back up to the top and LIKE the post on Facebook, post it on Linked In and/or tweet it!

facebook like

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

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

 

 


8 things every frequent flyer wants

How about a little peace of mind for your Valentine this year? (Photo: Clear)

How about a little peace of mind for your Valentine this year? (Photo: Clear)

Even busy travelers love to know that when they’re out of sight, they are not out of mind (or heart!). Say “you’re special” to the frequent flyer in your life with one of these gifts for Valentine’s Day.

CLEAR membership

Nothing is more frustrating than bumping into an unexpected delay at airport security. Or worrying about it. Giving a CLEAR gift card means your beloved can skip the worry, and skip the lines for six months. CLEAR lines are now open at 10 airports with two more quickly on the way: San Francisco-SFO, San Jose-SJC, Las Vegas-LAS, Denver-DEN, Dallas-Ft Worth -DFW, Houston-IAH & HOU, San Antonio-SAT, White Plains-HPN, Orlando-MCO and soon in Miami-MIA and one other that will soon be announced. CLEAR’s six-month gift card is specially priced this week only (thru Feb 14) at just $49– that’s nearly half off the standard price of $90. Plus, giving CLEAR means more time to phone you from the gate, right?

Smartphone battery backup

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 7.08.03 PM

Power management is the new time management, and carrying spare juice for a smartphone is an insurance plan of the highest value for biz travelers. These battery backups come in all shapes in sizes, and most will charge a smartphone and tablet simultaneously. Only you know what works best for your bae: a stylish statement, like the colorful Kate Spade charger ($80), a case that boosts charge like the Mophie (from $100), or a simple stick charger like the PowerStick (from $40). (Okay, I know you are wondering…here’s how you define “bae;) )

Lounge access

Business travelers know an airport club room is an indispensable oasis. Learn where your lover’s lounge gaps are and then fill them. Many airlines offer gifting of lounge passes, like American (one day, $50; one month, $99) and United (one year, $500 or 60,000 miles). Or if you’re on a super-tight budget, just sneak into his or her phone and install the LoungeBuddy app to put club room info at his or her fingertips. It’s the thought that counts.

Airport massage

Did you know that foot massage is the most requested service at airport XpresSpas?

Did you know that foot massage is the most requested service at airport XpresSpas?

Even the strongest bodies sag under the stress of travel. A gift card for an airport massage (like at XpresSpa, from $25) may be just the push your favorite flyer needs to take a pampering break—to stow that laptop back in the carry-on and relax into a massage during a flight delay. Before buying that card, check out this listing to learn which massage shops are at the airports frequented most often.

Inflight entertainment

Say it with a movie. Gift Casablanca or Top Gun ($15 each), and you send an instant “you’re my hero” message—plus provide a couple of hours of entertainment for a long flight or a night alone in the hotel room. In the iTunes store, you can shop for an item and then gift it with just a few clicks. Specify the day you’d like it sent, and type in a message. Be Mine.

Travel blanket/eye mask

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 7.25.05 PM

No more snuggling into questionable blankets on long flights: Your partner will appreciate a highly packable bit of luxury, a cashmere travel set that includes a blanket, pillow and eye shades ($395). Priceless. If you’ve just started dating and this is too much of a commitment, even a fleece travel blanket ($12.95) will be appreciated.

Carry-on organizer

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 7.17.58 PM

A carry-on quickly becomes a creepy nest of snaky black cables, and digging through it inflight can require contortions. The GridIt organizer keeps everything where it should be, while providing lots of flexibility ($49.94). Suddenly, a place for everything and everything in its place. There’s even one that doubles as a MacBook carrying case (pictured).

Packing cube

Even the savviest traveler can take packing to the next level. Packing cubes, like these from Tumi ($45), make prepping for a trip a pleasure—and unpacking even better. Good for the morale in lots of colors and practical, too.

I know I’d love to receive any of these gifts, but I hear it’s better to give than receive. And for last-minute shoppers like me, a special tip: Gift cards, like those from CLEAR, are delivered instantly and your loved one will think you’ve been planning for weeks!

What’s the best travel gift you’ve ever received? Best you’ve ever given?

Disclosure: Thank you for reading TravelSkills! We will periodically send out messages like this one from commercial partners about topics relevant to frequent travel.  Our sponsors’ support, and yours, help us keep TravelSkills a free publication. 

+++

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<
What are the two best all-around credit cards? Both currently offer 40,000 mile sign up bonuses!

.

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

facebook like

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

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

Singapore Air reveals a new seat. Why?

Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines’ new premium economy seat is 19.5 inches wide- two inches wider than standard economy (Photo: Singapore Airlines)

Singapore Airlines will become the next international carrier to jump on the premium economy class bandwagon later this year as it introduces the roomier seating on its A380 and 777-300ER aircraft.

The Asian carrier will roll out the new seating product in August on the Singapore-Sydney route, followed by Singapore-Hong Kong and Singapore-London Heathrow. The deployment schedule calls for introduction of premium economy on the Los Angeles-Tokyo-Singapore route starting December 1, followed by New York-Frankfurt-Singapore December 14 and San Francisco-Seoul-Singapore on January 6, 2016.

Singapore Airlines

Seat pitch in SIA’s new premium economy is 38″, up from 32-33 in standard economy (Image: Singapore Airlines)

Singapore’s new premium economy section — with a 2-4-2 configuration — will offer seats with 38-inch pitch, width of 18.5-19.5 inches, eight-inch recline, 13.3-inch touchscreen HD monitors, noise-canceling headsets, power outlets, and two USB ports.

In-flight service will provide a choice of three entrees as well as champagne and wines; premium economy passengers will get priority check-in, boarding and baggage handling, and a checked bag allowance of 35 kg (77 pounds). Members of the airline’s KrisFlyer program who buy premium economy tickets will earn 110 percent of miles flown.

The company has set up a special website detailing the service and amenities of the new seating class, as well as the schedule for deployment on international routes.

Related: How to say “hello” the right way in Singapore? 

Singapore Airlines

Here’s what you get with your Premium Economy fare on Singapore Airlines (Image from SIA website)

Here’s a footnote from history: This will not be Singapore’s first effort at premium economy seating. When the airline launched A340-500 non-stops from Singapore to Los Angeles and Newark in 2004, the specially configured planes had business class and premium economy seating (but no first class or regular economy). That configuration was eventually changed to all-business-class on those two routes (which were the longest commercial non-stops in the industry), but the flights were discontinued in October 2013.

And our choices for the two best all around credit cards offering 40K bonus miles are …. 

Premium economy class has been adopted by a growing number of carriers in recent years; it’s now offered on at least 21 international airlines as a dedicated product (not counting the extra-legroom economy seating — such as United’s Economy Plus or Delta’s Comfort +). Most recently, Lufthansa brought premium economy sections onto intercontinental routes out of Frankfurt starting last fall, and it just introduced them onto select Munich routes (to Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai) last month.

Here's Cathay Pacific's newish premium economy seat on a B777 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Here’s Cathay Pacific’s newish premium economy seat on a B777 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Transpacific airlines currently offering premium economy seating include Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, Japan Airlines, China Airlines, China Southern, EVA, Philippine, Qantas and Cathay Pacific, according to Seatguru.com, which has a handy comparison chart detailing the seat pitch, width, and amenities of all premium economy cabins worldwide. (Here’s TravelSkills earlier report on the Cathay Pacific premium economy product.)

Why the trend toward premium economy seating? Think of it as a gradual recycling of airlines’ premium cabins, one that has a lot to do with corporate travel policies. First class cabins on international routes have been gradually disappearing, in part because fewer companies were willing to foot the bill for their employees to travel in such luxury. But they were more willing to pay for business class on long-haul flights — so airlines started to improve their business class products to compete for those high-revenue passengers. Over time, business class has become de facto first class on many airlines (it’s not a coincidence that United calls its international business class cabin BusinessFirst).

Delta's new Comfort + seat offers more legroom, but that's about it (Photo: Delta)

Delta’s new Comfort + seat offers more legroom, but that’s about it (Photo: Delta)

Some corporate bean-counters have taken aim at those new and improved business class seats in recent years, especially as fares have increased; but they still had no problem with economy seating — and increasingly, premium economy seating (which, after all, still has “economy” in its name). So airlines are trying to cash in on that enhanced revenue source.

What’s the price differential? SeatGuru estimates that premium economy fares are “generally” about 65 percent less than business class fares. Comparisons to regular economy are more complicated, but SeatGuru says that on transpacific routes, premium economy fares cost about 95 percent more than standard economy.

–Jim Glab

Putting a wrap on airport security checkpoints

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

+++

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<
Like what you just read? Then say so! Scroll back up to the top and LIKE the post on Facebook, post it on Linked In and/or tweet it!

facebook like

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

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

 

 

 

 

 


End of the hotel room phone?

MobileSuites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disclosure: Thank you for reading TravelSkills! We will periodically send out messages like this one from commercial partners about topics relevant to frequent travel.  Our sponsors’ support, and yours, help us keep TravelSkills a free publication. 

+++

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<
What are the two best all-around credit cards? Both currently offer 40,000 mile sign up bonuses!

.

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

facebook like

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

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

 


Australia Day: 5 ways to behave down under

It’s January 26: Australia Day 2015, a perfect time to examine the subtle and not so subtle ways of our Aussie mates. With the Australian dollar hitting new lows against the US dollar, now’s a great time to extend a business trip…. or just head down for a nice vacation.

This is the first of a TravelSkills series of cross-cultural business tips that we’re thinking of calling “Oh, behave!” Let us know what you think! 

Let’s jump right in with five ways to behave in the Land of Oz:

A lovely lunch at Balmoral on Sydney Harbour (Photo: Herry Lawford)

A lovely lunch at Balmoral on Sydney Harbour (Photo: Herry Lawford)

Tipping Point: The debate on tipping versus no tipping in Australia is ongoing. However, more often than in the past, tipping is now accepted even though that was not the case back ten or twenty years ago. In fact, in business and especially while hosting a meal at a fine restaurant, the act of leaving a tip is increasingly common.

As one Sydneysider told TravelSkills, “If you love the service, tip as much as you want. If you don’t, really don’t bother.” She added, “The minimum wage is a lot higher here, so there is no need to tip as a matter of course. Even if you are trying to impress a room full of business contacts, I would still follow this policy. After all, Aussies won’t respect someone for tipping bad service.”

Sit up front when jumping in a Australian taxicab (Nicki Mannix / Flickr)

Sit up front when jumping in a Australian taxicab (Nicki Mannix / Flickr)

Riding Along: Australian taxi riding is played out in a much different way than in, say, New York or San Francisco, where getting into a cab means getting in the back seat unless more than a couple people are riding with you.

In Oz, the opposite is true. If you’re sharing a taxi with a colleague, by all means sit together in the back but if you’re flying solo, choose the front seat beside the driver. And expect a good gab session out of this experience as well since cabby’s are happy to chat about almost anything with the person paying the fare.’

A long black coffee contains espresso and hot water (Katherine Lim / Flickr)

A long black coffee contains espresso and hot water (Katherine Lim / Flickr)

The Language Beat: Talking to another an Australian can test even the most acclimated traveler’s verbal knowledge. Those of us who have traveled to Australia before [See Chris’s BBC Business Trip Sydney] may have found out the hard way that if you want American coffee, you need to order a long black- a combination of espresso and hot water.

Other words and phrases to get know so you can act like a local are numerous. Some include “aggro” which is short for aggressive, and “arvo,” short for afternoon. A “bludger” is a lazy person, a term no business traveler wants to be tagged,  and a “bogan” is a person without class or good taste (also not good if you want to conduct business with the person calling you this).

Meanwhile, “strewth,” which rhymes with “truth,” means just that and “on the piss” indicates it’s time to leave work and go out to a bar to drink together. The latter can be a very bonding experience that could put your business acquaintanceship into the friend category by the end of the evening.

Rude Reactions:  Learning to avoid certain offensive silent expressions in Australia might come in handy during a business trip to Oz.

So, keep in mind that although a thumbs-up signals a positive, happy meaning in the United States, and is almost universally used around the world and even down under, this same signal is traditionally unacceptable with older Australians. In fact, the gesture is often interpreted as being downright obscene among older generations while younger nationals will probably not care at all or else will just let it go in short order.

A Good Day: Finally, Australia is a very friendly place where saying hi after offering a semi-hardy handshake is just fine when meeting a business associate who hails from this chummy nation. However, don’t try to be a good business mate by saying “G’day” because that overused and, yes, abused way of saying hello is just for tourists — and, even then, only tolerated.

–Jane Lasky

+++

>>Take a peek at what you may have missed on TravelSkills.com this week! <<
What are the two best all-around credit cards? Both currently offer 40,000 mile sign up bonuses!

.

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

facebook like

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

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

 

 


Crashing currencies: More travel deals for Americans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 3.25.51 PM

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 3.26.34 PM

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 3.27.45 PM

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 3.29.49 PM

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 3.28.18 PM

–Chris McGinnis

*

 


Beijing Moscow train set to speed across Asia

A Chinese high speed train at the West Beijing station (Photo: Fabio Achilli / Flickr)

A Chinese high speed train at the West Beijing station (Photo: Fabio Achilli / Flickr)

This week China announced that it’s going to build a $250 billion Beijing-Moscow bullet train, which could be in service within 10 years.

California’s $68 billion high-speed rail service between Los Angeles and San Francisco, which broke ground earlier this month near Fresno, will take at least 14 years to complete. And it already has a competitor (see below).

The Beijing-Moscow train’s transit time on the 4,500 mile route will decrease from the current six days to just 48 hours, and run along much the same route as the famous Trans-Siberian railway. (See map)

China now has the world’s longest high-speed rail network with over 12,000 miles of track in service — more than the rest of the world’s high speed rail tracks combined. China also claims the current longest high-speed rail route– 1,500 miles between Beijing and Guangzhou.

Construction of a high speed rail line near Guangzhou in 2013 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Construction of a high speed rail line near Guangzhou in 2013 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

According to various sources, the project was once considered by Russia, but due to its current financial crisis turned the project over to China Railway High Speed, the operator of the maglev train the runs between Shanghai airport and Pudong as well as much of China’s high speed rail network.

Promoters of the new Beijing-Moscow train say that it will (of course) be used for passengers. But freight could be even more lucrative with European car manufacturers and food/agricultural concerns already expressing interest in a new, fast and cheap way to get their products into the booming Chinese market.

Elon Musk describes his Hyperloop as a cross between a Concorde, rail gun and air-hockey table and it will be solar powered.

Elon Musk describes his Hyperloop as a cross between a Concorde, rail gun and air-hockey table and it will be solar powered.

Back here in the US, Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed that he is planning to build a five-mile test track for his Hyperloop concept– passenger pods traveling at speeds of up to 760 mph inside vacuum tubes. (See the popular TravelSkills post about this.) Musk claims that the Hyperloop could whisk passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in about 30 minutes and cost less than half as much as California’s current high speed rail project.

I know we talk primarily about air travel on TravelSkills, but a 4,500 mile Beijing Moscow train and the dream of a hyperloop are pretty irresistible- and likely inevitable.

–Chris McGinnis

6 tips for better plane pics

+++

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

.

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

.

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

facebook like

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

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

 

 


Google’s travel advice

Google travel

Ninety percent of holiday travel is by CAR, not by plane. With that in mind, the smarties at Google took a deep dive into their data and came up with some helpful insight and advice for avoiding Thanksgiving traffic as well as top searches in Google Maps before, during, and after Thanksgiving.

Traffic data was pulled from the Monday before Thanksgiving to the Sunday after Thanksgiving during 2012 and 2013, and Google Maps search trends are based on information from 2013.

According to Google’s data, Wednesday is the worst Thanksgiving traffic day for most cities, with Saturday the worst day to return. (This flies in the face of conventional wisdom that Sunday is the worst day to return.)

Google travel

  • Worst day to travel: For most cities, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving is the worst traffic day — but in San Francisco the worst day is Saturday. Other exceptions include of Boston (Tuesday), Honolulu (Saturday), Providence (Saturday).
  • Skip the rush: The worst time for Thanksgiving traffic falls between 3:00pm and 5:00pm the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Better to leave before 2:00pm or after 7:00pm on Wednesday if you want to beat the rush.
  • Second worst traffic day: Saturday and Tuesday vie for the second and third heaviest traffic days overall — Black Friday doesn’t draw huge road traffic.
  • Thanksgiving Day traffic: Thanksgiving Day traffic is a breeze — it usually has the least traffic of the entire week; for those looking to beat even the lightest traffic day, make sure you stay off the road between 12:00pm and 2:00pm on Thanksgiving Day.
  • When to drive back home: Traffic patterns show that you’re better off driving home from the holiday weekend on Sunday rather than Saturday — traffic can be up to 40% worse on Saturday.
  • Changes in holiday traffic: In six cities, Thanksgiving traffic has actually decreased slightly between 2012 and 2013 (Boston,Dallas, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Providence).

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

Food and drink top Google Maps searches the day before Thanksgiving, and Detroit football fans looked for directions to the stadium.

  • Last minute prep: The top three trending searches on Google Maps the day before Thanksgiving were ham shop, pie shop, and liquor store, as Americans do last minute errands just before Turkey Day.  I get liquor story, but ham shop? Really? :)
  • Gearing up for Black Friday: “Outlet mall” is the #1 trending Google Maps search term on Thanksgiving Day. Meanwhile, “outlet mall” is only the #3 trending search term on Black Friday itself.
  • Ready for Christmas: The top two Google Maps search trends on Black Friday had nothing to do with shopping — instead, people were already on to Christmas. The top two terms were: “Christmas tree farm” and “festival.”
  • Thanksgiving football: Lions fans plan ahead. The day before Thanksgiving football, Detroit fans searched for directions to the stadium (#1) and parking garages (#2). In comparison, in Dallas, stadium is the #9 search trend the day before Thanksgiving.

Google Travel

–Chris McGinnis

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

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

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

facebook like

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

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

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

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

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

AIRLINES

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

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

etihadTheResidenceFclass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lake Tahoe at sunset (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Lake Tahoe at sunset (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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

In Case You Missed It…

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

 

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

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

facebook like

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

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

Have dinner in a 70’s-era Pan Am 747

"Stewardesses" in vintage uniforms carve chateaubriand seatside on the Pan Am Experience (Photo: Michael Kelley)

“Stewardesses” in vintage uniforms carve chateaubriand seatside on the Pan Am Experience (Photo: Michael Kelley)

An exact replica (including the spiral staircase!) of a Pan Am Boeing 747 in Los Angeles is the setting for the new “Pan Am Experience” a four-hour affair that includes a four-course meal served from trolleys by “stewardesses” in vintage uniforms.

But it’s not cheap. A step back in time to the so-called golden age of travel costs $297 in first class, $197 in Clipper class. Reservations are required and “passengers” have to dress up!

“Guests are expected to dress the part, and and dress nicely, just like passengers did in the 1970s. We won’t require a coat and tie, but we will discourage jeans, sneakers, shorts or sandals. Our goal is to make this feel like Mad Men, and our guests should play the part,” said Rob Shalhoub of Air Hollywood, the company that has created The Pan Am Experience. 

Please join the 50,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!
Passengers are expected to dress up for dinner for this flight! (Photo: Michael Kelley)

Passengers are expected to dress up for dinner for this flight! (Photo: Michael Kelley)

Inside the soundstage at Air Hollywood, a Hollywood studio specializing in aviation themed content, is an exact interior replica of a Pan Am 747, including both First and Clipper class cabins– plus the famous Pan Am upper deck lounge. There are all the furnishings also all the cabin decor that made the iconic plane so special, including the spiral staircase connecting first class to the upper deck, sleeperette seats, magazine racks (remember those?) and authentic Pan Am china, linens and stemware.

In first class, stewardesses will start with cocktails, and then serve a four-course meal from trolleys on vintage Pan Am china. Shalhoub told TravelSkills that meal courses (provided by an airline catering company at LAX) will include a shrimp and lump crabmeat cocktail starter, chateaubriand carved seat-side, chicken and a vegetarian pasta. After dinner, a dessert, fruit and cheese trolley will roll through with liqueurs and coffee. Back in Clipper class, passengers will get the same meal served on a tray. In both classes, vintage 70’s movies play from the overhead projection system.

Advice: How to get a free $400 ticket home for the holidays

Passengers retreat to the lounge upstair  "inside the bubble" on the Pan Am 747 (Photo: Michael Kelley)

Passengers retreat to the lounge upstairs “inside the bubble” on the Pan Am 747 (Photo: Michael Kelley)

After the flight, participants will be able peruse the vast collection of airline memorabilia, shop for licensed Pan Am merchandize and explore Air Hollywood’s other movie sets and props used in hundreds of movies (like Bridesmaids or Airplane!) TV shows and commercials for the last 40 years.

To create the experience, Air Hollywood teamed up with Anthony Toth, the owner of what’s likely the largest collection of Pan Am memorabilia in the world. Toth painstakingly recreated a Pan Am 747 in his garage to store his horde and entertain friends, and it grew and attracted so much attention that he had to move it to a warehouse. Eventually, Toth and Air Hollywood found each other and negotiated a deal to move Toth’s replica to the Air Hollywood soundstage in the San Fernando Valley.

New: Limited time credit card bonus: 70,000 points to sign up!
Check out the "back of the plane" in Clipper Class (Photo: Michael Kelley)

Check out the “back of the plane” in Clipper Class (Photo: Michael Kelley)

Shalhoub told TravelSkills that the first three events (Oct, Nov & Dec) are nearly sold out in First Class, but there are still plenty of tickets available in Clipper class. For more information, see The Pan Am Experience.

What do you think? Would you go?

Chris McGinnis

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

facebook like

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

How to park for free at the airport

How to get a free trip home for the holidays

How to find roomy domestic widebody flights

The 10 best places to live in America? 

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

How to choose the best carry-on bag

A bright spot at LAX’s drab Terminal 3

Another British Airways A380 for the US

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

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

 


The 10 best places to live in America?

A big institution, temperate climate and access to the great outdoors makes Boulder, CO a great place to live. (Photo: Boemski / Flickr)

A big institution and access to the great outdoors makes Boulder, CO a great place to live. (Photo: Boemski / Flickr)

How often do you visit a city for a business trip or vacation, and walk away thinking, “Gee, I’d really like to live here!”?

It happens to me a lot… especially when I get off the well-worn, major city business travel circuit and venture into small and medium-sized towns.

Every time I go back to Boulder, I start looking a real estate and imagine living there. When passing through Missoula on a transcontinental car trip a few years back, I wanted to park the car and just stay. When I venture out of cold and foggy San Francisco (my hometown) to the more Mediterranean climates of Palo Alto or Santa Barbara, I’m ready to call the movers.

That’s why I always like to take a spin through Livability.com’s excellent annual Top 100 Best Places to Live ranking, released today, which takes a seriously scientific stab at studying 2,000 small and medium sized cities by analyzing more than 40 data points in eight categories – economics, housing, amenities, infrastructure, demographics, social and civic capital, education and health care.

Madison is the capital of Wisconsin (John Maniani)

Madison is the capital of Wisconsin (John Maniani)

So what makes a small city great? Primarily, it’s institutions. “The cities at the top of the list were often home to a major institution like a university, hospital or state capital,” says Matt Carmichael, Livability’s editor. “Institutions like that help these smaller cities compete in terms of sports, culture, jobs and entertainment.”

Here are the top 10 best medium-sized cities to live in the US in 2015 according to Livability.com.

1) Madison, Wisconsin

2) Rochester, Minnesota

3) Arlington, Virginia

4) Boulder, Colorado

5) Palo Alto, California

6) Berkeley, California

7) Santa Clara, California

8) Missoula, Montana

9) Boise, Idaho

10) Iowa City, Iowa

Want to see the the full list of 100? Click here.

Are you lucky enough to travel frequently to any of these cities? If you had the means to move right now, which of the top 10 would you most likely choose? Why?  I’d move to Boulder! 

 –Chris McGinnis

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

facebook like

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

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

How to choose the best carry-on bag

A bright spot at LAX’s drab Terminal 3

Another British Airways A380 for the US

British Airways to spruce up its 747s

CLEAR opens security fast lane at SF Giants’ AT&T Park

United’s newest jet + More Delta to UK + New Asian carrier at SFO + Grand plans for ATL & MEX airports

Nail Painting onboard: Illegal or just rude? 

Biz Trip: Copenhagen

Virgin Atlantic adds new ATL, SFO & DTW flights

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

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

 


Lanai: A billionaire’s work in progress

Arriving at Lanai's tiny airport

Chris arriving at Lanai’s little airport (with wi-fi provided by Four Seasons)

By now you’ve likely heard that billionaire Oracle CEO Larry Ellison recently paid an estimated $300 million for 98% of the Hawaiian Island of Lanai.

Included in that sale were two Four Seasons resorts and nearly all the land on the tiny (140 square mile) island.

What’s been going on since the transaction closed in 2012? A lot!

While on a business trip to Hawaii last week, Four Seasons invited me over for a stay and a look-see at the progress. (See photos below.)

Here’s what I saw:

The Four Seasons Lanai at Manele Bay has a spectacular position on a secluded white sand beach. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The Four Seasons Lanai at Manele Bay has a spectacular position on a secluded white sand beach. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

First off, big changes are underway at the Four Seasons secluded Manele Bay property. As soon at the deal closed, renovations of public areas began. The dramatic lobby is now sheathed in rich wood paneling and stark white furniture with views out to an aquamarine pool deck that spills down to the hotel’s almost private white sand beach.

There are only two other hotels on the island, the homey, high-country Four Seasons Lodge at Koele in the cool uplands– with a revamped grand lobby and famous golf course awaiting a makeover by Jack Nicklaus (opening date unknown), and the rustic 10-room Hotel Lanai, recently purchased by Ellison.

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

At Manele Bay, a hotel staffer told me that, “Mr. Murdock’s style is a lot different from Mr. Ellison’s.” Hearing that, I assumed that the previous owner was billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch, but soon found out that it was actually David Murdock, the head of Hawaiian conglomerate Castle & Cooke, which owns Dole Foods, and the 98% of Lanai that Ellison recently bought.

How different are the the two owners’ styles? Very different! Check out the lobby chinoiserie before the recent design changes.

Major room revamp hidden behind temporary walls at Four Seasons Manele Bay (Chris McGinnis)

Major room revamp hidden behind temporary walls at Four Seasons Manele Bay (Chris McGinnis)

In addition to the modern Hawaiian look in the lobby, a new Nobu restaurant is under construction. When I was there, about half of the hotel’s 217 rooms were closed for a major revamp, which will bring them up to global five-star resort standards with see through glass balconies, hardwood and slate flooring, 75-inch LED flat screen TVs and big bright modern bathrooms. The current plan is to open the new rooms by this October and have both old and new rooms open for the holiday season.

Here's a peek at the chic new look of renovated rooms at Manele Bay available this October (Four Seasons)

Here’s a peek at the chic new look of renovated rooms at Manele Bay available this October (Four Seasons)

When the holidays are over, the rest of the rooms will close down for their revamp. The entire resort will look and feel brand new (sans construction noise) by the end of 2015. During the transition, guests who opt for the older rooms get a “third night free” deal. Guests who reserve the new rooms (which command a $200 premium over the older ones) get a $100 resort credit for stays of four or more nights. The older rooms are comfortable with outstanding views, but pale in comparison to the new designs. Current rates for early November are about $530 per night.

Wild turkeys roam freely on golf courses & elsewhere on Lanai. This is a view from the recently revamped Views restaurant (Chris McGinnis)

Wild turkeys roam freely on golf courses & elsewhere on Lanai. This is a view from the recently revamped Views restaurant (Chris McGinnis)

Leave it to me to find the only other person on a “real” business trip on this tiny Hawaiian island. At the general manager’s reception at Views, the hotel’s striking new restaurant overlooking golf courses with views out to neighboring islands, I met Erik Barnes who works in sales for Algae Aqua-Culture Technology, Inc. His company builds power plants that utilize sustainable and green methods to produce electricity. He was there to promote his company’s wares on an island that Ellison envisions as a sustainable, self sufficient eco-topia that includes transforming old pineapple fields into organic farms and greenhouses, doubling the population (from the current 3,000 to 6,000), adding desalinization plants for fresh water, a new satellite campus for the University of Hawaii and much more.

Check out the colorful plumage of Ohana by Hawaiian's ATR fleet. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Check out the colorful plumage of Ohana by Hawaiian’s ATR fleet. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

With all the new focus and activity on Lanai, getting there is getting a makeover, too. In February 2013, Ellison purchased Island Air, which now offers 5 ATR flights per day to and from Lanai City (LNY) from a newly refurbished, club-like terminal at Honolulu airport. Hawaiian Air’s new inter-island operation, Ohana by Hawaiian offers three flights per day on a colorful fleet designed by Sig Zane. Both airlines use new ATR turboprops for the 25-minute flight. Fares from Honolulu are currently about $70 each way (there is no nonstop service to Lanai from the mainland). Nice: Free, fast wifi is provided at Lanai City Airport by Four Seasons.

– Chris McGinnis

Disclosure: Four Seasons paid for my two-night stay at the Manele Bay property

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

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

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

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

6 end-of-summer travel deals. Act fast

Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

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

What golden age of travel?

3 brand new hotels in Chicago

A spin around the new Airbus A350

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

How to deal with Americans

10 little things some hotels get right

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

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

 

 

 

 

 


What’s your favorite flight number?

Boarding British Airways Concorde Flight #2 from New York to London back in the day! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Boarding British Airways Concorde Flight #2 from New York to London back in the day! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Have you ever boarded a plane with a flight number that made you pause and think, “Hmm, I wonder if they planned it that way?”

Turns out that there are many iconic or unusual flight numbers based on airline history, superstition, luck– or plain old cleverness. For example, United’s new flight #500 from Indianapolis to San Francisco pays homage to the Indy 500.

I’ve spent the last week on the horn with airlines trying to come up with the most clever or iconic… here’s what I was able to snag… I’m sure that there are others, so please share your finds in the comments!

First off, let’s look at JetBlue, which seems to be the most creative when it comes to flight numbers. JetBlue #1600 flies from Washington National to Boston Logan (1600 Pennsylvania Ave being the President’s address). The very patriotic JetBlue #1776 flies from Philadelphia PHL to Boston Logan. (US Airways assigns #1776 to its flight from Boston to Philly). JetBlue #66 flies Albuquerque to New York JFK honoring the famous roadway Route 66 below.  Jetblue flight #212 (also the area code for New York City) flies LAS-JFK.

Singapore Air SQ1 flies SFO to Singapore via Hong Kong (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Singapore Air SQ1 flies SFO to Singapore via Hong Kong (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Flight #1 - There are lots of Flight #1s out there, and they usually signify a key route of the airline…usually historic, or a flight the airline is particularly proud of. For example, British Airways flight #1 flies from London’s close in City (LCY) Airport to New York-JFK and BA #2 flies from New York to London. Those flight numbers used to apply to British Airway’s iconic Concorde flights between London Heathrow and New York Kennedy Airports, but were reassigned when BA launched its classy all-business class A318 flights between these financial capitals.

Other #1s:

  • Delta #1: New York JFK – London Heathrow
  • American #1: New York JFK – Los Angeles LAX
  • Singapore Airlines #1: San Francisco > Hong Kong > Singapore
  • Air France #1: New York JFK – Paris Charles de Gaulle
  • Air New Zealand #1: London Heathrow > Los Angeles > Auckland
  • JetBlue #1: New York JFK – Ft Lauderdale (Its first ever route)
  • Japan Air Lines #1: San Francisco SFO – Tokyo Haneda HND
  • Hawaiian Air #1: Los Angeles LAX – Honolulu HNL
  • Emirates #1: Dubai DXB – London Heathrow LHR
  • Virgin America #1: San Francisco SFO – Washington National DCA
  • Virgin Atlantic #001: London Heathrow – Newark
Flights to Las Vegas frequently get lucky numbers (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Flights to Las Vegas frequently get lucky numbers (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Lucky flight numbers - Both 7 and 8 are considered lucky numbers… 7 is usually associated with flights to Las Vegas, while 8 is applied to many Asia-bound flights.

Appealing to those betting on the lucky 7s are Virgin America’s inaugural flight #777 which flew from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and JetBlue #777 which is flying from Boston to Las Vegas. Spirit Airways flight 777 flies from Ft Lauderdale to Vegas. AirTran #777 flights from Baltimore to Las Vegas.

In a more James Bond-ish vein, Virgin Atlantic’s #007 flies from London to Los Angeles.

The number 8 is considered lucky in many Asian cultures, so it’s frequently applied to key flights to that region. For example, United’s flight #888 flies from San Francisco to Beijing. British Airways flight #8 is on London-Chengdu. KLM’s flight #888 is on Amsterdam-Hong Kong. Hawaiian’s #8 flies from Honolulu to Las Vegas. Cathay Pacific’s #888 flies Hong Kong > Vancouver > New York JFK.

On the flip side of lucky, there are not a lot of Flight #13s out there… but I did find XL Airways #13 on SFO-Paris and American #13 from Chicago ORD to Orange County. How would you feel about boarding a flight #13?

What other unusual or iconic flight numbers did I miss? Please share your favorites below!

–Chris McGinnis

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

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

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Awesome Knee Defender animation VIDEO

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

What golden age of travel?

3 brand new hotels in Chicago

A spin around the new Airbus A350

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

How to deal with Americans

10 little things some hotels get right

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

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


Month #3: A TravelSkills update from Chris

How do you like our new TravelSkills wallpaper? Yep, that's what we have on our walls!

How do you like our new TravelSkills wallpaper? Yep, that’s what we have on one of our walls!

Hello Dear Readers! This week we celebrate the three-month anniversary of the new TravelSkills blog and I’d like to provide an update of where we are and where we are going.

First off, for those of you who have been following me for years, I’d like thank you very much for sticking around as we’ve broadened our content and expanded our reach with the new TravelSkills blog. 

I’d also like to welcome the thousands of brand new readers! Over the last three months, we’ve attracted an astounding 191,000 unique visitors by posting fresh content at least five times per week. That averages out to about 65,000 unique visitors a month. (That’s HUGE for a blog that’s only been around for 90 days!)

I have heard from some of you that five emails a week is a bit of an overload. To fix that, we now offer a once-per-week email recap of all our posts called TravelSkills Weekly. While I would prefer that you stick to getting a fresh dose of news and advice from us via a single email at the end of the day, you can switch to TravelSkills weekly right here. Just enter your email address and your subscription will switch to weekly. You can sign up for TravelSkills Daily right here. 

Another easy way to stay up to date with our content is to LIKE our Facebook page or follow me on Twitter. Come on and join the fun!

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis

June was our biggest month so far, due in large part to this post that went viral: 5 Key Questions to Ask a Hotel Check-in. The second most popular post so far is our first hand look at what it’s like Flying on Brand New Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Did you read these?

TravelSkills is now regularly cited by the media as an authoritative source for travel information and advice. In the last few months, TravelSkills quotes and content have appeared all over the place! We’ve been quoted in the The New York Times (twice!), Inc Magazine, CNN, NBC, CNBC, KCBS Radio, WSB Radio, USA Today,  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and various other outlets. My travel tips series on CNN’s Airport Network has been rolling all summer long. Seen it yet?

With numbers like that, we’ve been able to drum up sponsorships with Virgin America, Chase and Barclaycard. We’ve also been able to help monetize our efforts through our new affiliation with The Boarding Area. These sponsors and affiliations are what help keep TravelSkills a free publication for you, so please support them when you can! And let me know if your company or brand may be interested in reaching our active and affluent readers!

Hopefully you’ve found TravelSkills content to be newsy, practical, helpful, colorful and maybe even entertaining. :)  Please help me out by letting me know what you love about TravelSkills or what you think needs some work. Email me! chris@travelskills.com 

And finally, if you like what we are doing here or in other posts, please let us know by hitting the Facebook LIKE button at the top of each page, by sharing our posts via your other social media channels like LinkedIn or Twitter. Leave your comments when a post riles you up or when you have some great advice to share! We love feedback!

And don’t forget that word of mouth is the very best way you can help us promote the blog. Email the www.travelskills.com link to all your frequent traveling friends and colleagues today! 

Thanks again for your support!

Sincerely,

Chris McGinnis, Editor and publisher

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

facebook like

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Airbnb for a business trip? Mixed results

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

Mergers that make sense

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

How to get on earlier flight without paying fee

Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

20 different biz class seats in 1 room- PHOTOS

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

Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

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

Airbnb for a business trip? Mixed results

Airbnb balcony view

The view from the balcony of my Airbnb accommodation (Photo: Airbnb)

During a recent business trip to Los Angeles, I stayed in an Airbnb apartment for the first time. When I made the booking, I was thrilled at the prospect of getting more for less—fabulous location, more space, free parking and (of course) free high-speed wi-fi. But as a first-timer, I also had a plenty of questions about using Airbnb for a business trip.

Regular TravelSkills readers may recall why I chose Airbnb for this trip…here’s a snippet from my previous post Are Uber, Airbnb or Lyft safe?

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

Recently, Airbnb has made a play specifically for the business travel market with a new, focused portal and by partnering with Concur on its TripLink product.

But does Airbnb really make sense for business travelers? Let’s see…

Airbnb living room 2

The unit’s living room was a lovely place to hang out at the end of the day. (Photo: Airbnb)

Here’s how my Airbnb stay played out:

Right off the bat, I have to say that I missed the familiarity of checking in in a hotel lobby. “Checking-in” at my Airbnb proved to be confusing and time-consuming. I was thrilled to have free parking for my rental car. So when I drove in from the airport, I followed the instructions the host provided. Entry required punching a code into a garage keypad, identifying myself and waiting for someone on the other end to open the gate. There were some miscues, and that process took about 10 minutes. The iron gate finally swung open.

The unit’s keys were to be in a lockbox on a pillar by the parking space. Thankfully, opening the lockbox went without a hitch. But then, it was not clear how to get from the parking garage into the locked building. At this point I was thinking fond and nostalgic thoughts about hotel front desks—I wanted one! After 10 more minutes, two phone calls and a few texts, I was in. Hours later I realized the fob for building entry was on the key ring. Dumb. Still, at a hotel, I would have been unpacked by then.

Bedroom in my Airbnb accommodations. What happens when you need to call "housekeeping?" (Photo: Airbnb)

Bedroom in my Airbnb accommodation. But what happens when you need to call “housekeeping” for an extra towel? (Photo: Airbnb)

Luckily, it got better once inside. The apartment was lovely and as clean as any hotel room. The view of the Convention Center, Staples Center and L.A. Live was just as the listing promised. There was complimentary coffee (Keurig!), tea, and water bottles, and snacks were provided free of charge. And of course, free wi-fi is always a welcome amenity.

The primary reason I chose this Airbnb apartment was its super-handy location. I was only a three minute walk from the front door of the LA Convention Center and reveled in the convenience– I was closer than all those other attendees at my convention who were paying significantly more up the street at the JW Marriott, or Ritz-Carlton.

Related:  Best new biz-class hotels in L.A.  | 20 business class seats in one room

In the morning, it felt a little weird waiting for the building’s elevator with some “real” (non-Airbnb) residents. And I wondered…as an Airbnb guest, was I a persona non grata? Maybe. I smiled and looked down. The following days I would conceal my convention badge.

One day while at the convention, I realized I needed my laptop, which I’d left back at the apartment. I dashed across the street and back in the span of five minutes. If I’d chosen a hotel, this would likely not have been such an easy option. Big score for Airbnb.

The front door to my Airbnb apartment near the LA Convention Center (Photo: Nancy Branka)

The front door to my Airbnb apartment near the LA Convention Center (Photo: Nancy Branka)

When the sun went down, though, I wasn’t feeling the love. I attended a convention-sponsored party at a nearby venue. Easy—just a short walk, right? When I walked over to the event in the evening light with lots of fellow conventioneers around, I felt happy about the sunset stroll.

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

However, when the event was over and I had to walk back to the apartment in the dark,  I wasn’t so sure about the neighborhood. There was no brightly lit and active hotel front door and lobby staffed by a doorman and a steady stream of cars, taxis and guests. And I wasn’t comfortable with the homeless man camped out by the building’s front door, something I’d less likely encounter at a business-class hotel.

Did my real-life Airbnb experience meet my expectations?  Overall, it was a very positive stay because of location, location, location. So I’m glad to have Airbnb in my arsenal of travel resources. Now that I’m no longer an Airbnb newbie, I would feel more comfortable about doing it again, especially for a longer stay. 

But on the other hand, there were some hassles that would make me think twice about using Airbnb again for a business trip. Every Airbnb unit, every host and each location is different– careful scrutiny of both is essential to a successful stay. Luckily, the Airbnb site is very helpful when it comes to this with plenty of safeguards, user reviews, verified photos, maps and information. But booking a brand name, business class hotel room doesn’t require such scrutiny.

Have you ever used Airbnb for business travel? Would you feel comfortable using it? Share your thoughts in the comments.

– Nancy Branka 

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

facebook like

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

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

Mergers that make sense

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

How to get on earlier flight without paying fee

Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

20 different biz class seats in 1 room- PHOTOS

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

Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

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

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

Mergers that make sense

What are some travel industry marriages that might work? (Photo: Rosmary / Flickr)

What are some travel industry marriages that might work? (Photo: Rosmary / Flickr)

Over the last few years, we’ve witnessed a wave of travel industry mergers that seemed implausible a decade ago.

Yet here we are today with four major airlines (American, Delta, Southwest and United) that control at least 80% of the domestic market. Similarly,  the hotel industry is dominated by four giant companies: InterContinental, Hilton, Marriott, Starwood. (Just this week, Hilton squealed about hitting the 700,000 rooms mark. Marriott recently opened its 4000th hotel.)

Nearly 100% of the airport rental car market is now controlled by just three companies: Enterprise (National, Alamo), Hertz (Dollar, Thrifty), and Avis (Budget, Payless, Zipcar).

Big brand names that we’ve all known and loved (or hated) have evaporated or been gobbled up by conglomerates.

Have we reached the end of merger mania in the travel biz? I don’t think so.

Let’s speculate on a few more mergers that might make sense:

Uber's clever bashing of rival Lyft would disappear if the companies merged. (Facebook screenshot)

Uber’s clever bashing of rival Lyft in social media would disappear if the companies merged- but fares could increase. (Facebook screenshot)

Uber + Lyft

Uber is sitting on a valuation of $19 billion and is the undisputed king of the brand new ridesharing industry with an excellent product and a very loyal customer base. With that kind of money and power, Uber must be thinking about buying out its closest competitor, Lyft (valued at around $700 million), right? I would if I were Uber CEO Travis Kalanick.

The services offered by UberX and Lyft are nearly identical, so I could easily see Uber buying and folding in Lyft as part of its new carpooling initiative announced this week. And it’s curious that Lyft and Uber both came out with the same idea about carpooling almost simultaneously, no? Are the two companies already coordinating product launches?  Hmm.

The combo would probably make many buttoned up, Uber-loving business travelers a bit more comfortable with Lyft, which is known for its “citizen drivers,” fratty fist bumps and fuzzy pink moustaches. Those moustaches might be getting a makeover- Lyft recently hired a new design director to polish up its image. 

“Uber has been aggressive in its efforts to add both cities and capacity, and a merger could help it accomplish both,” said Henry Harteveldt of the Atmosphere Research Group. “A larger Uber would be more appealing to individual consumers and business travelers, and would have considerably more political clout.”  But he also warned that removing a competitor from the marketplace could lead to higher prices. 

What are the odds that these two will merge? Leave your comments below.

Virgin America and JetBlue jets in Los Angeles (Photo: InSapphoWeTrust / Flickr)

JetBlue and Virgin America jets in Los Angeles (Photo: InSapphoWeTrust / Flickr)

Virgin America + JetBlue

Virgin America and JetBlue are currently the darlings of commercial aviation in the US. Both are known for excellent service, new planes and positive consumer feedback.

But both are also in a bloodbath with financially healthy legacy carriers anxious to eat their lunch. It is increasingly difficult for these two upstarts to fight against the attraction of the major carriers’ robust frequent flier programs.

Wouldn’t it make sense for the two to combine forces to fight back?

Their route maps don’t overlap too much– JetBlue is primarily an east coast carrier and Virgin is big out west. JetBlue has a nice foothold in the huge New York City market. Virgin is adored in San Francisco and Los Angeles. JetBlue boasts the modern, convenient airport terminal (T5) at JFK. Virgin has the state of the art T2 at SFO. The two carriers could share the mod Virgin Loft at LAX since they both operate out of Terminal 3 there. Both carriers fly Airbus narrowbody jets.

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

“JetBlue would benefit greatly from having one less competitor on the highly competitive transcon routes.  For Virgin America, its owners would likely love the idea of a merger so they could recoup their investments. If the price is right, then it should make sense for them,” said Brett Snyder who runs the popular Cranky Flier blog. “But my guess is that it would be tough to find the right price.”

If the two carriers did merge, which brand would survive? Snyder thinks it would be JetBlue due to more national name recognition and the fact that they would not have to pay the Virgin Group any royalties to use the Virgin name.

Aviation analyst Robert Mann told TravelSkills, “Only partially in jest, the three most important questions in mergers are where will it be based, what will we call it, and who gets to run it?  M&A is all about egos, right?”

What are the odds that these two will merge and which brand would survive? Leave your comments below.

Some other likely combos? 

The fabulous, colorful lobby at Kimpton's Hotel Monaco in Portland. (Chris McGinnis)

The fabulous, colorful lobby at Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco in Portland. (Chris McGinnis)

There are numerous other merger possibilities that make sense in the travel space. I’m thinking Kimpton and Hyatt would make a good pair– both do a great job executing excellent upscale customer service, and Hyatt is likely eager to enlarge its relatively small footprint in the market.

Like Uber, Airbnb is sitting on a huge valuation ($10 billion) which it could use to buy out competitors… I wonder if Airbnb has its eyes on VRBO, which used to lead in this space, but now operates in the shadow of Airbnb?

Then there’s the notion that the major air carriers in each global alliance may one day merge to form truly global carriers. SkyTeam Air Lines? Oneworld Airways? Star Airlines? That’s probably years, if not decades away, but these global alliances are likely precursors. Sounds implausible, right? Well, maybe not!

What do you think are some likely merger possibilities in the travel space? Leave your comments below! 

–Chris McGinnis

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

facebook like

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

How to get on earlier flight without paying fee

Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

20 different biz class seats in 1 room- PHOTOS

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

Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

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

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

 


Serial stowaway finally gets her free flight

UPDATE: THURSDAY AUG 7: After her arrest and incarceration in LA on Monday, Hartman went BACK TO THE AIRPORT on Thursday, and was arrested again. Full story here. 

Original story here:

After six thwarted attempts at stowing away on planes bound for Hawaii, San Francisco’s now famous Marilyn Jean Hartmann has finally done it.

NBC Bay Area news is now reporting that Hartman breached TSA security, boarded a Southwest Airlines plane in San Jose on Monday night and flew to Los Angeles where she was arrested. KTVU is reporting that she made it through security and on to the plane without a ticket by sneaking behind a family.

NBC provides a bit of the woman’s background here:

The San Francisco woman has a history of trying to get on flights without a ticket. Three times in February, twice in March and at least once in April she attempted to board flights at SFO. At least twice she was able to breach Transportation Security Administration security and make her way into the boarding area.

The San Francisco Chronicle has uncovered new information that shows Hartman has been up to these antics since 2010, and has even blogged about it.

(Photo: San Francisco Police Dept)

Marilyn Jean Hartman, 62, finally got on a plane. (Photo: San Francisco Police Dept)

This is the second time this year that Mineta San Jose Airport has been in the news due to people successfully stowing away on planes there. As you may recall, a teenager breached airport perimeter security and hid in a wheel well of a Hawaiian Airlines plane for an icy trip to Hawaii. 

The TSA made the following statement in light of this latest incident:

“Following an initial review by TSA at San Jose International Airport, the agency has initiated minor modifications to the layout of the document checking area to prevent another incident like this one.”

Hartman’s multiple attempts to stowaway on planes bound to Hawaii have landed her on probation and slapped with a court order to stay away from all airports unless she has a valid ticket. But the publicity around her attempts to fly  have also prompted Silicon Valley types to set up funding sites to help buy her a ticket to Hawaii. For example, a GoFundMe.com page has raised nearly $1,300 although it’s not clear how or if that money has been disbursed.

The San Jose Mercury News reported in May that Hartman would “spend two years in a mental health facility to receive treatment for major depressive disorder.” The paper went on to say that Hartman,

was determined to be suffering from a ‘major mental illness’ and deemed a suitable candidate for the residential mental health program, prosecutors said. She was sentenced to two years supervised probation and will remain under strict supervision in the program for the next two years.

Sounds like that strict supervision wasn’t enough to quash this lady’s wanderlust and stated desired to “go somewhere warm.”

In the last year, we’ve seen a teenager slip through airport fencing at San Jose International and hide in a wheel well for a flight to Hawaii. At SFO, a drunk business traveler masquerading as a TSA agent lured two unsuspecting travelers into a private booth for a pat down.

Now this.

This latest incident poses a LOT of questions about the state of airport security. It also provides plenty of fodder for jokes on late night talk shows. :)

What do YOU think about this situation?

Leave your comments below!

–Chris McGinnis

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

facebook like

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

How to get on earlier flight without paying fee

Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

20 different biz class seats in 1 room- PHOTOS

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

Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

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

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

20 different biz class seats in 1 room- PHOTOS

The star of the show was a mock up of Etihad's new 3-room "Residence" w double bed on its new A380's (Chris McGinnis)

The star of the GBTA trade show was a mock up of Etihad’s new 3-room “Residence” w double bed soon to appear on its new A380’s (Chris McGinnis)

(Los Angeles) Every year at about this time, the business travel industry gathers for the Global Business Travel Association convention. This year it’s here in Los Angeles, with about 7,000 industry folks schmoozing, speaking, selling, learning, networking and having a lot of fun. 

One of the best parts of this conference is the trade show floor where hundreds of travel suppliers like airlines, hotels, car rental companies, or banks (sellers) erect elaborate booths to show off their wares and negotiate deals with all the corporate travel managers (buyers) at the show.

The highlight of the show? The airline booths! Most (but not all) have their latest, greatest business class seats on the floor to show off. Here’s a collection of some of my best shots from this colorful kaleidoscope! Check ‘em out and stay tuned for more posts about the  convention.

Virgin America was there showing off its cushy white leather first class seats (Chris McGinnis)

Virgin America was there showing off its cushy white leather first class seats (Chris McGinnis)

On the heels of announcing new nonstops to SFO, Turkish had its nice true lie flat biz class seat on display (Chris McGinnis)

On the heels of announcing new nonstops to SFO, Turkish had it’s nice true lie flat biz class seat on display (Chris McGinnis)

The new lie-flat seat that American Airlines is using on its long hauls-- esp popular on the New York to London run (Chris McGinnis)

The new lie-flat seat that American Airlines is using on its long hauls– esp popular on the New York to London run (Chris McGinnis)

LAN's new business class seat nice for those overnights to South America! (Chris McGinnis)

LAN’s new business class seat nice for those overnights to South America! (Chris McGinnis)

Airbnb was at GBTA for the first time with a cool hipster like lounge booth (Chris McGinnis)

Airbnb was at GBTA for the first time with a cool hipster like lounge booth (Chris McGinnis)

Here's Qatar Air's business class seat. All the UAE carriers had their most gorgeous FA's on hand to show off the seats! (Chris McGinnis)

Here’s Qatar Air’s business class seat. All the UAE carriers had their most gorgeous FA’s on hand to show off the seats! (Chris McGinnis)

That's me and Johnny Jet in the "living room"- one of three rooms in the new "Residence" onboard its new A380s

That’s me and Johnny Jet in the “living room”- one of three rooms soon appearing in the new “Residence” onboard Etihad’s new A380s

First class on Amtrak's high speed Acela trains along the NE Corridor (Chris McGinnis)

First class on Amtrak’s high speed Acela trains along the NE Corridor (Chris McGinnis)

Emirates did not have a seat on display, but had a mock up of its inflight lounge aboard its A380s. (Chris McGinnis)

Emirates did not have a seat on display, but had a mock up of its inflight lounge aboard its A380s. (Chris McGinnis)

Here's JetBlue's new "MINT" class seat now appearing on its LAX-JFK transcons (Chris McGinnis)

Here’s JetBlue’s new “MINT” class seat now appearing on its LAX-JFK transcons (Chris McGinnis)

That's Alitalia's lovely "baseball glove" leather trimmed business class seat (Chris McGinnis)

That’s Alitalia’s lovely “baseball glove” leather trimmed business class seat (Chris McGinnis)

Please join the 50,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!
Lufthansa was showing off it's new premium economy seat (Chris McGinnis)

Lufthansa was showing off its new premium economy seat (Chris McGinnis)

A Singapore Girl shows off Singapore Air's new business class seat now appearing on its 777s (Chris McGinnis)

A Singapore Girl shows off Singapore Air’s new business class seat now appearing on its 777s (Chris McGinnis)

After a long day at the GBTA show, I needed a nap on Air New Zealand's economy Sky Couch! (Chris McGinnis)

After a long day at the GBTA show, I needed a nap on Air New Zealand’s economy Sky Couch! (Chris McGinnis)

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

Based on what you’ve seen here… or experienced for yourself… which seat is your favorite or the one you’d like to try the most? Leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis


facebook like

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

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

Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

Conrad snags posh new London hotel

Best & worst hotels, airports for Wi-Fi

How I watched the #MH17 tragedy unfold

Unusual ways to earn hotel rewards points

Should I renew my CLEAR card?

New global carrier for SFO with an Indian twist

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

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

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

 


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)


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

See the Thames snaking through this glittering view from a United 767 approaching London Heathrow? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Last month I grinned at this glittering view of London as our United 767 approached Heathrow. See the Thames? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

London is the most popular travel destination in the world. (I would agree with that!) The British capital reclaimed the most popular spot based on air travel arrivals and foreign visitor spending, besting last year’s most popular destination, Bangkok, by more than 2 million visitors according to MasterCard’s Global Destination Cities Index released this week.

Where else are people traveling? Behind London and Bangkok, Paris, Singapore and Dubai rounded the top five locations across the globe.

I’ve been to all five of these cities within the last five years, but as a business travel columnist for BBC, that’s not out of the ordinary. But what about you? Read on to learn what I truly think about these places, and please let me know if you agree with me or not! See comments below!

Thankfully, MasterCard narrowed down the content of its massive report to the following data points. See my comments in italics after each… and please leave your comments below!

>Who’s traveling to the most popular destination in the world? Visitors to London come most often by way of New York, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Stockholm and Dublin. London will always remain in my top 2-3 cities because every time I go (and I’ve been at least once per year for the last 20 years) I find something new or interesting there. It has a dynamic dining and hotel scene, is always modernizing or changing, and just feels like the center of the universe to me. Some recent new finds: The Great Northern Hotel in the now-hip-once-seedy area around Kings Cross Station on the north side of town. The Borough Market is always worth a visit, especially now that you can make a side trip into the new, nearby Shard and have a look at the new Shangri-La hotel inside it. 

View from a room at the new Shangri-La Paris. Who can't love Paris? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

View from a room at the new Shangri-La Paris. Who can’t love Paris? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>Interestingly, Dubai is poised to eclipse Paris and Singapore as a more popular city than within five years if it continues to show such healthy growth number. I don’t get the attraction to Dubai. Once the novelty wears off (in a day or two) it feels like Las Vegas without the gambling and limited booze to me. Sure, it has a futuristic airport, a fab hometown airline, glam hotels and big architecture, but it was hot and dusty most of the time I was there. And I can’t help but keep wondering what would happen to the place if the desalinization plants ever shut down. Sure, it’s great for a stop over or a business trip, but I don’t think I’d go back on my own dime. Now, Paris  is a complete other story. Who can’t love Paris? Enough said. I had a really great time on a recent trip to Singapore– I really liked eating like a local at the “hawker stalls” and inspecting a raft of new hotels, but I was put off by the stifling heat, humidity and painfully high prices. Also, it seems unfair that locals are only allowed into casinos by paying a steep fee, but foreigners get in for free (and yes, they ask for passports at the casino door). But it’s worth seeing, especially that spaceship-like Marina Bay Sands with the pool on the roof. Wow! 

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

>Perhaps the most surprising result this year is that Lima, Peru broke through as the first Latin American city to rank in the top 20 most popular destinations in the world and had more than double the visitors (5.11 million) as presumed more popular cities: Mexico City (2.57 million) or Sao Paulo (2.51 million). I have not been to Lima, but hope to make it there one day soon, even though LAN recently cut its nonstops from SFO. It’s been interesting to see the popularity of Peruvian cuisine sweep across the US. On the downside, I’ve heard that Lima is somewhat gritty and cloudy most of the time, so I’d probably hightail it outta there and hit the Andes and Machu Picchu after a few days. I was in Mexico City last year and really REALLY liked it. It’s definitely cleaned up its act lately, has a fun food/dining scene and lots of new hotels– it’s clearly a sleeper city. 

The Turkish Airlines CIP lounge at Istanbul Ataturk airport (Photo: Turkish Airlines)

The Turkish Airlines CIP lounge at Istanbul Ataturk airport (Photo: Turkish Airlines)

>Movers & Shakers: Istanbul saw the greatest percentage change in visitors from 2013 to 2014 with 17.5% more visitors, while Amsterdam bested Milan for twelfth place, pushing the Italian city of fashion to #13. It’s been a while since I’ve been to Istanbul, and I’m gunning to get back. I’m enthralled by the emergence of Turkish Airlines as such a big global player, and can’t wait to see its unusually mod airport club at Ataturk International one day. Based on the increasing number of Facebook posts and pics I see of my friends and readers at the mosques and markets, I’d say many folks are crossing this off their bucket list. Milan remains on my bucket list. 

>New York was notably the only North American city to crack the top 10 (or even the top 20!) list of top destinations worldwide. Behind New York the top cities remained unchanged YOY – Los Angeles (#2), Miami (#3), Toronto (#4) and San Francisco (#5) This is clearly a sign of how unwelcoming the US is to foreign visitors with unwieldy visa requirements. I know we had to tighten up after 9/11 but come on! In any case, New York always seems to be brimming with foreign tourists, which is why I always try to avoid the biggest tourist traps like Times Square or Fifth Ave, except for a day during the holidays when going there is fun and gets me in the holiday spirit…but I only stick around for an hour or so to see the tree at Rockefeller center, then split! The hotel scene in NYC is crazy these days, with new hotels opening at least monthly, so it’s hard to keep up. But one of my favorite pastimes when there is to just walk around town and check out the new hotel lobbies and have a drink or a meal. 

Okay! Your turn! Please leave your comments about the world’s top five cities below! LONDON, BANGKOK, PARIS, SINGAPORE, DUBAI. Have you been? What did you like or not like? Do you agree or disagree with my brief assessments? 

–Chris McGinnis

+++

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

facebook like

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Are frequent flyer programs designed to fail?

Are Uber, Airbnb or Lyft safe?

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

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

Traveling with Carly Simon (reprise)

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

5 ways Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner still wows

How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

Is Chengdu China’s Chicago?

Delta waffles on transcon upgrade policy

6 most irritating actions of infrequent flyers

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

Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

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

Is Uber illegal?

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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

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

 

 


Newer, lighter Emirates A380s coming to SFO, IAH

The business and first class lounge on upper deck of Emirates A380 (Photo: Emirates Airline)

The business and first class lounge on upper deck of Emirates A380 (Photo: Emirates Airline)

Emirates is deploying  its giant double-decker Airbus A380 on nonstop routes from both San Francisco International and Houston Intercontinental to Dubai (DXB) on December 1 and 3 respectively.

The new aircraft comes with showers, wi-fi and, yes, even the option of using your mobile phone during the flight. (Oh my!) The A380 also brings true lie-flat business class seats to these markets– Emirates Boeing 777s currently on the routes offer the less desirable “angled lie flat” version.

The A380 will offer 14 posh and private first class suites and 76 lie-flat business class seats, and 400 economy class seats. Business class seats are configured 1-2-1 and economy class seats are 10-across, configured 3-4-3. See configuration here.

Emirates' depiction of its first class shower suite (Photo: Emirates Airline)

Emirates’ depiction of its first class shower suite (Photo: Emirates Airline)

The 16 hour SFO-Dubai flight (which takes the polar route) will be the third longest route for an Emirates A380. (Flights from DXB  to LAX and IAH are longer.) These newer versions of A380 aircraft are lighter and more efficient than previous versions which were unable to fly that far.

San Francisco and Houston will be Emirates’ fourth and fifth U.S. gateways served by an A380, joining New York, Los Angeles, and Dallas/Fort Worth starting October 1.

The entire upper deck of an Emirates A380 is for business and first class passengers only. Passengers riding in first class have access to two shower suites. There’s also Emirates’s popular onboard lounge for business and first class passengers on the A380 (see photo) serving wine, beer, cocktails and canapes.  Check out the onboard experience via Google’s Street View here.

In coach, all passengers get 12 inch touch-screen entertainment, power outlets, and access to wi-fi. Also, Emirates is one of the few airlines in the world to allow passengers to use their mobile phones during the flight.

“Adding the A380 to these two important US cities illustrates the intensity of the battle being fought for the ultra long haul passenger, especially those in first and business class,” Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst and founder of Atmosphere Research told TravelSkills. “The A380 has clearly become Emirates’ long-haul workhorse. We’re witnessing a new kind of airline dogfight. But this time, instead of cheap prices, the battle is being fought with in-flight entertainment, lie-flat seats, and extensive connections via Emirates’ Dubai hub,” he said.
With announcements like this, it seems like Emirates is taking over the world…what do you think about the rapid rise of UAE carriers? Would you fly Emirates via Dubai to get to India, Africa or the Middle East? Please leave your comments below.


Chris McGinnis

+++

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

facebook like

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

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

Is Uber illegal?

Biz Trip: Denver

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

Mood lights on at new Virgin America site 

First look: The newest United Club (PHOTOS)

Beer price index helps gauge cost of trips abroad

United’s new copy & paste MileagePlus program

Marriott’s M Club lounge experiment

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

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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

 


Beer price index helps gauge cost of trips abroad

The price of a beer is a good gauge of the overall travel cost of a country (Photo: Hector Rodriquez / Flickr)

The price of a beer is a good gauge of the overall travel cost of a country (Photo: Hector Rodriquez / Flickr)

Enjoying a beer in a foreign land is one of the primary pathways to exploring a new culture, meeting locals and soaking up the scenery (and the suds).

But the price of that beer varies wildly around the world, and a new study by a Berlin-based startup company called GoEuro helps gauge how cheap, or expensive a city can be by monitoring average beer prices around the world.

For example, the study shows that you’ll find your cheapest beer buzz in Poland, Berlin or Prague where a bottle bought at a local store will set you back a little over $1.00 (79-93 euros).

On the other hand, a moment of beerjoyment will set you back significantly more in Tokyo, Zurich or Oslo, where you’ll pay nearly $5.00 (3.03-3.55 euros) per bottle.

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

The Beer Price Index, which calculated the average cost of buying some of the world’s most well-known beers in 40 major cities across the globe, was carried out by GoEuro, the online travel search engine. 

This study was made based on the cost of a 33cl bottle in a regular discount store, with several worldwide brands and a major local brand. Keep in mind that buying a beer at a store is significantly less then buying one at a bar or restaurant! 

bpi-english

How do you gauge the the cost of traveling in foreign country? Please leave your comments below! 

–Chris McGinnis

+++

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

facebook like

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts: 

United’s new copy & paste MileagePlus program

Marriott’s M Club lounge experiment

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

Flying on a brand new United 787 Dreamliner

The sad state of summer airfares to Europe

Tip: What exactly is “high tea?”

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

Economy comfort gets an upgrade (for some)

Late summer airfare sale starts TODAY

5 key questions to ask at hotel check in

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

4 warning signs of a long hot summer

Business travelers should ask for rooms facing away from hotel pool during summer months! (Photo: Fetmano / Flickr)

Business travelers should ask for rooms facing away from hotel pool during summer months! (Photo: Fetmano / Flickr)

Most business travelers have mixed emotions about summer season.

It is, of course a time when we can relax and revive with friends and family. But it’s also a time during which we have to share our precious space on planes, airports, hotels and rental car queues with the beach ball and Bermuda shorts crowd.

Here are four signs it is going to be especially rough out there this summer and some advice on how to make the best of the situation:

Disney raises ticket prices. Disney does not raise ticket prices when it senses a slow summer ahead. In a clear sign that the leisure giant plans to make hay while the sun shines this summer, Disney quietly raised its ticket prices by 10% this week. A day pass for Disneyland in Anaheim is now $96, up from $92. In Orlando, a day at Disney World now runs $99. Disney also raised prices on its popular multi-day “Park Hopper” passes. TIP: Avoid business trips to Orlando and Anaheim during peak summer months, or at least book hotels well away from park gates. And I hope you are signed up for PreCheck and maybe even Clear if you use Orlando airport frequently.

Europe airfares soaring- We’ll see the busiest summer in six years says Airlines for America, the trade group of major US airlines. The group predicts a record breaking 29.9 million passengers to board international flights. All that demand means fares are skyrocketing. A quick check on ITA today shows mid July nonstop economy fares from the east coast to Europe running in the $1,600 range round-trip. Nonstops from the west coast in July are already running about $1,800 round trip (and it’s not even June yet). TIP: Consider using your miles or pay to upgrade since the difference between coach and business is much less during peak summer months when airlines occasionally discount the front of the plane. Premium economy is also a good option to avoid screaming me-mes on overnight flights. Do you have Global Entry to avoid lines at US customs and immigration? If not, get it now– it’s part of my “No hassle travel trifecta!”

Gasoline prices flat. Remarkably, average gasoline prices should remain about the same or even a bit less than last summer according to the US Energy Information Administration. ($3.63 on average, nationwide) With airfares skyrocketing and hassles increasing, flat gas means that we’ll see a lot more families hit the road instead of the skies this year. TIP- beware of weekend traffic delays on Fridays and Sundays to/from popular beaches and National Parks. Also, be sure to book roadside hotels early in the day.

Hotels filling fast- One of the great things about my gig with Best Western is that since it’s not a public company, it can make “forward looking statements” without having to worry about the SEC clamping down. Last month the chain pulled advance-booking numbers which show an increase of 10% in the US for this summer. Advance bookings are up 18% in Canada where a cheaper Canadian dollar is attracting bargain hunting American families. Another indicator: AAA says that rates at 3-diamond hotels are up 2% to $169 on average compared to a year ago. TIP: If you are traveling on business during between June and August this year, always ask for a room facing AWAY from the screeches and squeals of the hotel pool area.

CALENDAR CHECK. Memorial Day is Monday May 26th this year. The 4th of July falls on a Friday this year, and Labor Day is Monday, September 1.

–Chris McGinnis

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts: 

Which airlines are most generous with miles?

Runway closure at SFO to impact summer travel

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

Is Delta the airline to beat?

Behind the Scenes at Cathay Pacific: 10 Cool Things Revealed

Feast your eyes on United’s new London lounges

Virgin gets Love + Unusual SFO car wash + United to Tokyo Haneda + UberXL

Marriott’s 4,000th hotel opens

Airline “all-in” pricing on the ropes? Hope not!

The wonderment of PreCheck

Tip: Snag the best hotel room

facebook like


Which airlines are most generous with miles?

Use your United miles and catch unset at the Halekulani in Honolulu (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

It’s a lot easier to use United miles vs Delta miles to catch a sunset like this at the Halekulani in Honolulu (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Nearly every airline has futzed around with its frequent flyer program over the last year and a new Mile Generosity Study helps illustrate where we are as summer travel season approaches.

The study, performed by Milecards.com, collected data by making several hundred thousand queries on airline websites for economy class round trips for two passengers between April and December. It did not rely upon the notoriously unreliable program reward calendars.

“We were curious to see how programs compare based on where you want to fly, which we think is an important question to consider when you’re evaluating travel rewards,” Brian Karimzad of Milecards told TravelSkills. 

If you are mileage obsessed, take a read of the full report here. If not, I’ve read through it and cherry-picked some highlights and helpful nuggets:

Sundays after July 4 and Thanksgiving are the most "expensive" when it comes to mileage redemption

Sundays after July 4 and Thanksgiving are the most “expensive” when it comes to mileage redemption

>Sunday is the most expensive day for award trips—tickets cost 34% more on Sundays than on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, which are the cheapest days. Fridays and Saturdays are expensive days for award travel, too. The most expensive days of the year for award travel are the Sundays after July 4th and Thanksgiving. (See chart)

>Award trips to Europe cost 30% more during peak summer months, while domestic trips only run 10% higher. Winter holiday trips are about 15% more expensive, but only if you book well ahead of time. The last two weeks of June are the toughest for award travel to Europe.

>90% of award trips are booked online, even though calling an agent can help uncover deals that are not prominently displayed on airline websites. For example, Delta SkyMiles members can redeem 60,000 miles for round trips to South America on partner Aerolineas Argentinas, but they can only be booked over the phone.

>The report confirms what others like it have found: Among major carriers, United offers more domestic US round trips at the lowest 20,000-25,000 level than other carriers. United offers its lowest price 62% of the time, while notoriously stingy Delta only does so 48% of the time (although a recent IdeaWorks study shows Delta’s slowly getting better in this regard.) Southwest and JetBlue have the lowest average “prices” for domestic round trips.

>Delta’s lowest priced economy award trip to Hawaii (45,000 miles) is only available 1% of the time—the average price paid for Delta award trips to Hawaii is 65, 463 miles. On the other hand, United’s 45,000-mile award is available 37% of the time.

>You’ll get the most bang for your bucks miles for travel to Central and South America—especially on United via its partners Copa and Avianca. JetBlue has the lowest average price for trips to Mexico and the Caribbean.

>American’s lowest rate (75,000 miles) for award trips to distant Australia is available 42% of the time. Delta is also a strong contender if you are able to get to Los Angeles, where partner Virgin Australia has good availability of reward seats, but Delta’s 100,000-mile entry-level price is the highest of the major programs.

What’s the most you’ve ever paid for an award trip? I just paid 100,000 miles to fly in first class on United SFO-BOS for July 4th. Ouch. But the fare would have been close to $3,000. Did I overpay? Please leave your comments below. 

–Chris McGinnis

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts: 

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

Is Delta the airline to beat?

Behind the Scenes at Cathay Pacific: 10 Cool Things Revealed

Feast your eyes on United’s new London lounges

Virgin gets Love + Unusual SFO car wash + United to Tokyo Haneda + UberXL

Marriott’s 4,000th hotel opens

Airline “all-in” pricing on the ropes? Hope not!

The wonderment of PreCheck

Tip: Snag the best hotel room

facebook like


Tip: Dealing with delays & cancellations (Chris on CNN)

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 9.15.58 AM

A few months ago, frequent flyers were in their winter of discontent when a record number of flights were delayed or canceled due to winter storms.

Just because the weather is warming up does not mean that we are immune to the problem. Summer thunderstorms and the hurricane season can wreak similar havoc on business travel plans.

This month CNN invited me out to the airport to talk about how travelers can best deal with delays and cancellations.

Watch the video (BELOW) to learn more about these seven tips:

1) Book the first flight of the day

2) Learn to live out of a carry on bag

3) Be sure airline has your updated contact info

4) Use apps like FlightStats, FlightAware and HotelTonight if stranded

5) Buy day pass to airline airport club

6) Don’t stand in line! Get online or on the phone instead

7) Know when to ask for a FULL REFUND!

Please take a watch for my tips and advice! How do YOU handle (or avoid) delays? 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


Boeing 747s flying away from SFO?

A United 747-400 enroute to Osaka (Photo: InSapphoWeTrust / Flickr)

A United 747-400 enroute to Osaka (Photo: InSapphoWeTrust / Flickr)

Do you love watching elegant Boeing 747s lumber over the Peninsula or the Bay as they approach SFO? Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to occasionally ride upstairs in “the bubble” in business class on the way to Asia or Europe?

Well, enjoy it while you can.  As more airlines worldwide opt to retire their 747s and replace them with 777s, SFO will see fewer of this iconic aircraft. The phasing out is already well underway…

Air China is the latest to delete the 747 from its SFO schedule. Last month it replaced the big bird with a 777 on the SFO-Beijing run. It now flies the 777 exclusively between China and the US.

Cathay Pacific has scheduled its last 747 flight between SFO and Hong Kong for August 31, to be replaced by three-class 777 service (economy, premium economy and business, but no first class).

Air New Zealand is scheduled to fly its last 747 from Auckland to SFO in September, having phased in the 777.

EVA Air's 747s flew away from SFO in 2012 (Photo: Danny Fritsche / Flickr)

EVA Air’s 747s flew away from SFO in 2012 (Photo: Danny Fritsche / Flickr)

EVA Air’s 747 flights flew away in November 2012. And of course, we lost QANTAS’ daily red tail 747 flight back in 2011 when the carrier moved the flight to Dallas Ft Worth.

United, whose SFO-based 747 fleet dominates other carriers’, is on a similar bandwagon. In 2012 the airline announced it would shift its 747 focus to SFO. However, after a year or so, it did an about-face and schedules show it replacing many Asia- and Australia-bound routes with other aircraft.

For example, a new 787 Dreamliner is coming to United’s SFO-Osaka run. On March 27 United will deploy newly refurbished three-cabin 777-200ERs on SFO-Sydney, replacing the 747s it currently uses. (Photos of 777-200 interiors here) The best news about having 777 on SFO-SYD is that coach passengers will soon have individual seatback screens for the 14-hour haul…something the 747 sorely lacked. For the time being, United will continue to fly 747s from SFO to: Beijing, Frankfurt (2x/day), Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo-Narita (2x/day).

Why don’t you join the 25,000+ people who get insider info, news and tips from TravelSkills every month? Sign up here to receive posts via email. Don’t miss out!

A couple of airlines are taking the opposite approach and going big. Lufthansa will fly the A380 from SFO beginning in April and plans to use it year-round…not just seasonally.

Previously the German carrier alternated between a 747 and A380 on the route.  And Air France will bring back the behemoth double-decker aircraft for seasonal service on SFO-Paris, April through October.

Business class up in the nose of a Boeing 747-400- coming to SFO this month! (Photo: KLM)

Business class up in the nose of a KLM Boeing 747-400- coming to SFO this month! (Photo: KLM)

But it’s not all bad news on the 747 front. KLM will replace its A330 and MD-11 jets on SFO-Amsterdam with a 747-400 later this month. The very best news is that the 747 will have KLM’s new lie-flat business class seat. A KLM spokesperson told TravelSkills that the 747 would remain on the route “until at least the end of the summer.”

By year’s end, it looks like SFO’s 747 flights will be limited to United, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Philippine Airlines and China Airlines.

The 777 is seen by airlines as being right-sized for Asia and west-bound markets from the Bay Area due to its combination of capacity, range and fuel efficiency. The 747 family seats 400-500 passengers, depending on airline configuration, while the 777 family’s capacity is in the 300-390 range. The 747, with its four engines, is a fuel hog, and airlines have found it’s more profitable to fly smaller aircraft like the twin-engine, fuel-efficient 777 more times per day if necessary, than a single mega-aircraft flight.

There are other factors to consider in the complex world of route/aircraft strategy, too. When a United route executive was asked why the company was not investing in the new 747-8 to update its 747 fleet, he noted (off the record) that the aircraft is so large that its resale market is limited. If the aircraft/route does not pan out, there is limited opportunity to unload the aircraft in the secondary market. (Likely the same reason United is not buying A380s.)

First class onboard on of Pan Am's first 747s (Photo: Tim Graham / Flickr)

First class onboard on of Pan Am’s first 747s (Photo: Tim Graham / Flickr)

Boeing’s 747 “Jumbo Jet” made history at its inception in 1970: it was the world’s first widebody aircraft. The manufacturer allowed Pan Am, its inaugural customer, to have significant input in the aircraft design, and the plane’s commercial debut was a Pan Am flight from New York to London Heathrow on January 22, 1970. Since then its distinctive design and upper deck have captured the imagination of passengers. Will Bay Area travelers lose access to this iconic aircraft? Only time will tell.

Does the 747 hold a special memory for you or a preferred experience? Please leave your comments below.

–Nancy Branka

BAT contributor Nancy Branka

BAT contributor Nancy Branka

We are pleased to welcome Nancy Branka as a contributor to TravelSkills! She’s covered the business travel beat for years as managing editor of Executive Travel magazine and is now turning her talents toward helping keep TravelSkills Readers informed.  Nancy lives in the East Bay and primarily flies out of Oakland International– we’ll rely on her to expand our coverage on that side of the Bay! Today she’s jetting across the country on American Airlines’ brand new A321T and will provide a report on her trip next week. -- Chris

 

 

 

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

Virgin America’s big plans for Big D

United carry-on “crackdown” not all it’s cracked up to be

Another spin on the frequent flyer merry-go-round

SFO by the numbers

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

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?

***

Subscribe to TravelSkills-  via e-mail!

Why don’t you join the 25,000+ people who get insider info, news and tips from TravelSkills every month? Sign up here to receive posts via email. Don’t miss out!


Another spin on the frequent flyer merry-go-round

A Delta 757-200 in St Maarten (Matt Hintsa / Flickr)

A Delta 757-200 in St Maarten (Matt Hintsa / Flickr)

Have you watched the brouhaha unfold in the wake of Delta’s announcement this week that it’s switching to a revenue-based frequent flyer program next year? Worried that United might have the same plan in mind?

I’ve watched Delta make “historic” or “major” changes to its SkyMiles program since long before it was called SkyMiles. It’s funny how the same scenario plays out time after time when Delta (or any other major airline) makes changes to loyalty programs.

Here’s the playbook:

For months, or even years, Delta tempts us with leaks and rumors about “upcoming changes” which keep its best customers on pins and needles, and an army of pundits pondering.

When it comes time to announce the change, Delta shares the news exclusively and under strict embargo with a handful of its friends in major media outlets. Those media typically don’t trash the changes, but only report on them.

For editorializing, Delta’s media friends go to a handful of pundits who come out either for or against the changes.  Many times these pundits or consultants are also in on the embargo, which makes you wonder who is buttering their bread?

Then, boom! At the anointed hour the embargo is lifted, the pre-arranged stories hit the web, TV or newspapers and hysteria mounts! Reactions to these stories in blogs and social media run along the lines of… “Oh my GAWD! Delta is gutting the program! This is historic! How can Delta do this to us! A massive devaluation! How dare Delta offend its very best customers? This spells the end of frequent flyer programs as we know them! Let’s launch a petition or a website to convince Delta to reverse its decision! I’ll never fly Delta again!”

On the other side of the story, you hear, “Delta is a business and can do whatever it wants with SkyMiles…What’s wrong with paying attention to the 20% of flyers who produce 80% of revenue? …This change will actually benefit frequent flyers in the long run. …You can always switch to another carrier until it makes the same moves.” Delta executives state, “Our best customers asked us to do this. We even conducted focus groups!”

Eventually, other airlines mimic Delta’s moves and their customers rise up in protest.

Then the hysteria dies down and we all get back to work. Of course, we still grumble about the changes with fellow travelers on blog comment trails, at cocktail parties or across airplane aisles, but we accept them as inevitable and move on.

After what appear to be such mammoth changes, we assume for a while that the airlines just can’t cut back or restructure the programs any more…until they do. And then the cycle repeats itself again. And again and again.

(Link here to Delta’s proposed changes which go into effect in 2015.)

What’s your take on Delta’s moves this week? Do you expect United to follow suit, as it has done with nearly every other Delta move this year? If you participate heavily in Virgin America’s or Southwest’s revenue-based programs…how’s that going for you?  Please leave your comments below. 

Chris McGinnis  

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

SFO by the numbers

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

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?

***

Subscribe to TravelSkills-  via e-mail!

Why don’t you join the 25,000+ people who get insider info, news and tips from TravelSkills every month? Sign up here to receive posts via email. Don’t miss out!


Are you a “data traveler?”

The average business traveler checks his or her email 34 times per day when on the road…and 75% of business travelers say that their mobile phones enable them to get more sleep at night. Find those and several more insights in this interesting infographic from Mophie, the makers of those mobile phone battery packs that keep us juiced up all over the world.

Mophie_-Day-in-the-Life-of-a-Data-Traveller

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

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

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!)

***

Subscribe to TravelSkills-  via e-mail!

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


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!)

***

Subscribe to TravelSkills-  via e-mail!

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


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 


Best/worst cities to lose your wallet (Infographic)

LostWallet

 

If you lose your wallet in Helsinki or Mumbai, it’s likely to be returned. But you better hang on tightly to your wallet in Madrid, Lisbon or Prague, the least likely places your wallet will be returned, according to Reader’s Digest.

In an interesting experiment, researchers “dropped” 12 wallets in 16 different cities to see what would happen. Each wallet included a name with a cellphone number, a family photo, coupons, and business cards, plus the equivalent of $50.  They were left  in parks, near shopping malls, and on sidewalks. Unfortunately, San Francisco was not included in the study… but if it had been, where do you think it would have ranked?

Have you ever lost your wallet in another country? Or found a wallet and tried to return it? 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 this week:

>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!

 


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.

Subscribe to TravelSkills-  via e-mail!

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.

Subscribe to TravelSkills-  via e-mail!

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

***

Subscribe to TravelSkills-  via e-mail!

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


Virgin bonus + United Clubs + LAX + Dining miles + PreCheck/CLEAR

Fall is in the air! (Photo: DickTay2000 / Flickr)

Fall is in the air! (Photo: DickTay2000 / Flickr)

It’s been a long busy summer for TravelSkills and fall is already in the air. So let’s play catch-up with the most important travel news for TravelSkills Readers from the last couple months. We’ll send out 2-3 installments of TravelSkills this week! Enjoy, and please tell at least 3 friends about TravelSkills ! Thanks. 

Here goes:

AMEX-VIRGIN BONUS. If you’ve been sitting on a pile of Virgin America points wondering how you’ll redeem them, consider this: You’ll get a 40% bonus when transferring your American Express Membership Rewards points to Virgin America Elevate points now through September 30. “In my opinion, a 100% transfer bonus where you could get points at a 1:1 ratio would be great. However, with the 40% bonus, at least you’re getting between 1.12-1.6 cents per Amex point in value,” writes Brian Kelly in his ThePointsGuy.com blog. Kim Crawford Sauvignon BlancKeep in mind that you can redeem your Elevate points for flights or upgrades on Virgin America as well as partners like Hawaiian Airlines (to Hawaii or Asia), Singapore Airlines or Virgin Atlantic. Also, Virgin is now offering double Elevate points to booking its fancy First or Main Cabin Select seats between now and December 31.

NEW BOOZE ‘N BREWS. In a move mimicking Delta’s Luxury Bar, United has announced new premium booze and brews at United Clubs, including local microbrews such as Anchor Steam (SF) Karl Strauss (San Diego), Shiner (Texas); wines like Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc or Joel Gott Cabernet; spirits such as Ketel One vodka, Hendricks gin and Hennessy XO cognac. United’s been busy copying Delta this year, with its near identical moves to revenue-based MileagePlus elite levels and fancy car transfers across the tarmac for super elite fliers.

DELTA BUMPS UP BAY AREA-LAX AGAIN. Earlier this summer, Delta announced that it would launch shuttle-style service with 12 flights each way between SFO and LAX. Today it announced that it’s adding even more Embraer 175 flights for a total of 15 per day in each direction, starting as early as 6 am. It’s also now flying five times per day between San Jose and LAX. Fares range from $150 to about $400 roundtrip depending on how far in advance you book. (I’m jumping on one of these new Delta flights later this month, so stay tuned for a trip report!)

Subscribe to TravelSkills-  via e-mail!

UNITED AT LAX. United has announced that it will spend about $400 million to upgrade its aging facilities at LAX, including updates to gate areas, new jetways, expanded and enhanced screening areas. Although United operations are spread between LAX Terminals 6,7 and 8, the bulk of upgrades are planned for Terminal 7. A new United Club will be built in Terminal 7, replacing the old Continental Presidents clubs now in use in Terminal 6. Improvements could be completed as soon as 2015.

Star Alliance Lounge LAX

A mock up of the outdoor terrace at the new Star Alliance lounge at LAX opening next week.

NEW STAR ALLIANCE LOUNGE AT LAX. A brand new Star Alliance lounge will open in the new Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX next week, which will include a sexy outdoor terrace and bar. The new lounge was designed by architectural firm Gensler and is “inspired by a contemporary interpretation of modernist L.A. architecture of the 1950s and 1960s.” It will be operated by Air New Zealand on behalf of the Star Alliance member carriers and offers space for more than 400 passengers. In total, eight Star Alliance member carriers currently operate out of the Tom Bradley International Terminal – ANA, Asiana Airlines, EVA Air, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, SWISS, THAI and Turkish Airlines. Air New Zealand plans to move to the terminal in mid-2014.

Subscribe to TravelSkills-  via e-mail!

UNITED DINING BONUS. If you’ve not already joined the United MileagePlus Dining program, you can earn a 3,000 mile bonus plus five MileagePlus miles for every dollar spent at hundreds of restaurants bars and clubs. Since the program is free and you are likely already patronizing many of these establishments, this is kind of a no-brainer. To get the 3,000-mile bonus, you must sign up between now and Oct 31 and spend $40 within 40 days of joining, and write a short online review of the program when prompted. Have you signed up yet?

INDY. United will add a single daily roundtrip between SFO and Indianapolis on January 7 using an Airbus A319. The flight will depart SFO at 1:35 and arrive IND at 8:51. On the return, the flight departs IND at 8 a.m. and arrives SFO at 10 a.m. (Have you seen Indy’s modern new airport yet? Nice!)

MORE PRECHECK. Everyone loves PreCheck to everyone should be happy to know that there will be PreCheck lanes at all three Bay Area airports by the end of this year. The TSA announced this month that it would expand PreCheck to 100 airports nationwide, including Oakland and San Jose. PreCheck is already in Terminal 1 (Delta boarding area) Terminal 2 (AA & Virgin) and Terminal 3 (UAL) as well as the international terminal entrypoints at SFO. Currently all major carriers except Southwest and JetBlue are part of the popular TSA program. Southwest told TravelSkills that it will be part of the program at some point in the fourth quarter.

MORE CLEAR HERE. CLEAR has launched at San Jose Airport, making it the ninth airport in the CLEAR Network, which now includes: San Francisco, Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth, Orlando, San Antonio and Westchester County. Houston Intercontinental and Hobby will come on line in November. With all the chatter about the TSA’s popular PreCheck program, and plenty of emails from readers asking if CLEAR is still worth the $179 annual fee, we called its co-founder and president Ken Cornick and asked him. He told TravelSkills: “CLEAR and PreCheck are highly complementary. CLEAR uses biometric technology to give customers the fastest, most predictable experience through airport security.   With CLEAR, members can leave at average of 30 minutes to an hour later for the airport with the assurance they will get through the long airport security lines in ~5 minutes or less each and every time.  In MCO, DEN and SFO – CLEAR and PreCheck are integrated so our members can benefit from the predictability and speed that CLEAR offers, and if eligible that day for PreCheck can integrate seamlessly into that screening lane and keep shoes on.”  The key word here is predictable– Clear offers a guarantee of faster passage through security while PreCheck offers no guarantee that you’ll be selected. Question to readers: How often does CLEAR get you to the head of the PreCheck line at SFO? Do you use CLEAR or PreCheck more often? 

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

***

Subscribe to TravelSkills-  via e-mail!

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

 


5 ways inflight wi-fi could improve

What a groovy idea for better inflight wi-fi! See below for explanation (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

What a groovy idea for better inflight wi-fi! See below for explanation (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

It’s not here yet, but the promise of faster, more reliable in-flight wi-fi is on the horizon. We’ll have to wait and see how all this pans out, but for now, here’s the news:

This month Gogo announced that it will roll out a new in-flight wi-fi product that will be 20 times faster than its original product, and six times faster than its upgraded ATG 4 system rolled out last year. The hybrid system (called GTO for “Ground to Orbit”) will use its existing ground-based network of antennae as well as a new satellite system.

Here's what's under the radome on the roof of planes with Gogo's new "Ground to Orbit" wifi solution (Chris McGinnis)

Here’s what’s under the radome on the roof of planes with Gogo’s new “Ground to Orbit” wifi solution (Chris McGinnis)

Virgin America will be the first airline to add the new system starting in late 2014. Gogo also powers in-flight wi-fi on Delta, American, US Airways and on United’s p.s. flights between California and JFK.

TIP for using Gogo: Did you know that if purchased during flight, a Gogo all-day pass now costs as much as $26? To get around that, you can by an all-day pass from the Gogo site in advance for just $14.

Subscribe to TravelSkills-  via e-mail!

JetBlue, which currently does not offer wi-fi, announced that it would start adding a fast new satellite-based system from ViaSat to its flights later this year. All its 180 planes could be wi-fi friendly by 2015.

In addition to internet access, Southwest’s satellite based system from Row 44 is now streaming live TV to passengers’ personal devices, free (for now at least). Row 44 is now on about 450 Southwest jets—about 80% of its fleet. The current cost for wi-fi is $8 per flight. Row 44 also provides wi-fi on Norwegian Air Shuttle, which will begin flying nonstop between Oakland and Oslo and Stockholm next summer.

Subscribe to TravelSkills-  via e-mail!

United is slowly rolling out a new satellite-only wi-fi system from Panasonic on select domestic and overseas flights. Currently it’s on about 60 A319 and A320 aircraft and 13 747s. Pricing is per segment and varies (from $4 to $20) based on flight length and connection speed. I was eager to give the new system a try on an SFO-SNA flight last week, but after a few system re-sets, flummoxed flight attendants said that it was inoperable on that flight.

Have you tried United’s new wi-fi system yet? Streamed live TV on Southwest? How did that go for you? Please leave your comments about inflight wi-fi below.

WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT? Last week I attended the Airline Passenger Experience Expo in Anaheim—a very cool show for airline geeks. It’s a gathering of all the suppliers for everything on the inside of an airplane—from carpet and lights to seats, wi-fi systems and inflight catering. What a sight to behold!

My “aha moment” came when I saw a simple solution to a problem that likely frustrated millions of frequent travelers every day… how to keep your  smart phone or tablet standing up on the airline tray table. A company called Smart Tray International has patented a rather simple solution—carve a grove into the tray tabletop into which the tablet or smart phone can be inserted. Brilliant, simple solution.

And, since we are moving to a BYOD for “Bring Your Own Device” world when it comes to inflight entertainment, the idea’s especially prescient.

Would you use it? Please leave your comments below! 

Chris McGinnis

***

Subscribe to TravelSkills-  via e-mail!

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


More 787 Dreamliners flock to Bay Area + Loss of LAN

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

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

The Bay Area has several Boeing 787 Dreamliners headed our way in coming months.

Today, Norwegian Air Shuttle, the Scandinavian low-fare juggernaut, announced that it would add nonstop Boeing 787 Dreamliner flights to Oakland from both Oslo and Stockholm starting next May.

Premium Economy seats on Norwegian

Premium Economy seats on Norwegian

Nonstops between Oakland and Oslo will run three times per week (Mon,Wed, Fri); Oakland-Stockholm flights will run two times per week (Tues, Sat).

Norwegian, the third largest low-fare carrier in Europe says that it can offer fares as low as $236 each way (all in) due to the lower operation costs of the new 787, eight of which it has on order from Boeing.

However, upon checking briefly for Oakland-Oslo flights in May 2014 at www.norwegian.com/us, I could only find the $236 economy fare for the Oakland-Oslo portion. The cheapest fare for the Oslo-Oakland run is $357.50, for a total of $600.50. Not bad, but not $236 each way as promoted in Norwegian’s press materials.

Economy class seating on Norwegian

Economy class seating on Norwegian

Subscribe to TravelSkills via e-mail!

Fares for summer travel (2014) are in the $1000 roundtrip range. Premium economy fares are around $975 each way, or about $2000 round trip.

On Norwegian’s new Dreamliner, premium economy (38 seats) is configured 2-3-2 with larger cradle style seats that recline, but do not go completely flat. All leather coach seats (259) are laid out 3-3-3, with individual seatback video, and touchscreen snack ordering, similar to what we’ve seen on Virgin America.

According to Seatguru, Norwegian’s premium economy seats are 19 inches wide with 46 inches of pitch. Economy class seats are narrow, at 17.2 inches with the standard 31-32 inches of pitch.

Features of the 787: The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has much larger electrochromatic windows that dim like sunglasses if there’s a glare… they can also be electronically blacked out if you want to sleep. There’s mod LED lighting. It also has larger overhead bins. Because of the Boeing’s use of composite materials, cabin pressure can be set at about 6000 feet– most other aircraft are only able to set cabin pressure at about 8000 feet– Boeing says that on those long hauls, the pressure difference along with better ventilation will help reduce passenger discomfort and jet lag.

More 787’s in the wings…

Japan Airlines 787 now touching down at SFO

Over Labor Day weekend, Japan Airlines launched new 787 flights between SFO and Tokyo’s close in and convenient Haneda Airport, located just 30 minutes south of the center of town. Narita is located 90 minutes to the east.

As you know from previous BAT posts, ANA has a 787 flying between San Jose and Tokyo-Narita.

Starting next April, United will fly a 787 between SFO and Osaka-Kansai.

Subscribe to TravelSkills via e-mail!

Have you flown on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner yet? What did you think? Please leave your comments below. 

LAN inaugural Boeing 767  gets a water cannon salute at SFO in 2010

Adios! LAN inaugural Boeing 767 gets a water cannon salute at SFO in 2010

LAN CANS SFO FLIGHTS. After a four-year run, LAN will suspend its nonstop Boeing 767 SFO-Lima flight on April 1, 2014. That’s too bad because the LAN flight was SFO’s only nonstop to South America. SF-based travelers hoping to stick with LAN can now connect with its flights from LAX. But I imagine most of us here in the Bay Area will likely fly United through Houston when headed to South America. Have you flown LAN to Lima or beyond? How was it? How do you get to South America? Please leave your comments below.

Chris McGinnis

***

Subscribe to TravelSkills via e-mail!

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


Food trucks at the airport? Yep.

Off-the-Grid trucks at SFO's Terminal 1 Thursdays 11-2 (SFO)

Off-the-Grid trucks at SFO’s Terminal 1 Thursdays 11-2 (SFO)

Over the summer, San Francisco International Airport tested a new street food program featuring three “Off-the-Grid” trucks parked at Terminal 1.

Street food at SFOThe pilot program proved so popular that the trucks will become a mainstay at SFO every Thursday from 11am-2pm on the upper (departures) level by the first door of Terminal 1. (Near the Southwest Airlines drop off area.)

Subscribe to TravelSkills via e-mail!

The idea began as a suggestion from airport employees to provide some additional lunch options, but the trucks are available to everyone, including arriving or departing passengers.

According to airport spokesman Doug Yakel, the “food pod” program has proved so popular that some Off-the-Grid aficionados a nearby offices email their orders, and then drive over to the airport to pick them up.

I’m glad the trucks are stationed near Terminal 1 because of the dearth of decent food options there. Food options beyond security in Terminal 2 and 3 are offer much high quality and selection.

Would you go to a food truck at SFO for lunch…or is the food inside the airport better? Please leave your comments below. 

Chris McGinnis

***

Subscribe to TravelSkills via e-mail!

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

 


Love to fly in business class? Then see this…

Click on photo to launch slideshow of 15 business class seats!

Click on photo to launch slideshow of 15 business class seats!

Last week I attended the Global Business Travel Association convention in San Diego. The best part about this confab is the trade show floor, where most major global airlines show off their latest, greatest business class seats.

Want to see what I saw?

Click on the photo above or here to launch the Google+ slideshow where I present to you my photos of 15 of the cushiest seats in the sky!

Which one looks best? Which one(s) have you flown? Please leave your comments below. 

Screen shot 2013-08-15 at 8.10.40 AM

Chris McGinnis

***

Subscribe to TravelSkills via e-mail!

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


Fancy: JetBlue to add sleeper seats SFO-JFK

Mock up of JetBlue's new premium seat for SFO-JFK. Thoughts?

Mock up of JetBlue’s new premium seat for SFO-JFK. Thoughts?

JetBlue Airways today unveiled its new, fully customized lie-flat seat which will be available on its Airbus A321 flights between New York and SFO and LAX starting spring 2014.

JetBlue introduced the new seat at the Global Business Travel Association convention (which I am attending) in San Diego.

A computer-generated video of the new, enhanced experience can be seen here (business class seats appear in the video at about :54) .

(UPDATE: 3:15 pm- not to be outdone, Delta reveals its new business class seat for transcon flights today, too. )

The new JetBlue seat will have a door that closes. (Photo: JetBlue)

The new JetBlue seat will have a door that closes. (Photo: JetBlue)

Interesting: JetBlue will be the first airline to offer customers the option of a completely separate single suite seat that includes a closable door for increased privacy. The new lie-flat seat, created in a partnership with Northern Ireland-based Thompson Aero Seating, will be displayed in a unique 2-1 configuration. Rows 1, 3 and 5 will offer 2-by-2 seating, and rows 2 and 4 will offer private suites, with one seat on each side of the aisle.

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

The new seats also offer air cushions with adjustable firmness, a massage function, a 15-inch widescreen television featuring the most live entertainment in the skies, and a unique “wake-me-for-service” indicator if the customer chooses to sleep in, putting more control back into the customer’s hands. In addition, JetBlue will refresh the core JetBlue Experience in 2014 which will include a comfortable seat design with movable headrests, a new entertainment system with up to 100 channels of DirecTV programming on 10.1-inch widescreens, and 110-volt and USB power ports accessible to all customers. And of course, more legroom throughout coach than any other U.S. airline.

While JetBlue is being coy about pricing for the new seats right now, CEO David Barger offered this: “Transcontinental routes have had high premium fares we believe we can beat…By offering our own, unique seats and enriched service elements that will include some soon-to-be-announced partnerships, we are creating a one-of-a-kind experience that will serve this market in a way only JetBlue can.”

Currently Virgin America, United, Delta and American offer premium business class seating on transcon flights between SFO and JFK. Fares run in the $2,500-$4,000 range depending on demand, however, as we all know, most of those flying up front are on upgrades.

So what do you think? Would you be willing to give up your miles on another carrier to give JetBlue a try when the seats are introduced next year? Please leave your comments below.

Chris McGinnis

***

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


Big changes for United MileagePlus members

United's new spending thresholds for Premier status

United’s new spending thresholds for Premier status

United MileagePlus members will soon have to show their loyalty to United not only by how much they fly, but by how much they pay. Beginning with flights in 2014, Premier status for 2015 will be based miles flown and dollars spent each calendar year.

The same segment and Premier Qualifying Mile (PQM) requirements will remain in place. But starting next year, you will have meet a new PQD (Premier Qualifying Dollar) threshold.

To achieve Premier Silver, you must fly 25,000 miles and spend at least $2,500 on United. If both are not met, you will not earn status. For Premier Gold, the minimum spend is $5,000; for Platinum, it’s $7,500; and for 1K, you must spend at least $10,000.

PQDs are based on money spent on United-marketed flights only (taxes and fees excluded)—this does NOT include money spent on ancillary fees for bags, upgrades, in-flight food/bev, etc. However, it does include spending on fuel surcharges, which can be significant on international flights. Spending on United-marketed flights will include Star Alliance partner and code-share flights– but only those with ticket numbers beginning with United’s code 016. So, for example, dollars spent on a Lufthansa-operated flight will count– but only if your ticket is purchased from United.

United has not revealed how members will be able to track their PQDs yet.

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

One way around the new rules: Spending at least $25,000 in a calendar year on any MileagePlus Chase co-branded credit card exempts you from the spending thresholds (but not the mileage/segment requirements). However, there is no PQD waiver for Premier 1K qualification- you must spend a minimum of $10,000 to earn 1K status.

Meeting or beating these new spending thresholds may be easy for some, but for others, not so much. For example, to attain or maintain Gold status (50K miles + $5K spend), you would have to buy an average of ten $500 United tickets over the course of a year. How easy or hard do you think this will be? Please vote in our poll!

How will United's new spending requirements affect your ability to attain or maintain Premier status?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Like Delta, which announced a similar policy last winter, United is betting that this will weed out the flyers that “game the system” for status or simply buy the lowest fares. In the end, the new spending thresholds are going to hurt leisure travelers (who bring United the least revenue) most. Big spending business travelers might find that with fewer Premiers to compete with, it’s easier to board early and upgrade.

What do you think about United’s moves? Will this affect your loyalty to United? Please leave your comments below. 

Chris McGinnis

***

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


San Francisco to New York in 45 mins? Maybe

Since Elon Musk (the mind behind Tesla Motors and SpaceX) quipped about a new “hyperloop” high speed transportation system last week, futurists and techies have been abuzz about a new mode of transportation that could eclipse air travel one day—cutting travel time between San Francisco and New York to just 45 minutes, or between New York and Beijing to just two hours.

One company called ET3 is apparently working on a plan for “Evacuated Tube Transport” which is loosely based on pneumatic systems once used in banks, offices or hospitals (for those old enough to remember) to transport documents within buildings using capsules inserted into suction tubes.

(ET3/YouTube)

Six person capsules include luggage bays (ET3/YouTube)

ET3 says that its tubular network could transport 6-passenger, automobile-sized capsules up to 4,000 mph in a frictionless environment inside tubes using magnetic levitation. The company claims that ET3 can be built for a tenth of the cost of high speed rail, or a quarter of the cost of a freeway, and provide 50x more transportation per kilowatt than electric cars or trains. Tubes could be built along US interstates, could travel across Alaska to reach China or even go underwater.

(ET3)

Travel by tube? (ET3)

Is this the answer to carbon spewing aircraft…or how we’ll be traveling when we run out of fossil fuels? Who knows? But it’s certainly an interesting thought and likely something we’ll be hearing more about.

While Musk was short on details, he has described the technology as “a cross between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table.” He hinted that he might have more to say about it later this month.

How would you feel about a 45 minute hop to NYC for lunch? Should we be building a hyperloop instead of a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and LA? 

We’ve got a lot of catching up to do! Stay tuned for a “Catching up with Bay Area Travel News” issue later this week, which will include United’s new boarding procedures at SFO, Virgin’s new fast lane, the newest United Club, slow progress on new PS flights to NYC and much more! 

Chris McGinnis

***

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

 


5 travel fees worth paying

The evening spread at the Park Royal on Pickering in Singapore is substantial. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The evening spread at the Park Royal on Pickering in Singapore is substantial. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The whole country seems to be making a collective groan when it comes to planning summer vacations.

And why not?

An early look at airfares (especially to Europe) shows some painful peak pricing, especially in July and early August. For example, nonstops from San Francisco International to cities such as London, Frankfurt and Paris are already running $1,400+ roundtrip. (And if you don’t book now, you’ll likely pay close to $2000 round trip later this summer.)

United made us all go bug-eyed when it announced that it was raising change fees on nonrefundable tickets to an egregious $200 last month. Our eyes popped even more when American, Delta and US Airways quickly matched the higher fee.

Then Frontier Airlines announced that it would begin charging $2 for in-flight beverages (including water) and $100 for gate-checked bags that don’t fit under the seat.

While I think that bag fees and change fees are rotten, the airlines love them—last year they collected nearly $6 billion in baggage and change fees alone. Fees, which now comprise nearly 30% of airline revenues,  are what’s been keeping them in the black in recent years.

But airlines aren’t the only ones playing fee-for-all. By now nearly every frequent traveler has been hit by a surprise “resort fee” or overpriced wi-fi fee at hotels. (Beware of those evil “per device” vs per room wi-fi fees, especially when traveling with others!) Rental car companies pile on all kinds of extra “concession” fees or hit us with obnoxiously high per-gallon fees when we don’t have time to fill up the car on the way back to the airport.

United Economy Plus seating usually provides enough room to work on laptops. (Photo: United)

United Economy Plus seating usually provides enough room to work on laptops. (Photo: United)

But all fees aren’t bad. As a matter of fact, I’m happy to pay fees that can truly improve my travel experience.

Here are five fees I don’t mind paying:

>Roomier seats. Elite level members of airline frequent flyer programs get free access to “premium economy” seats near the front of the cabin and by exit rows. However, non-elite travelers can pay a fee for access to these seats. Airlines determine such fees by the length of the flight and demand, and can range from $10 to $100. But on a long flight, a few extra inches can provide enough space to open up a laptop and be productive inflight. It can also make a big difference in comfort if you are tall like me, so it’s a fee I’ll pay when I have to.

>Early boarding. One of the most cherished benefits of elite status with airlines is the ability to board first and lay claim to overhead bin space. However, I spread my airline business around, and I’m not elite on every carrier I fly. So, for example, I’m happy to pay Southwest a $12.50 “Early Bird” fee to get me near the front of the boarding line—especially in the heat of the summer when planes are packed and overhead bin space scarce.

>Inflight wi-fi. When inflight wi-fi from Gogo or Row 44 works well (which seems increasingly rare), it’s definitely worth the fee to me, especially on transcontinental flights. This year, United is installing satellite-based wi-fi on its international fleet. It helps pass the time, keeps me productive and eliminates arriving at my destination to a full email box. $20 for a good connection on a five-hour flight? Sure. That’s money well spent to me.

Tip: To help sooth the sting of high fees, consider this: When you charge these travel related fees on credit cards linked to rewards programs, you are earning points you can use for free trips down the road. For example, with my Chase Sapphire Preferred card, I earn two points per dollar spent on travel (including most fees). Eventually, all those charges will add up to points I can redeem to help cut the high cost of future trips.

Inside the nice new Club at LAS near the Virgin America gates at Las Vegas McCarran Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Inside the nice new Club at LAS near the Virgin America gates at Las Vegas McCarran Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>Airport Club access. Have you ever been stuck in Chicago, Dallas, Houston or Atlanta during the summer thunderstorm season? Hordes of summer vacationers milling around…air conditioning systems straining to keep things cool…then the clouds roll in and gum up the works for hours. That’s the time it’s worth the $50 fee for a day pass to airport lounge. But get there early—once the lounge fills up, it’s open to members only. Also, be on the lookout for new non-airline, pay-to-play lounges such as The Club at SJC, Club at LAS (Las Vegas) or others like it– the per use fee is just $35 and definitely worth it during a long layover!

>Hotel Club Floor. When you know a trip is going to be all business all the time (and you don’t plan to get out much), a hotel club, executive or concierge floor is almost always worth the extra cost. When you pay the premium, you’ll likely get breakfast, snacks, booze (sometimes) and heavy hors d’oeuvres at night, free wi-fi, gym and business center access. Rooms are usually slightly larger and likely to be on upper floors offering better views. Plus, you can check in and out in the lounge and not have to wait in lines that can form in the hotel lobby. If I’m not planning to get out much, I’m usually happy to pay the premium of 20% or 30%.

Do you agree? Which travel fees seem most onerous to you? Which are you happy, even eager to pay? PLEASE leave your comments below. 

Chris McGinnis

HAVE YOU READ THE CURRENT ISSUE OF THE BAT: New 787 Dreamliner flight at SFO, Mileage Plus ranks highly, Sour Milk, SFO Airport Tiff, Virgin America loss, Tito’s vodka, dream of a new Terminal 1 at SFO.  Let’s catch up on Bay Area Travel news right now>>>

Disclosure: My company, Travel Skills Group, Inc, has a commercial relationship with Chase Card Services, which is mentioned in this post.

***

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


Mileage Plus ranking + new 787 @ SFO + PreCheck + Airport standoff

In This Issue: New 787 Dreamliner flight at SFO, Mileage Plus ranks highly, Sour Milk, SFO Airport Tiff, Virgin America loss, Tito’s vodka, dream of a new Terminal 1 at SFO. Sorry for the recent lag in updates! Let’s catch up on Bay Area Travel news right now>>>

A Japan Airlines 787 Dreamliner at San Diego Int'l Airport.

A Japan Airlines 787 Dreamliner at San Diego Int’l Airport– soon at SFO!

MORE 787 DREAMLINERS.  Starting September 1, Japan Airlines will fly a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner between SFO and Tokyo’s close-in Haneda Airport, replacing the current B777 service. ANA will re-start Boeing 787 flights between San Jose and Tokyo-Narita on June 1. (Did you see the slideshow from my ANA flight from SJC to Tokyo?) Currently, United has no plans to fly Dreamliners from SFO.

UNITED EASIEST TO REDEEM. Among major legacy carriers, United ranks highest when it comes to redeeming awards online, according to a survey by Ideaworks. The report says that United had award seats available 80% of the time. By comparison, American had award seats available only 49% of the time. Delta and US Airways are the most parsimonious with awards, with seats available only 36% of the time. Only AirTran/Southwest and JetBlue ranked higher than United. Full report here.

VIRGIN AMERICA NARROWS LOSS. Our hometown carrier is still struggling to climb into the black, even as many of its competitors are showing relatively healthy and consistent profits (except United). In the first quarter of this year, Virgin America lost $46 million, which is not good. But it’s better than the loss of $76 million during the same period a year ago. It’s expanding, too, adding new flights between LAX and Las Vegas, and from SFO to Newark and Austin, and between San Jose and LAX. Based on that sorta good news, the carrier is flirting with the idea of an IPO. Would you invest in Virgin America if it manages to go public? Please leave your comments below.

Rendering of proposed Terminal 1 at SFO

Rendering of proposed Terminal 1 at SFO

DREAMING OF A NEW TERMINAL 1. Check out this interesting proposal for a massive re-do of SFO’s Terminal 1. It’s many years away, but it looks super cool. And tatty old T1 could use some help, that’s for sure.

PRECHECK NEWS. Have you noticed that United has started printing your PreCheck status on your boarding pass? Nice to know before you go whether or not you’ll get those glorious three beeps! Another good thing about PreCheck: It’s now available for those traveling on “select international flights.” Has anyone out there been able to use PreCheck internationally yet? SFO officials say that there are no PreCheck lanes at the international terminal yet—so is it smarter to use the PreCheck lanes at T3, and then walk to your international flight?  Please leave your comments below.

INFLIGHT WI-FI POLL. Last winter we visited Gogo headquarters in Itasca, Illinois and took a fun ride on their in-flight lab for a look-see at a new system called ATG-4 that is designed to improve Gogo’s connections and speed. That was six months ago and we are wondering… Have you noticed a difference? PLEASE ANSWER! (The “Vote” button might appear clear, but you must click it to VOTE and see the results)

Have you noticed an improvement with in-flight wi-fi performance?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

FlightCar

FLIGHTCAR UPDATE. By now you’ve likely heard of FlightCar, a new online service that offers air travelers free parking by SFO, plus the opportunity to earn some cash when they rent your car to other passengers arriving at SFO. Sounds like a good “sharing economy” deal, but the airport is not at all happy about these unlicensed interlopers (including other services like pink mustachioed Lyft).  Earlier this year, SFO issued a cease and desist order, forbidding these new companies from operating at the airport. To get around the C&D order, FlightCar hired a licensed black car service to shuttle its customers between the airport and their private parking lot. FlightCar’s Shri Ganeshram told TravelSkills: “We’re operating within the legal bounds of the system using independent licensed liveries to drop off and pick up passengers at the airport.” He says that FlightCar is now renting about 80 cars per week, despite the SFO cease and desist order. So we contacted SFO spokesperson Doug Yakel to find out if FlightCar is operating legally. He said, “As a public agency, we need to ensure a level playing field for all providers of ground transportation, and FlightCar must sign a permit and provide proof of insurance like every other off-airport rental car company.  This is a matter of basic fairness. FlightCar has yet to meet the obligations, including insurance, required for an SFO permit that would certify them for safe and legal operation at the airport. Their method of transportation to/from the offsite location does not change the fact that they are attempting to operate at SFO without a proper permit. It remains an issue of safety and fairness for us.” How do you think this will all shake out? Have you, or would you use FlightCar? Please leave your comments below!

6 MONTHS FREE AND CLEAR. Starting later this month, CLEAR card holders will be able to use their cards for expedited security screening at San Antonio International Airport. And starting this month, Visa Signature is working with CLEAR to bring the uninitiated a free 6-month CLEAR membership — and $60 off the annual rate of $179 when membership automatically renews. Do you have one of the many Visa Signature cards? Then check this out.

WE NEED YOUR HELP! Dearest TravelSkills Readers: TravelSkills needs more readers. Can you help us out? Please forward this link to frequent traveling friends, travel agents, travel managers, travel bloggers and tell them why you love TravelSkills and encourage them to sign up! THANKS!

CLOUDY MILK. The campaign to rename San Francisco International after Harvey Milk has come to a vague close with only a promise to name an as-yet unnamed terminal at SFO after him. I’m glad the whole contentious issue is (mostly) behind us. What about you? Please leave your comments below.

New 76-seat Embraer 175 from United

New 76-seat Embraer 175 from United

MORE BARBIE JETS. United will add 30 Embraer 175 regional jets to the United Express fleet starting next year. The 76-seaters will replace the less efficient 50-seat RJs currently in use. United says, “The aircraft will be configured with 12 United First, 16 Economy Plus and 48 United Economy seats. The design of the aircraft will result in more personal space for customers with wider seats and aisles than those on the 50-seat aircraft. The aircraft can accommodate standard carry-on bags, resulting in more convenience for customers.”

BETTER VODKA. Starting in June, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, made in Austin, TX, will replace Absolut vodka on all United flights. Did you know that vodka is the most-served spirit on US flights?

Join Chris McGinnis & JohnnyJet for the #travelskills chat on Friday mornings!

Join Chris McGinnis & JohnnyJet for the #travelskills Twitter chat on Friday mornings!

SEEKING SUMMER TRAVEL DEALS? Join in the #TravelSkills chat with @JohnnyJet and me this Friday at 9 am PDT. Our new chat has been trending in the US on Twitter on nearly every Friday, so stop by and join the fun. And learn something, or uncover a summer travel deal! See www.travelskills.com/chat

MORE MEXICO AT SFO. Aeromexico will add a second daily round trip to Mexico City on July 15. Check out BAT editor Chris McGinnis’ recent Business Trip: Mexico City for BBC!

San Francisco  Mexico City

Flight Number Departure Arrival Frequency
AM 0665 01:00 am 07:14 am Daily
AM 0669* 01:25 pm 07:53 pm Daily

Mexico City  San Francisco

Flight Number Departure Arrival Frequency
AM 0664 08:26 pm 11:25 pm Daily
AM 0668* 09:30 am 12:07 pm Daily

*New flights schedules available starting July 15th, all in local time and subject to change without notice.

SEEKING SASSY WHEELS in Dallas or Austin? High end Silvercar (which rents only silver Audi A4s) is offering four Virgin America Elevate reward points per $1 spent, 2,500 bonus points with your first rental, and another 2,500 points for your fourth rental through November 30. Have you tried Slivercar? What did you think?

Chris McGinnis

***

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


Do you trust hotel review sites? [Infographic]

Copenhagen's elegant Hotel D'Angleterre re-opens May 1 after a 2-year re-do (Chris McGinnis)

Copenhagen’s elegant Hotel D’Angleterre re-opens May 1 after a 2-year re-do (Chris McGinnis)

Nearly every traveler I know (including me) checks out hotels on TripAdvisor before making a booking. I’m sure you do, too. Right? The infographic below provides an interesting look at how travelers use the review sites and what makes them trustworthy. It also provides some tips on spotting “fake” reviews. (The infographic was prepared by Olery, an online reputation management company for hotels.)

How do YOU feel about hotel review sites? Do you use them? Trust them? Other than TripAdvisor, which sites do you find most helpful?

Please leave your comments below!

HotelReviews-olery-infograph-FULL

Chris McGinnis

***

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


SAS arrival + Fight over Jersey + Taipei Delei + United woes

The first SAS A340 arrives at SFO to a water cannon salute (Photo: Joe D'Alessandro)

The first SAS A340 arrives at SFO to a water cannon salute (Photo: Joe D’Alessandro)

SKAL TO SAS. SAS touched down at SFO last Monday at around 2:30pm. While TravelSkills was unable to attend the airport arrival celebration, reader Joe D’Alessandro sent along the above photo of the first SAS A340-300 getting a water cannon salute. Within 10 minutes, we posted the photo on TravelSkills Facebook page and our sister column on SFgate. D’Alessandro is the head of San Francisco Travel, and was at SFO to give a welcome speech, during which he mentioned the quickly posted photo as an example of the power and reach of social media in the Bay Area! Cool! (TravelSkills’s onboard SAS this week bound for Copenhagen, so stay tuned for our review!)

Pete Cashmore (Mashable) and Richard Branson on the Virgin America Inaugural LAX-EWR flight.

Pete Cashmore (Mashable) and Richard Branson on the Virgin America Inaugural LAX-EWR flight.

VIRGIN AMERICA IN JERSEY. Another inaugural this week: Virgin America jets touched down in Newark, New Jersey, with Richard Branson and Mashable’s Pete Cashmore onboard in a Google+ Hangout, in which Branson shared that fares between California and Newark are down 40% since Virgin’s entry into the market. In later interviews, Branson talked about the possibility of filing an antitrust complaint against United for its overwhelming buildup of flights in response to Virgin’s entry into the market, which TravelSkills pointed out in early March.  United was quick to point out that its response was nothing more than business as usual. What do you think?

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

TAIPEI DELEI. United has postponed the start of its nonstops between SFO and Taipei for a full YEAR– until March 2014. Originally, flights were to have started this month, but that was then pushed until June. Routes Online reports that the delay is due to “market seasonality and the availability of wide body aircraft as a result of the ongoing Boeing 787 delays…. Due to the 787 issue, the Boeing 777 that we would use on the SFO-TPE route is now needed to support other existing routes that we planned to transition to Boeing 787s.” Speaking of United’s 787’s, the currently grounded plane is now back on United’s schedule starting May 31, flying between Denver and Houston. However, the FAA has not yet given airline the green light to fly 787s, but it’s expected soon. (United’s new flights to Paris, announced at the same time as Taipei, crank up on April 26.)

United CEO Jeff Smisek

UNITED CEO PAY CUT. The Miami Herald reports that CEO of United Airlines saw his total 2012 compensation shrink 41 percent last year after stumbles in the airline’s merger with Continental. Compensation for Chairman and CEO Jeff Smisek was $7.9 million last year, down from $13.4 million after a cut in his incentive payments.

MEGA-MILEAGE BONUSES. Did you check out our post this week on two new sites offering big bonuses for hotel stays… how about 15,000 United Mileage Plus miles for a three night stay in NYC or Chicago? Not bad. But not for everyone. Read about it here.

Virgin America's newest A320's have sharklets on the wings. Seen em? (Photo: Virgin America)

Virgin America’s newest A320’s have sharklets on the wings. Seen em? (Photo: Virgin America)

BEST AND WORST OF TIMES. Interesting to note that the much-ballyhooed (but generally ignored by consumers) “2012 Airline Quality Rankings” came out this week with the Bay Area’s two largest airlines at opposite ends. Virgin America ranked #1… and United ranked dead last at #14. Virgins’ win was attributed to its smaller, more manageable size, newer planes, wi-fi, fun crews, etc. Most of the blame for United’s dismal showing was based on its computer switchover and consolidation with Continental woes. Do these survey results make you MORE likely to choose Virgin and LESS likely to fly United? Please leave your comments below.

Here’s how the airlines ranked in 2012, as well as their position the previous year.

1) Virgin America (new to the ranking this year*)
2) JetBlue (3)
3) AirTran (1)
4) Delta (6)
5) Hawaiian (2)
6) Alaska (5)
7) Frontier (4)
8) Southwest (7)
9) US Airways (8)
10) American (10)
11) American Eagle (15)
12) SkyWest (9)
13) ExpressJet (new to the ranking this year*)
14) United (12)
*In order to qualify for inclusion in the report, an airline must carry at least 1 percent of domestic passengers.

ELEGANT EVENING. On Tuesday, SAS threw an elegant dinner party for about 150 at the Asian Art Museum. Among the dignitaries on the dais,  SAS CEO Rickard Gustafson and ex-SF-mayor Willie Brown, who’s energetic and spot on speech brought the relatively buttoned up house down. What a show! Bay Area Traveler editor Chris McGinnis was honored to be among the attendees.

photo

Chris McGinnis

***

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


Mega mileage earning bonuses proliferate

A room at the Andaz Wall Street in NYC nets 15K Mileage Plus miles (Photo: Andaz)

A room at the Andaz Wall Street in NYC nets 15K Mileage Plus miles (Photo: Andaz)

Word about two new travel websites, RocketMiles and PointsHound, which woo frequent travelers with massive mileage bonuses for hotel bookings, is starting to leak out.

A quick scan of RocketMiles today shows that it is currently offering 15,000 Mileage Plus miles for a three-night stay (@ $493/night) at the swank Andaz Wall Street in New York City in late April. On Pointshound, book three nights at the trendy James Chicago hotel at $254/night, and you earn 6,600 Virgin America Elevate points.

Sounds to good to be true, right?

Let’s take a look and see if they are right for you.

First off, these sites are likely appeal to the type of traveler who is more focused on earning miles than saving money. That’s because the rates they offer are close, but not always as low as those found on more conventional booking sites.

They are set up to appeal to so-called “rogue” or “unmanaged” travelers—those who are not required (or choose not) to book hotels through a central corporate travel department or agency.

Screenshot from RocketMiles

Screenshot from RocketMiles

Pointshound founder Peter Van Dorn told TravelSkills that a light bulb went off when research showed that 61% of all business travelers book hotels wherever they want, regardless of company policy (and without penalty). He added, “The other related data we found encouraging was the size of this  market: ~8 million elite-level frequent travelers in the US make 13 hotel bookings a year on average. At ~$300 per stay, this gets to a market size of $30 billion just in the US.”

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

Earn 8,000 Mileage Plus miles at the Westin Michigan Ave in Chicago (Photo: Westin)

Earn 8,000 Mileage Plus miles at the Westin Michigan Ave in Chicago (Photo: Westin)

How do they do it? Generally, the sites buy distressed hotel room inventory (unsold rooms) at a discount, then mark the rate up to the average online travel agency price, and take that spread. Then, they buy miles from airline programs to provide members with the incentive to book through their sites.

“Every property is selected and screened by our staff of experienced business travelers. RocketMiles attracts the type of frequent travelers that our hotel providers are trying to reach, which is why they offer us rates with enough margin to bundle the rooms with incredible amounts of airline miles. It’s a win-win for everybody,” said RocketMiles founder Bjorn Larsen in an interview with TravelSkills from Chicago.

Both sites are free. And both offer the promise of big mileage bonuses, but there are some differences worth noting.

Pointshound, with offices in downtown San Francisco, was first to market with the concept (Oct 2012), and partners with more than 150,000 hotels around the world.  It offers mileage bonuses on three different tiers based on rate—the cheapest rates net the fewest bonus miles. Pay a bit more, and your bonus-earning blossoms, or you can pay a rate that allows you to earn both miles and hotel points. Members earn miles with United Mileage Plus, Virgin America Elevate, Delta SkyMiles, American AAdvantage among others.

RocketMiles is just coming off beta this month, and its hotel inventory is limited—on purpose. The site states, “We don’t want to bother you with unremarkable offers…We only offer a handful of hotels in cities and neighborhoods where our customers travel the most.” When you book via RocketMiles, you are unable to earn hotel program points. But the mileage bonuses it offers are tough to resist. RocketMiles works with United Mileage Plus, Delta, American, US Airways, and Hawaiian.

Sounds great, but not everyone is completely sold on the idea yet. Seth Miller, who writes the popular and pithy Wandering Aramean Boarding Area blog told TravelSkills,  “I’m not entirely convinced that either product is going to be universally better for travelers. There are so many booking portals now, each with their own hook trying to get a share of the booking market…In many ways the proliferation of these sites makes it harder for consumers to compare the total value proposition. That’s not to say that they’re bad; it just means a bit more work to truly maximize your travel dollar.”

Note: These sites have “refer a friend” offers which TravelSkills signed up for (and you can, too).  So if you make a booking from links posted here, we get 250-1000 miles. Come on and help us out! 

When it comes to hotels, are you a price shopper or a points shopper? Are the big bonuses worth shopping yet another travel site? Please leave your comments below.

Chris McGinnis

***

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


Ridesharing unwelcome at SFO + Virgin matches SW elite + New arrival from Europe

In this issue: Ridesharing unwelcome at SFO, Virgin expands elite matching, SAS nonstops from Copenhagen land at SFO, United upgrades IAH terminal, Presidential visit, 787 flying (empty), $100K a year to travel and blog?

No more pink moustaches at SFO (Photo: Lyftstagrams)

No more pink moustaches at SFO (Photo: Soy_Fans – Lyftstagrams)

RIDESHARING UNWELCOME AT SFO. San Francisco International has issued cease and desist letters to six car/ride sharing services picking up or dropping off customers at the airport. Uber’s licensed, chauffeured town cars are allowed at SFO, but UberX “community drivers” are not. Sidecar, Lyft, InstantCab and FlightCar (recently included in TravelSkills) all received the letters. Do you use ridesharing services? What do you think about this? Leave your comments below. 

MORE ELITE STATUS. Virgin America has expanded and enhanced its elite-level status match promo. Now, Southwest Rapid Rewards elites (in addition to United and American elites) can get bumped up to Elevate elite. Virgin has also extended the deadline to enroll until June 30.

NEW ARRIVAL FROM EUROPE. A water-cannon salute awaits SAS’s first Airbus A340 at SFO when it lands this Monday (April 8) between 2 and 3 pm.  SAS will offer flights between San Francisco and Copenhagen six days per week (no Tuesday flights). The Bay Area Traveler-TravelSkills will be trying out the new service later this month, so stay tuned for a full report. Skål!

How do you get the presidential helicopters to SF? On a C5 freighter like this (Photo: SFO)

How do you get the presidential helicopters to SF? On a C5 freighter like this (Photo: SFO)

ENTOURAGE. President Obama and entourage arrived at SFO last week for some Bay Area fundraisers. In addition to the bright and shiny Air Force One B747, a giant C5 military cargo jet was also stationed at SFO all week (which transported the presidential helicopters, et al). Did you see it? Obama’s helicopters touched down at Crissy Field for Golden Gate Bridge photo ops, and then buzzed down to Atherton for the events.

OAKLINK. Have you noticed the progress on the 3.2-mile AirBART rail line connecting Oakland Airport to BART’s Coliseum station? There is now a 300-ft span over I-880. The project is now 60% complete…and should be operational in late 2014.  Will you consider Oakland Airport more often when the trains start to run?

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

NEW TERMINAL AT IAH. If you fly United via its massive Houston Intercontinental hub a lot, you will be pleased to see the new $152 million Terminal B south concourse opening this month. The new concourse will house operations for all United Express regional flights. It’s about four times larger than the old terminal, with lots of new stores and celeb-chef and regionally inspired eateries.

COOL TRAVEL JOBS. Have you ever dreamed of being a travel blogger? Travel website Jauntaroo (set up to help you decide where to go on vacation) is hiring a “Chief World Explorer” to travel the globe for a year, at $100,000 salary, to blog about their experiences and give back to communities through the site’s “Travel With a Cause” commitment. Details are thin right now, but Jauntaroo says it will open applications later this spring, and has produced this teaser video to build awareness. Tourism Australia has just launched a separate, but similar “Best Jobs in the World” promo, offering six positions at $100,000 each for just six months work. What are you doing reading TravelSkills? Get that application in now!

DREAMLINER UPDATE. Boeing is now conducting test flights of its beleaguered 787 Dreamliner, and will submit results of those and other tests to the FAA. The New York Times reports that the FAA could approve the changes later this month, and the plane could be flying again in May—just in time for the busy summer travel season. Would YOU jump on a Dreamliner this summer? Please leave your comments below.

IN THE BAT LAST WEEK. United is expanding its operations at SFO’s Terminal 1 while delays have pushed back the completion of Terminal 3 renovations. Also, there are a few new details about United’s new p.s. service to New York.

Chris McGinnis

***

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


The dog ate my luggage

Lou Briasco at Michael Bruno luggage in San Francisco's Castro neighbhorhood

Lou Briasco at the Michael Bruno Luggage store in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

How good is the warranty on your luggage?

“My customer’s dog tore the zipper off a $300 carry-on bag he’d had for just two weeks,” said Lou Briasco, the owner of Michael Bruno Luggage on Market Street in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood.

“The bag was ruined, so he came back into the store to buy a replacement. Since he wasn’t traveling soon, I told him I would send it back to Briggs & Riley to see if they really stood behind their ‘no questions asked’ repair or replacement policy,” he added.

If there’s anyone in the Bay Area who knows luggage, it’s the gregarious, affable Briasco, who has been the sole proprietor at Michael Bruno since 1982. Even though the store does not have a web site, all you have to do is check the hundred or so stellar ratings on Yelp to know that Briasco knows his business…and his customers.

Michael Bruno Luggage is located at 2267 Market Street in SF. (Chris McGinnis)

Michael Bruno Luggage is located at 2267 Market Street in SF. (Chris McGinnis)

“Two weeks later, the bag shipped back with the zipper replaced at no charge,” he beamed. “That shows a company that truly stands behind its warranty. And now we both have a customer for life.”

After more than 30 years in the luggage business, Briasco says that the key feature frequent travelers should look for in a new bag is a strong manufacturer’s repair or replacement policy. For that reason, the two primary lines of luggage he carries are Briggs & Riley and Eagle Creek—both, he says, have solid, time-tested warranties.

Briggs & Riley’s warranty states: “If your Briggs & Riley bag is ever broken or damaged, even if it was caused by an airline, we will repair it free of charge – Simple as that!” The warranty is good for life and does not require receipts or any other evidence that you even bought the bag. All you have to do is pay to ship it to the repair center.

Eagle Creek luggage sells at a lower price point than Briggs & Riley, so its warranty is good for five years. Its website says that when customers ship back a damaged bag,  “If it is covered under our warranty, we will repair it or replace it with an available product of similar features and value. We will then send it back to you at no charge.”

Briasco says that the high-end (and very popular) Tumi line has added too many exceptions to its warranty (such as proof of purchase requirements) in recent years, so he’s stopped carrying it in his store. For occasional travelers, he stocks less expensive Delsey bags, which he says are suitable for infrequent use. But you get what you pay for with its rather thin warranty that specifically rules out coverage for damage caused by airlines.

In addition to a good warranty, what should a frequent traveler look for when buying a bag?

Look for durable, but easily replaced wheels

Look for durable, but easily replaced wheels

DURABILITY: Since wheels often break, even on high quality bags, Briasco recommends looking for sturdy wheels that can easily be switched out if broken. For wheeled bags, Briasco said that external frame telescopic handles result in more room inside bags.

LEATHER OR NYLON? “While leather looks and smells good, for durability, weight, and protection from the elements, nylon is best,” he said. “Cordura nylon is the most durable, but you can only find it on the few bags manufactured in the US, such as the John Peters line of packs and messenger bags, made in New York.”

IMG_2693MADE IN USA? “When I started out in 1982, nearly all luggage was made in the USA. It was a sign of quality. Now, all bags are made in Asia—and that’s not all bad if the manufacturer has strict quality controls—not all of them do, and you can tell,” he said. Briasco is happy to show off features such as inverted, waterproof zippers, sturdy, low profile handles that don’t get snagged by baggage handling equipment, convenient exterior pockets, etc.

HOW MUCH? “Frequent travelers should spend a little bit more money on a higher quality bag that lasts a lot longer. In the long run, they will spend less than they would having to replace cheaper bags over and over again.” he advised. “Those who travel once per month should invest around $300 for good bag that won’t break when you really need it.” Briasco offers deep unadvertised discounts on all his merchandise. “It’s the only way I can stay in business and compete with the online retailers,” he smiled.

HARD-SIDED LUGGAGE? Shiny, colorful new hard-sided bags from manufacturers like Rimowa seem to be all the rage in airports and hotel lobbies these days. However, Briasco is not much of a fan. “Most do not have external pockets, which I think are critical. Also, for the hard sides to maintain their integrity, the bag has to be packed full. If not, the sides get a little wobbly,” he said.

FOUR WHEELS? New four wheeled bags, referred to as “spinners” are also very popular these days. But Briasco warns that those with small wheels are difficult to maneuver, especially on carpets. “So if you really want a spinner, check the wheels first, and try to roll it over some carpet,” he advised.

You won't find too many easily snatched black bags at Michael Bruno- check out the colors.

You won’t find too many easily snatched black bags at Michael Bruno- check out the colors.

COLOR? Think twice before you buy a black bag. “A thief will never steal a red bag at the airport—he’d be too easy to catch,” he warned. If you have a black bag, he suggests getting a very colorful luggage tag—as a matter of fact, Briasco throws in a free brightly colored tag with most high end bags he sells.

Individualize your bag with a bright luggage tag

Individualize your bag with a bright luggage tag

Need some luggage advice? Drop by Michael Bruno Luggage at 2267 Market Street and let Lou bend your ear. You’ll get more than a piece of luggage—you’ll get a piece of his mind!

The store is open Thurs-Tues between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. But if you drop by and the store is closed, call the phone number posted on the door and Lou (who lives three doors away) will come open the shop for you.

What type of luggage do you carry? Why? Do you have any good tips or advice regarding the bag you own? Please leave your comments below! 

–Chris McGinnis


Catching up on Bay Area Travel News, March 17 2013

In this issue: New flights to Newark; free mags at Bay Area airports; new lie-flat seats to Japan; more car sharing at Bay Area Airports; take our POLL about car-sharing!; how to jump in a seat on a private jet.

Jersey in Noe Valley (Chris McGinnis)

Jersey in Noe Valley (Chris McGinnis)

25% OFF JERSEYLICIOUS FLIGHTS. To celebrate its new nonstops between SFO/LAX and Newark, New Jersey (EWR), Virgin America is offering a nice 25% discount on a future flight  to or from EWR. (somewhat restricted– no Fridays or Sundays). To get the discount, you must enter its “Fly Like a Boss” Facebook campaign. You can also win a chance to fly on the inaugural LAX-EWR run with Richard Branson and Mashable’s Peter Cashmore. Details here. Virgin says that since it announced the launch of EWR flights, fares on the EWR-West Coast routes have dropped by as much as 30 percent “and travelers now have an airline option that guarantees Wi-Fi, live TV and new aircraft on every flight.” Current roundtrip fares on the SFO-EWR run for mid-May flights are about $365. Virgin is also offering a double or triple points promo on flights between now and June 30, but you have to register to get the bonus.

FREE PREMIUM MAGS AT SFO/OAK/SJC. Here’s a helpful new app for TravelSkills Readers (BATs) who frequently find themselves stuck at the airport during delays, yearning for a good read, but hesitating to weigh down their bags with heavy magazines. The new Foli iPad app offers free access to premium magazine content (the stuff that’s normally behind a pay wall at glossies like Vogue, Car & Driver, GQ or Bon Appetit)—but it only works at the airport. Foli uses geolocation technology to limit access to Bay Area airports only—as well as a few coffee shops and hotels.  Download the Foli app for free at the iTunes store. It’s definitely worth a download because you never know when the fog will roll in.

Delta's flat bed seating on a 767. (Photo: Delta Air Lines)

Delta’s flat bed seating on its Boeing 767s. (Photo: Delta Air Lines)

MORE LIE-FLAT SEATS TO JAPAN. Starting April 1, Delta will offer business class seats that recline to a full 180 degree flat bed for sleeping on its Boeing 767-300ER flights between SFO and Tokyo Narita. That means that all business class seats on all airlines (United, ANA, Delta) on the heavily traveled SFO-NRT route are now flat.  Japan Airlines flies between SFO and the closer-to-downtown Tokyo Haneda Airport, but offers the less popular “angled lie flat” business class seat.  (Did you know that JAL’s SFO-Haneda flights are numbered 001 and 002?) Headed to Tokyo? Then be sure and check out my latest dispatch from the Land of the Rising Sun for BBC: Business Trip: Tokyo.

Are YOU signed up for BAT updates? If not, why not? Email in the upper right column, please! 

One of BMW's electric DriveNow cars in SF (Photo: DriveNow)

One of BMW’s electric DriveNow cars in SF (Photo: DriveNow)

DRIVING TO SFO. TravelSkills recently included mention of FlightCar’s car sharing service but we’ve heard from readers about other similar options. For example, DriveNow is a car sharing service that allows travelers to drive all-electric BMW cars from several locations in and around downtown San Francisco to parking lots near SFO or Oakland airports for less than the average cost of airport shuttle services and more than 50% cheaper than cab fares. The first 30 minutes costs $12 and then 32 cents for every additional minute. (There’s a $39 fee to join the car sharing service.) The service is part of BMW’s sustainable transportation initiative and currently only available in the Bay Area. A similar car sharing service for airport trips called Hubber is in the works, too, with locations at SFO and LAX expected to open this April.

DRIVING TO/FROM NYC AIRPORTS. Hertz on Demand has a similar service in New York City—members can drive a Hertz car between airports and several locations in Manhattan for less than half of what you’d pay a cab or car service…and with the Hertz plan, there is no membership fee. (Hertz on Demand has a location in downtown SF, but currently does not offer one-way drop offs at local airports.)

What do you think about new car-sharing options for airport transfers?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...
A Gulfstream IV (Photo: Nima Pirzadeh)

A plush Gulfstream IV awaits private-jetsetters (Photo: Nima Pirzadeh)

PRIVATE JET SHARING, TOO. Since we are on the topic of sharing transportation, let’s take a look at a brand new service called Jumpseat, which has been billed as “the Airbnb for private jets.” Since many seats on private jets fly empty, Jumpseat is a new app that connects people looking to share those seats with those looking to fly, producing significant savings for both parties. Shopping is free and takes only a few clicks. Registered members can book a JumpSeat without paying a membership fee. For example, when I recently searched for flights from the Bay Area, I found several flights in March and April from San Jose to Santa Ana, CA available for $1000-$2,250 each way. In March, there’s a nice big Citation X jet flying from LA to Eagle (Vail), Colorado with two seats available at $5000 each. Eight seats on a March flight from New York to Aspen on a posh Hawker 4000 are going for $20,000 each. Flying private is not cheap, but there are few hassles—no airport security, for example, when using private jet terminals. Interested? Then check out this article about it on Forbes.com.

***

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

***


Top 10 countries that have the most fun

Argentines party for the new Pope (Photo: AP)

Argentines have fun celebrating the new Pope (Photo: AP)

When traveling for business or on vacation, do you notice that people in some countries seem to be having a lot more fun than others? Maybe even more fun than us fun-loving Americans?

Young Americans have fun on an average of 12 days month – more than Canadians, most Europeans and even Brazilians, according to the world’s first study to rank nationalities by how often they have fun.

The U.S. ranks sixth of 17 countries in the global fun league compiled by Badoo.com, a social networking site that bills itself as a place “for chatting, flirting, dating and meeting new people, with over 170 million users across 180 countries.”

The real secret to having fun, however, appears to be living somewhere hot, ideally in Latin America and preferably Spanish-speaking. Argentinians and Mexicans top Badoo’s global fun rankings, while Poles and Russians rank last, with neither having much fun at all.

Badoo asked 17,000 people in 17 countries and four continents, “How often do you really have fun (such as when going out socially or seeing friends)?” Those polled were mainly in their twenties and thirties.

Here are the results of that poll:

Question: Approximately how often would you say that you really have fun and a good time?

Rank Country Days fun/month % Having fun “most days”
1 Argentina 14.8 41.6%
2 Mexico 13.7 36.8
3 Turkey 13 35.1
4 Spain 12.9 34.2
5. Germany 12.1 31.1
6. USA 11.7 30.8
7. Italy 11.6 29.6
8. UK 11.3 29.2
9. Netherlands 11.2 28.5
10. Brazil 10.9 26.1
11. Switzerland 10.3 23.5
12. Thailand 10.2 26.1
13. Canada 9.9 22.7
14. France 9.7 20.9
15. Belgium 8.8 19.5
16. Russia 6.7 12.9
17. Poland 5.3 9.0
Source: Badoo.com

Badoo found that Americans have less fun than the Germans, who, Munich’s famous Octoberfest beer bash aside, are better known for hard work and efficiency than as legendary funsters.

Fun: Germany's outdoor beer gardens (Photo: Eigenadam / Flickr)

Fun: Germany’s outdoor beer gardens (Photo: Eigenadam / Flickr)

If the Germans are having more fun than the world thinks, the French are having less. They rank a lowly 14th out of the 17 countries in Badoo’s study; even the Swiss and Canadians have more fun.

Are YOU signed up for BAT updates? If not, why not? Email in the upper right column, please! 

The Spanish top the European fun rankings and rank fourth globally. In spite of Spain’s current economic problems, the Spanish have not forgotten their roots as the country that gave the world flamenco and fiestas, as well as the Hispanic culture and heritage that powered Argentina and Mexico to the top of the world rankings. Could this mean that the most prominent Argentine, the brand new Pope Francis, might bring a little more fun to the Vatican?

Pity the young Poles! While the average young Pole has just fun five days per month, the average young Argentine has three times as many: 15 days a month; one day out of every two.

Based on your travels, do you agree with the finding of Badoo’s study? Which countries do you feel have the most fun? In which countries do YOU have the most fun? Please leave your comments below. 

***

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

***


Catching up on Bay Area Travel News, Feb 24

FREE PARKING AT SFO? Last week a new service called FlightCar soft-launched an innovative new car sharing service at SFO. FlightCar lets people parking at the airport rent their vehicles out to other travelers. Every rental is insured up to $1 million, and every renter is pre-screened. Depending on the size, age and condition of your car, you can also make up to $10 per day in gas credits. (And you avoid having to pay for airport parking.) Airport valets are at SFO to pick up and drop off cars to renters. They even wash your car. If you are a renter, FlightCar valets meet you at the airport with your rental. Rates are about 30% less than what you’d pay the big guys like Hertz or Avis. Watch the video above to see how it works. Would you do this? Please leave your comments below!

NEW UNITED FLIGHT BONUSES. Remember last year when TravelSkills broke the news about United’s new flights from SFO to Paris and Taipei? Those inaugural flights are coming up soon, and United is offering mileage bonuses on both runs. To Paris (11,000 miles roundtrip), you’ll earn 50% to 100% bonus award miles for flights between April 11 and May 31. Register here. For Taipei (13,000 miles round trip), United is also offering 50% to 100% bonuses for flights between April 9 and June 30. Register here. (UPDATE 2-25-13: United has confirmed that dates for the launch of these flights has been affected by the grounding of the 787 Dreamliner. Tentative new start dates: SFO-Paris: April 26; SFO-Taipei: June 6.)

Chris McGinnis inspecting ANA's maintenance hangar at Haneda Airport on the day before the 787 was grounded. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

BAT-man Chris McGinnis inspecting ANA’s maintenance hangar at Haneda Airport on the day before the 787 was grounded. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

787 UPDATE: If you didn’t get a chance to jump on one of those shiny new Boeing 787 Dreamliners when United had them at SFO, or when ANA was flying them from San Jose to Tokyo, it sounds like it might be a while until you get the chance to do so. United announced this week that it was dropping the 787 from its schedule through at least June, and has put off new routes set to use the plane, such as Denver-Tokyo. ANA announced today that it has canceled all 787 flights, including San Jose-Tokyo, through at least May 31.

STARWOOD SPG TEAMS WITH DELTA. Delta and Starwood have launched a unique new program called Crossover Rewards, which offers reciprocal benefits in both programs. This means that starting March 1, Starwood Preferred Guest elites get access to Priority lines when checking in and can board Delta flights early. Delta Diamond and Platinum Medallions will get elite level benefits in the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program, including 4 pm checkout, free internet, and one SkyMile per dollar spent on room rate in addition to Starpoints. They will also get one free check bag. Details and registration here:delta.com/crossoverrewards or spg.com/crossoverrewards. Insiders tell TravelSkills that a Starwood brand will team up with Delta later this spring with some trendy inflight amenities or other promotions. Have you flown Delta from the Bay Area recently? What did you think?

HILTON HHONORS DEVALUED: Effective March 28, Hilton HHonors will play under a new set of rules. Instead of the current seven award tiers, there will be 10. The highest tier will now require a whopping 95,000 points per night, up from just 50,000. You’ll pay more during high season, and less during low season. This is indicative of a travel industry trend I’ve been following—when paying with cash or with points, peak season prices are rising through the roof due to rising demand from travelers. The only way to get the best deals at rates that feel reasonable is to fly or stay during low or so-called “shoulder” seasons. How do you feel about this? Angry enough to dump Hilton and move to a competitor? Well, not so fast…This week Starwood rolled out its adjusted list of hotel award categories, with more hotels moving up than down—not as severe as Hilton’s, but still. Thoughts?

Screen shot 2013-02-24 at 9.50.06 AM

Atop the shiny new $7 billion Marina Bay Sands complex in Singapore (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

SWEATY IN SINGAPORE. Your BAT editor recently traveled to Singapore to research and write his latest BBC Business Trip Column: Business Trip: Singapore. If you haven’t been there recently, check out this column to learn about the city’s newest hotels, hottest tables, and how those new casinos are affecting the local economy.

STREAMING MOVIES ON SOUTHWEST. Last week Southwest announced that it would offer more on demand TV and movies on all wi-fi equipped aircraft (75% of its fleet). Movies cost $5 per device. Wi-fi access (via Row 44) costs $8 per day. Most Southwest flights I take are so short that movies aren’t really an option. What do you think? Have you tried using Southwest’s in-flight Row 44 wi-fi product, which seems to get about as many complaints as the Gogo system used by other carriers? Please leave your comments below.

Harvey Milk San Francisco International Airport?

Harvey Milk San Francisco International Airport?

HARVEY MILK AIRPORT. Despite the lukewarm reaction to the idea (among TravelSkills reader and others) the campaign to add Harvey Milk’s name to SFO continues. SFgate’s City Insider blog said, “Privately, politicos say they’ve heard from plenty of local constituents, including gay and lesbian residents, who like the brand name of SFO, don’t think it’s worth the cost, fear the embarrassment of losing at the ballot or just don’t think it’s worth getting worked up over either way.” The Harvey Milk Foundation has donated $4,500 to a campaign to get the measure on the November ballot, and there’s a slick new website promoting the cause. Have you voted in our poll yet? Please do!

How do you feel about renaming San Francisco International Airport?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Please leave any additional comments you have about renaming SFO in the comments box below.

— Chris McGinnis

 

 


Spring travel could be pricey & dicey

Spring breakers hanging out at South Ponto Beach near San Diego. (Photo: BrutalSoCal / Flickr)

Spring breakers hanging out at South Ponto Beach near San Diego. (Photo: BrutalSoCal / Flickr)

Combine a long, cold winter, spiking gasoline prices, and an improving economy. Then fold in a very early Easter and you have the recipe for what could be a very crowded and expensive spring travel season. To avoid the highest prices and the possibility of sold out flights, hotels or rental cars, those planning March trips should make reservations as soon as possible– especially if headed to popular spring break destinations from the Bay Area such as Southern California, Arizona, Mexico, Hawaii, and Rocky Mountain ski resorts.

This year, the peak spring travel season will be compact–only about three weeks– beginning on Friday, March 8 and lasting until Monday April 1. Already, advance bookings for March at Best Western’s 2000+ hotels in the US are up 8.9% compared to this time last year.

Due to an unusually early Easter (Sunday, March 31), March is going to be a month when college students, families and business travelers converge on the nation’s airports, highways and hotels. Collegiate spring break will peak in mid-to-late-March during mid-semester break. Family spring break will peak during the last week of March when most elementary and high schools close prior to Easter weekend.

Rowdy spring breakers whoop it up in Mexico (Photo: EytonZ / Flickr)

Rowdy spring breakers whoop it up in Mexico (Photo: EytonZ / Flickr)

To avoid the biggest crowds at airports, try to avoid traveling on weekends during the peak collegiate spring break period–from roughly March 8 through April 1. If you are flying on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays during March, you’ll find airports in or near college campuses and warm weather destinations packed with vacationing students, creating longer lines at airport security. Also, beware of crowding and possible delays on highways and skyways on the days leading up to and shortly after Easter Sunday, March 31.

In addition, St Patrick’s Day falls smack in the middle of spring break on Sunday, March 17 this year. Travelers should expect extreme vigilance on the part of police and highway patrol when it comes to drinking and driving.

Peak spring break travel season should end on about Tuesday, April 2. From April 3 through May 23 there will be an earlier-than-normal “shoulder season”–of the best times of year to save money and avoid crowds–and one of the smartest times time to schedule business trips. During shoulder season, demand for travel (and prices) drops significantly from the highs you’ll see during the spring and summer peaks. (The summer travel season kicks off on Memorial Day–May 27– weekend.)

TIP: If you are a business traveler staying over in a resort or beachside area, ask for a quiet room away from the pool or other public areas, which may attract a rowdy spring break crowd.

Are you signed up for travel updates, deals and news from TravelSkills blog for TravelSkills Readers? Subscribe today! It’s free.

Airfares:
Since January 1, airlines attempted three across-the-board fare hikes. The first two failed. The jury is still out on whether or not the third one will stick. But don’t think that this means prices will not rise. Over the last several years, airlines have reduced the number of seats flying. At the same time, improvements in the economic outlook and consumer confidence are translating into more demand for air travel— and when you have high demand and limited supply, prices rise. Therefore, spring travelers should budget for higher airfares (up 5-10% compared to last year), and more fees.

TIP: To get the lowest fares, try to plan trips during non-peak times, such as April or May known as the “shoulder season.” Also, travelers who can travel mid-week–on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays are also more likely to find lower fares.

Hotels:
While demand for hotels is increasing, average rates have only crept up about 5% compared to this time last year. This should be a relief for travelers who are finding that they are spending more than they’d like to at the gas pump or when buying airline tickets.

Over the last two years, hotel rates have jumped the most in large coastal cities in the US such as Boston, New York, Washington DC, San Francisco and Seattle. Rates in smaller, interior US cities remain about the same as this time last year.

Nonetheless, with the compact nature of this spring’s peak month of March, expect higher rates than normal, especially in popular warm-weather regions

Last Minute Deals:
Waiting around for last minute deals or flash sales rarely results in significant discounts during peak travel periods such as spring break.

Those who have their heart set on a specific destination in March should make reservations early in order to get the best deals. Waiting around for last minute deals is only advisable if you really don’t care where you go…you just want to get away.

On the other hand, waiting for a last minute deal makes much more sense if you plan to travel during periods of lighter demand, such as April or May, when travel providers are more likely to unload their excess inventory at big discount.

–Chris McGinnis

This item appeared first on Best Western’s youmustbetrippin.com blog for which I write.

*****

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

Follow @cjmcginnis

Welcome new readers! If this information was helpful to you, please subscribe to TravelSkills via e-mail– and tell your friends about it, too!
*****


Catching up on Bay Area Travel news (Feb 10)

New fees on the way at Southwest Airlines (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

New fees on the way at Southwest Airlines (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Here’s what TravelSkills Readers (BATs!) need to know this week….

United Mileage Plus in court. A federal judge has rejected United’s attempt to throw out a lawsuit accusing the world’s largest carrier of taking benefits away from some of its most loyal fliers. The suit claims United revoked Million Milers’ “Lifetime Premier Executive” status, which entitled them to favored treatment in bookings, seating priority and upgrades, and demoted them to lower-tier “Gold” status.

Superstorm Nemo forces airlines to waive fees. The giant snowstorm that swept through the Northeast this weekend forced airlines to waive change fees for travelers holding tickets for air travel through Monday Feb 11. United was the last major carrier to join the gang offering to waive the fees, and then had to expand the window for waivers from 8-9 Feb to 8-11 Feb. Remember, if your flight is canceled and you decide to not take a trip at all (instead of accepting the airlines’ offer to re-accommodate you on another flight) you can ask for a full refund.

Spring break could be pricey, dicey this year. An early Easter (Sunday, Mar 31), that cold winter back East, and an improving economy means that travelers should brace for an expensive and crowded Spring Break travel season this year. Whether you have business trip plans or beach trip plans, if you plan to travel during the last two weeks of March—you need to make reservations now… and plan to deal with crowds and high prices. Listen to BAT editor Chris McGinnis discuss this news on KCBS last Friday.

Earn Virgin Elevate points when dining out. Virgin announced a new partnership with Mogl, allowing Elevate members earn points for something we all do a lot of in the Bay Area—dine out. All you have to do is register your credit card with Mogl, and then dine out in participating restaurants (good selection in SF and other California cities) The offer’s a bit complicated, but why not sign up? Details here.

American + US Airways merger expected this week. It’s been a long time coming, but most industry watchers say that a merger between American Airlines and US Airways will finally be announced this week. Most expect the new airlines to be called American, but the new CEO will be US Airways current CEO Doug Parker. The airline will be based in Dallas. Since both American and US Airways have little presence in the Bay Area, the impact here will be negligible.

Winter hotel promos: Marriott’s Megamiles promo is back—you can earn double airlines miles for every stay through April 30. Stay at Best Western three times between now and April 14 and you’ll get a certificate for one free night good for those price spring or summer peak season stays later this year.

Fly American from the Bay to Hawaii? An enhanced codeshare agreement between American and Alaska Airlines will allow American to put its code and sell tickets on the 22 Alaska Airlines flights from the Bay to Hawaii. For those of you with big banks of unused AAdvantage miles with dreams of tropical paradise, now’s the time to redeem.

ANA Dreamliner cancellations at San Jose extended. Until the root cause of battery malfunctions and fires can be determined, the Dreamliner will not fly to San Jose (or anywhere.) While investigators seem to be making slow progress, ANA decided to go ahead and cancel Dreamliner flights all the way through March 30 (That’s nearly 10 weeks of no flights.) TravelSkills asked ANA why they don’t substitute another aircraft on the route, they said that they only have certification to fly the 787 on the route and that applying to use another aircraft could take weeks or months. In addition, ANA is likely having a tough time filling the holes in its schedule by the grounding of 17 of its aircraft, and for now, its easier to bus San Jose passengers up 101 to catch their flights at SFO.

New fees at Southwest. Southwest Airlines passengers who are used to not showing up for a flight and then requesting full credit for that flight for future use later are in for a surprise. Southwest says it will soon impose a no-show fee on cheaper restricted tickets if you don’t contact the airline and cancel your plans within 24 hours of flight time. Southwest’s “Early bird” check in fees have increased to $12.50 from $10. In addition, if you want to nab an open position in the first boarding group, Southwest now charges a $40 fee for that. In addition, the fee for oversized or overweight bags, or a third checked have increased from $50 to $75 each. Southwest still does not charge for the first or second checked bag…but industry scuttlebutt is that Southwest will likely join other carriers in charging bag fees starting next year.

Business class to Orange County. Did you know that AirTran flies daily a 2-class Boeing 737 (business and coach) with Gogo wi-fi between SFO and Orange County? Coach class roundtrip fares are in the $150 range, and business class is only $315. (The flight stops at SNA, then continues on to Cabo)

BAT headlines from this week:

10 things about Singapore Airlines A380 at SFO (Photos)

United maintains dominance at SFO

Virgin America CEO David Cush: Why San Jose?

 

 

 


Top 10 happiest cities in the world

(Photo: Visions Photographiques / Flickr)

(Photo: Visions Photographiques / Flickr)

How often do you get to take a happy  trip to one of the top 10 happiest cities in the world?  The infographic below is based on a perception survey by GFK Custom Research, as well as factors like number of outdoor attractions, shopping centers, and cultural locations. 

Lucky for BATs…we live in the ONLY city in the US to make this list. Why leave? ;)

Which city do you feel should have made this list, but didn’t? Leave your comments below.

find-a-happy-place_5107f6cf94ac7

Have YOU signed up for TravelSkills– the Bay Area Traveler blog? Get crackin’! Enter your email in the field on the upper right side! 


Mormon-led Marriott joins push to dump DOMA

Marriott Marquis in downtown San Francisco

Marriott Marquis in downtown San Francisco

Have you heard? Mormon-led Marriott International is one of the first large US corporations to join an HRC coalition to repeal the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Here’s what Marriott’s David Rodriguez said about joining the coalition: “We are proud of our longstanding commitment to diversity, inclusion and equal treatment of all our employees within our benefits programs…Joining the business coalition for DOMA repeal affirms that commitment.”

In December, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has donated to pro-Proposition 8 groups,  re-joined Marriott’s board.

A story in the LA Times includes quotes from Bill Marriott on why he does not mix his personal views on marriage (man-woman only) with the operations of his business. “We have to take care of our people, regardless of their sexual orientation or anything else,” said Marriott in a recent interview. Bloomberg reports that 13 other large corporations, including San Jose-based eBay and Redwood City-based Electronic Arts have also joined the coalition. San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotels has also joined in.

Does this change your mind about Marriott? Have you avoided staying at the various Marriott brands (such as Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott, Courtyard, Residence Inn) due to its deep connections to the Mormon Church? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

 


Catching up on this week’s travel news 1-27

Southwest's special Super Bowl nonstops from SFO to New Orleans have sold out. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Southwest’s special Super Bowl nonstops from SFO to New Orleans have sold out. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

For those who might have been out and about and too busy to keep up with travel news, here’s what’s important to BATs this week:

>First off, let’s take a look at our poll from last week: If TravelSkills reader had anything to do with it, the name of San Francisco International Airport would remain just that. At last count, 82% of TravelSkills reader said that airport name should remain the same. Just 18% think we should insert Harvey Milk’s name into it. Might be good for city leaders to consider the opinions of those who use the airport most– BATs! Don’tcha think?

>San Jose’s much ballyhooed new flights to Tokyo have gotten off to a very rocky start. I’m sure glad I was one of the last people to ride on this fine bird… at least for a while. The latest news about the 787 is that no one really knows yet what is going on with the batteries. This week, overcharging was ruled out as a root cause...and until a root cause is determined, and a remedy made to fix that root cause, the plane is not going to fly. As of Friday, all ANA 787 flights, including those on the San Jose-Tokyo run, have been canceled through at least Feb 18. And ANA tells TravelSkills that it does not have necessary permissions to substitute another aircraft (like a 777) of the route. So San Jose waits…and as before, if you wanna go to Tokyo, the only choice is SFO.

>As expected, all the seats on Southwest’s extra flights between SFO and New Orleans for the Super Bowl sold out like hotcakes at $1,270 each. Go Niners!

>A BIG THANKS to the CLEAR CARD which has just signed on as a BAT sponsor for a whole year! Woo-hoo! Support TravelSkills by clicking on the CLEAR ad to the right and learning about its free offer for TravelSkills reader! Are you interested in reaching the Bay Area’s most frequent and affluent travelers? Contact us about being a BAT sponsor!

>United is adding a larger aircraft on its SFO>Austin,TX nerd bird flights, adding a full-size A319, A320 or B737 to its current line up of Canadair RJs on the route.

>United is canceling nonstops to Toronto on April 6, leaving the route as a monopoly for Air Canada. Virgin America tried, and failed, to make the route work– canceling its Toronto flights on (coincidentally?) April 6, 2011.

>United has confirmed to TravelSkills that its new SFO-Paris CDG nonstop flights on April 11 will use a B767 (we thought that with the recent announcement about SFO being a new base for Boeing 747s, it might be switching aircraft.

>United has still not started the deployment of new-configuration B757 PS flights between SFO and JFK. United had said that the newly outfitted PS flights would begin flying last October… but we have not seen or heard much about them… and cannot get a straight answer from United as to whether there are any on the route. United has only told TravelSkills that the new PS flights “will begin in the first part of 2013.” Vague!

>This week, United posted a fourth quarter loss ($190 million) that was less than analysts expected. Executives now claim that its operational issues (such as the reservations system meltdown last summer) and the integration of Continental operations are now behind it. It’s begging business travelers (and their corporate handlers) to come back. Will you?

>Did you know that BATs will soon be able to fly Hawaiian Airlines between the Bay Area and Auckland, New Zealand (via a stopover on Honolulu)? TravelSkills received an invite to participate in the inaugural A330 flight in March so stay tuned for a fun post about that! It is interesting to watch Hawaiian turn into a true transpac carrier, with new flights to many points beyond Hawaii, such as Sydney, Taipei, Brisbane, Sapporo, Manila and Seoul. Would you consider flying Hawaiian and making a stop in HNL on your next transpac trip?

HEY THERE! Would you please help us grow by forwarding this email to at least three of your frequent traveling friends or colleagues and encouraging them to subscribe??? Thank you! 


The coughing epidemic on planes

(Photo: Mr Stabile / Flickr)

(Photo: Mr Stabile / Flickr)

[From TravelSkills reader JM:] I wanted to get this off my chest and thought it might make an interesting blog post for you…

I just flew back to SFO from Cancun, most of the way on Delta. Great service with a smile—I was impressed.

However there was lots of coughing going on– I felt surrounded by a coven of coughers.

I arrived back in SF at 5:30pm, went to bed and then woke at 4 am with a sore throat—and a cold coming on.  As always, I hit the cold hard with zinc lozenges, anti-inflammatories, lots of rest immediately, Vicks on the bottom of my feet, chicken soup, etc. I’m glad to say that I am pretty much over it, fortunately.

But…I found it curious that the flight attendants (for their own health, if not the passengers) don’t announce something like this during cold and flu season:

“If you have a cough, as a courtesy to those around you over the duration of the flight:  cover your mouth, cough into your elbow or your collar, not your hands.”

Maybe they could sell cough drops—or even give them away to ill-prepared passengers. Maybe pass out handkerchiefs for people to cough or sneeze into? The effort would be well worth the trouble and expense, and build goodwill for the airline.

If I had cough drops, I would have given them out gladly.

For everyone’s ears and nerves, don’t you think this is a concern, especially now that the flu epidemic seems to be escalating?

You travel much more than I do, so I’m curious to know if this has ever been addressed. Would love to have some flight attendants weigh in. OK, I’m done with my rant. :)

Thanks JM! You are onto something here. There was a cougher/hacker behind me all the way from Tokyo last night! The hacking, sneezing and wheezing does get a bit tedious, especially on overnight flights. I think this would be an excellent opportunity for an airline to team up with Vicks, Kleenex, Handi-wipes or Hanes Handkerchiefs and help put a muzzle on the flu. Virgin? United? Are you reading TravelSkills?

What do you think? Have you noticed coughing getting worse? Have you ever been stuck in an embarrassing coughing fit, and would have welcomed a cough drop from a flight attendant? Please leave your comments below.

 


5 key ways to upgrade holiday trips

My mom’s famous marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole– a holiday staple! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The next big item on every frequent traveler’s calendar is Thanksgiving– and it’s early this year – just a week away on November 22.

Since an increasing number of Americans are now taking the whole week off, expect big crowds, and long, slow-moving security lines at the airport this starting this Friday, over the weekend and of course, next week. (Might be time to consider line-busting options like CLEAR or PreCheck!)

If you are hitting the roads or the skies next week or next month, here are five ways improve your chances of having a happy holiday trip:

1-Book nonstop flights

While the lower price of a one-stop flight might be tempting, you increase your chances of a delay or cancellation by 100% when you take two flights instead of one to get to your destination. Why take that chance, especially if you are headed home for just a few days, and a delayed or canceled flight could spoil the entire trip?

In many cases nonstop flights cost the same, or only $50 to $100 more. I think of that extra cost as an insurance policy against a hassle-filled trip. (If you don’t know the difference between a nonstop, direct or connecting flight, please read this!)

Another tip to ensure a delay-free trip: Book early morning flights, which are frequently parked at the airport overnight and not reliant on arriving from another airport.

(Are YOU signed up to get TravelSkills via email? Hop to it! Click here or enter your email in the pink form to the right, please!) 

2-Make high airfares pay you back.

Flying during the holidays means paying a premium of anywhere from 30% to 70% compared to other times of year—especially on long haul flights, according to FareCompare.com. Christmas/New Year’s holiday period airfares are running at an average $454 this year, up 5% from the same period last year when they were $434 according to Expedia.com. Average fares during the peak Thanksgiving period are only slightly less, averaging $442, which is also up 5% compared to last year.

So let’s face it, you’ll be breaking out the credit card—a lot—when traveling during the peak holiday season. You might as well be using a card that’s going to pay you back in points and other benefits. For example, I just signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which is currently offering a 40,000-point sign up bonus if I spend at least $3,000 in the first three months.

Since this is the holidays…and I have four trips booked between now and the end of the year… I’ll likely hit that threshold with ease. Which means I’ll end up with at least 50,000 points (bonus plus two points per dollar spent on travel) and that is enough for two no-blackout-date airline tickets, which I’ll likely use NEXT year to avoid paying through the nose to fly home for during the peak holiday season. (See below)

Right now, most major credit cards are offering similarly fat points and mileage bonuses to frequent travelers with good credit, so if you’ve been sitting on the fence about getting a new card, doing so during the heavy-spending holidays is smart strategic move.

3-Postpone peak season trips

If pricey holiday airfares will keep you grounded this year, celebrate with your family during “dead weeks” instead.  Dead weeks are travel industry lingo for the annual low points in travel demand, which ironically come in the middle of the peak holiday travel season. And when demand plummets, so do prices.

The catch is that you have to travel when everyone else is staying at home. Dead weeks typically occur right after the big Thanksgiving rush, and again right after the Christmas/New Years rush in early January. The good news this year is that with an early Thanksgiving (Nov 22) we have one extra dead week—the last week of November—and the deals are plentiful.

Here’s an extreme example: A transcontinental flight between San Francisco and Cleveland during the Thanksgiving or Christmas peak is currently a painful $1,460 (seriously!) round trip.

But when checking on dead week deals on Orbitz this week, I found that United is offering an astoundingly low fare of just $208 round trip on that route over the weekend of Nov 30-Dec 3. Now that’s dirt-cheap!

Dead week deals are not only a great opportunity for flexible travelers to save, but an easy way for frequent travelers to top off their mileage balances in order to keep or bump up their cherished elite level status. (That SFO>CLE round trip nets a whopping 4,300 elite qualifying miles.) If you are a Delta SkyMiles junkie, I found roundtrips between SFO and Atlanta for just $220 during dead weeks. Amazing!

Expedia has a helpful tool to find similar low fares.

(Are YOU signed up to get TravelSkills via email? Hop to it! Click here or enter your email in the pink form to the right, please!) 

4-Stay at a hotel

Why burden the in-laws with the hassle of houseguests during the already stressful holidays? Instead of bunking on that lumpy sofa bed or stuffy guest room, book a nearby hotel.

Due to lack of demand from business travelers, most hotels are dirt-cheap during the holidays, and offer the chance experience a five-star hotel at a two or three star price.

Example: I frequently travel back to Atlanta, my hometown, for the holidays. I’ve found rooms at the five star InterContinental Buckhead hotel for just $139 per night during Thanksgiving or Christmas, while at other times of year they go for $400+.

Rooms at comfortable suburban hotels like Best Western that may be closer to your relatives are likely starving for business during the holidays—so call the hotel directly to see if you can negotiate a great deal.

Or show off your travel-tech-savvy by pulling out your fancy new iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S3 and using last minute hotel-deal apps like HotelTonight to score some amazing rates.

Like what you are reading? Then please tell 3 friends to SIGN UP for TravelSkills today! They will appreciate the heads up! Send them this link and a little encouragement: www.travelskills.com 

5-Splurge a little

While you can always pay a lot more to sit in first class, you can now pay a little bit more, and get a more comfortable coach seat. During the busy, crowded holidays, that’s money well spent.

While getting a few extra inches of room always helps, the real benefit of paying for a better economy seat is that you are usually allowed to board early—with elite level flyers. Early boarding means you get early access to scarce overhead bin space, and since these seats are located near the front of the plane, you’ll be among the first to exit when the plane lands.

These premium economy seats cost from $20 to $200 more, depending on the duration of the flight. For example, for a trip home for the holidays, you could pay Delta $70 extra for one of its Economy Comfort seats for the 4-5 hour nonstop between San Francisco and Atlanta. A cheaper option would be Southwest’s EarlyBird check in fee of just  $10 each way—which gets you to the front of the line for boarding.

Have a great trip and a very happy holiday!

–Chris McGinnis

*****

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

Follow @cjmcginnis

Welcome new readers! If this information was helpful to you, please subscribe to TravelSkills via e-mail– and tell your friends about it, too!

Disclosure: Some of the companies mentioned in this post have been or are current clients of my company, Travel Skills Group, Inc.

 



Is your flight “nonstop” or “direct?”

(Contrails over Amsterdam. Photo: Keempoo / Flickr)

Given a choice between a nonstop or a direct flight between SFO and New York, which one would you take? What if an option for a connecting flight was thrown into the mix?

Your choice could have a big impact on the price, length and comfort of your journey.

I’m frequently amazed at how many travel agents, airline employees, frequent business travelers and even fellow travel writers tend to think that direct and nonstop are interchangeable terms when referring to flights. They are not.

If you are wondering which type of flight is best for you, consider these definitions:

Nonstop:

A nonstop flight is just what it says: a single flight between two airports with no stops. Business travelers favor nonstop flights because they are the fastest, but they are frequently the most expensive.

Direct:

While a direct flight might sound like a nonstop flight, it’s not. A direct flight makes at least one intermediate stop along the way to its final destination, but has only one flight number.

For example, if you choose a direct flight between SFO and New York you’d fly on one plane the whole way to New York. But that plane would make a stop in, say, Chicago or Milwaukee or Atlanta, where it would drop off and pick up more passengers, like a bus. Due to these stops, direct flights can add an hour or more to your total travel time.

I recently flew Southwest Airlines flight #1618 from Oakland to Phoenix for a meeting. My flight from Oakland to Phoenix was a nonstop. However, the plane continued on to St Louis. The passengers who stayed on the plane in Phoenix and continued flying to St Louis on the second leg of flight #1618 were on a direct flight.

Often, direct flights are less expensive than nonstop flights, but not always. If you have a choice between a direct or a nonstop and the price is the same, take the nonstop!

Connecting:

A connecting flight means it will take at least two different planes with two different flight numbers to reach your final destination. For example, a connecting flight from San Francisco to New York on United Airlines would mean flying from San Francisco to Denver, or Chicago, where you would then disembark and board another plane for another flight to New York.

Connecting flights are almost always less expensive than nonstop flights, but they are not always the best option for travelers who place a premium on time.

Why? First, you’ll have to schlep hand luggage on and off the plane multiple times in each direction. Connections often mean landing in one concourse, then having to take a train or a long walk to another concourse. When you take off and land, you double your chances of encountering delays due to weather or air traffic control. Connecting flights can also take significantly longer than direct or nonstop flights due to long layovers. For these reasons, connecting flights are always the least desirable in terms of convenience… but the most desirable in terms of price.

Were you aware of the difference between direct and nonstop flights? What type of flight will you be taking next time? Be sure you know before you book!

— by Chris McGinnis

*****

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

Follow @cjmcginnis

Welcome new readers! If this information was helpful to you, please subscribe to TravelSkills via e-mail– and tell your friends about it, too!

*****

Sponsor:  

For a limited period, San Francisco passengers will have the opportunity to experience spacious luxury onboard the world’s largest commercial aircraft, the Airbus A380 on flights to Asia.  Between December 28, 2012 and March 24, 2013, Singapore Airlines will pop into town with daily “Pop-Up” A380 flights between San Francisco and Singapore via Hong Kong.  Flip through this slideshow to see its famous Suites and the widest Business Class seats in the sky.

SQ1 departs SFO at 10:50 pm and arrives in Hong Kong at 5:50 am two days later. Flight time is about 13 hours to Hong Kong, and with another 3.5 hours to Singapore, you’ll have plenty of time to soak up the luxury and explore the 1000+ onboard entertainment options.  SQ2 arrives daily in SFO at 7:45 pm on the same day it departs from Singapore and Hong Kong.


Online travel experiences (infographic)


Google purchases Frommer’s travel guides

News broke this morning that Google has purchased the famous Frommer’s travel guide brand for an undisclosed sum. The purchase comes on the heels of Google’s 2011 purchase of Zagat guides, and is a clear signal that the search giant intends to get into the travel content business in a big way. I’m thinking that Google is prepping for a battle with Apple when it finally unwraps its mostly secretive, recently patented iTravel app sometime in the next year.

Frommer’s has a small editorial staff based in San Francisco that manages its website and online content.

The travel world is abuzz with comments on Google’s latest acquisition. What do you think?

Wall Street Journal: “In Frommer’s, Google sees an opportunity to broaden its consumer offerings outside of restaurant reviews. That Frommer’s provides information about hotels and destinations globally made the acquisition that much more attractive. The deal is expected to close shortly. Google hasn’t yet decided whether the Frommer’s guidebooks will continue to be published in print or whether they will eventually migrate entirely to online. It is also possible that the Frommer’s brand could be melded into the Zagat brand.”

CNET:  “It’s not all that surprising that Google has jumped in to swipe Frommer’s. The company has been making a significant travel push over the last couple of years with its acquisitions of travel software provider ITA and restaurant reviewer Zagat. Presumably Frommer’s is a natural extension of the Zagat purchase. ‘The Frommer’s team and the quality and scope of their content will be a great addition to the Zagat team,’ a Google spokesperson told CNET in an e-mailed statement. ‘We can’t wait to start working with them on our goal to provide a review for every relevant place in the world.'”

TechCrunch: “Although not confirmed at this point, it’s probable that Google is only interested in the travel content Frommer’s has amassed, and the book publishing portion of Frommer’s business will cease. As for what Google saw in Frommer’s, that’s not quite as clear. Although its brand is still well-known, the quality of its content can be a little shaky – its reviews, for example, are often outdated. Perhaps the selling price just made the deal worthwhile?… We’re also now hearing that the Frommer’s team will be joining the Zagat team, and indeed the acquisition is related to improvements related to the local search experience across Google. Initially, the Frommer’s content will come to Google under its own brand and will be further integrated with Zagat over time. No definitive decision has been made on the Frommer’s printed guides, but the deal is supposed to enable users discover reviews across Google, which means online.”

Fast Company: “One of Google’s major priorities has been the transformation of Google Maps and the Zagat-powered Google+ Local into a Yelp and Facebook killer. Frommer’s databases are also used by Kayak to help fuel hotel searches. Although the last few years have been rough for print travel guides as the internet ate away at their past dominance, Frommer’s has extensive brand recognition and a large network of contacts throughout the travel and hospitality industries.”

 What do YOU think? When was the last time you used a Frommer’s guide? Do you think Google can make travel content better? Please leave your comments below.
*****

Subscribe to TravelSkills via e-mail!

Follow @cjmcginnis

Welcome new readers! If this information was helpful to you, please subscribe to TravelSkills via e-mail– and tell your friends about it, too!

*****

 

 


Brouhaha boils re: early boarding for babies

http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/video?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=7323318

Here’s my opinion (via interview on CBS news last night) about that brouhaha brewing about United’s new policy not allowing families with kids to board early. Do you agree or disagree? Is the new policy fair to families? Or to frequent travelers?

My take: Airlines have lost control of the boarding process. There are so many people with “special” boarding privileges that the entire plane can fill up before general boarding (Zone 1) ever begins.

For example, United now offers special early boarding to those who have paid for its new Explorer credit card. They also offer early boarding to their best customers, such as Global Services or 1K members, or Star Alliance partners with status. Then there are those who’ve actually paid significantly more than everyone else on the plane for business or first class seats. United also offers early boarding to military in uniform and passengers using wheelchairs or crutches.

Until now, it’s allowed families with children to board early, too. Well, during summer travel season, families traveling with children can comprise half the passengers on the plane. (Flown to Orlando lately? You’ll see…)

So by the time “general boarding” starts, the plane is almost full– and nearly all the precious overhead bin space it taken. It’s crazy…and it irritates United’s best customers… those who have paid more for their tickets, or shown their loyalty as elite leve members of Mileage Plus.

So while it might appear that United’s policy change is an “anti-family” move, I think it brings some sanity back to the boarding process. And I also think that frequent travelers should be on the lookout for moms and dads boarding with them who need a little extra help when getting on the plane, and offer a hand getting settled.

What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

 


Which US city is most expensive for travelers? Surprising answer

There are plenty of interesting nuggets in a new travel spending report from Concur, a company that provides travel expense management solutions for companies that spent a total of $50 billion last year for travel and entertainment.

A couple standouts from the infographic and Concur’s latest Spend Report:

>Our very own Santa Clara is the most expensive city for business travel in the US– beating out New York, San Francisco and Boston for the top honor. Why so spendy? Interestingly, the full report shows that ground transportation expenses are the culprit. According to the Concur report, expenses for rental cars and ground transportation run twice as much in this Silicon Valley city as they do in most other US cities. And who comes to the Valley without renting a car?

>Tokyo is the most expensive city in the world for business travel… but not a single US city ranks in the top 10 anymore. Bring a fat wallet if you are traveling to Australia or Scandinavia. Ouch!

Click on the graphic below for a better view:


What’s your advice for San Francisco-bound business travelers?

Click on the image to read the full column on BBC.com

One of the many hats I wear is that of business travel columnist for BBC.com. This month, I wrote “Business Trip: San Francisco,” which offers advice to visiting business travelers. It typically includes top upscale hotels– both elegant and edgy, dining or entertainment suggestions, local color and local protocol or etiquette advice.

This is the twelfth in a series of destination focused business travel piece I’ve written for BBC.com over the last year– other cities I’ve recently written about include: London, Seoul, Rio de Janeiro and Frankfurt.


Anyway, I thought writing about San Francisco, the city I know and love best, would be a breeze. But it was a lot tougher than I expected! The most difficult part was deciding what NOT to include. My instructions from BBC are to keep the stories short and sweet– a quick read for busy global business travelers from anywhere in the English-speaking world.

So Dear Reader, what advice would YOU offer a global business traveler visiting our fair city? What did I leave out? Please leave your comments, advice or suggestions below! And then send the link to this page to visitors headed our way!


A few minutes with Richard Branson

Last week, Virgin America launched new nonstops between San Francisco and Palm Springs (one daily in each direction; $180 round trip).

As usual, the swashbuckling Brit billionaire Sir Richard Branson showed up from the other side of the world to lead the celebration for the new service.

The fete included free cosmopolitans for everyone at SFO’s new Terminal 2, speeches by dignitaries, paparazzi and a troupe of crooning Rat Pack lookalikes as passengers waited to board. Plus, there was the obligatory ribbon cutting with Palm Springs mayor Steve Pougnet. (SEE PHOTOS BELOW)

After the short flight south, an 8-foot wide red carpet welcomed passengers at Palm Springs International– and led to a catered party at the terminal including a full bar and thumping DJ for the enjoyment of all.

In the midst of all this, I was able to snag a few minutes with Branson in seats 1A and 1B on the flight to Palm Springs.

He told me that his spin through SF was actually at the tail end of a weeklong business trip that made my eyes crusty with jet lag…

He started from home base in London and flew to Nairobi, Kenya for a conference about overcoming barriers to business success in Africa. Then it was on to Johannesburg, South Africa to promote his new book “Screw Business As Usual” and to open one of his new Virgin Active gyms.

From there he jetted up to Israel to promote his new space travel venture, Virgin Galactic.

From Israel he buzzed over to Portugal to investigate the country’s decriminalization of personal possession of drugs– “It is time to end the war on drugs worldwide. We must stop criminalising drug users,” he says on his blog.

(Are you following me on Twitter or Facebook? If not why not? You’ll get more travel news faster!)

After Portugal, there was quick stop back in the UK before flying to San Francisco for the Palm Springs launch plus an appearance at an environmental conference with Governor Jerry Brown out at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.

As soon as Branson got off the plane in Palm Springs, he made some witty remarks on the tarmac and cuddled with a couple leggy flight attendants (our arrival in Palm Springs was surprisingly wintry). Then it was off to a waiting helicopter that sped him to LA where he filmed a television commercial with Nike that evening.

After that, he told me he was headed to Necker Island, his private Caribbean island, to celebrate his 29-year-old daughter Holly’s wedding, “under the stars on the ruins of the main house, where I was married many years ago.” (The house was destroyed earlier this year by a fire caused by lightening.)

During his 24 hours in San Francisco, Branson told me he bedded down at the posh St Regis (“lovely Christmas decorations in the lobby; that hotel does on the ground what Virgin does in the air,” he said.). He also said he had an excellent, fresh lunch next to the fireplace at the super-hot Cotogna in SOMA (reportedly with financier Dick Blum, spouse of Senator Dianne Feinstein).

Just before our chat, Branson had walked the length of the A320, shaking hands, flashing his big toothy smile back at the cameras, and chatting with the media and astonished passengers—he was totally “on.”

But after hearing him describe his business trip and brutal itinerary leading up to this flight, I had to ask, “How do you deal with all this…the cameras, the conferences, the jet lag?”

“Well, I drink lots of water, avoid alcohol and occasionally take melatonin or a sleeping pill to help get some rest.”

And then, looking wearily and longingly toward the front of the plane he said, “And sometimes I sneak into the lavatory for about three minutes just to be alone.”

Richard Branson, Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet and SFO chief John Martin cut the ribbon (Photo courtesy: Joe Enos)

A red carpet welcome under wintry skies at Palm Springs International


What’s your outlook for fall travel?

By the time you get back to the office on Tuesday, business travel season will have kicked in and road warriors can begin to reclaim their space at airports, on planes and at hotels. But given recent fluctuations in financial markets and economic uncertainty….what’s it going to be like out there over the next 4-6 months? Are travelers cutting back? Are fares and rates rising or falling?

At the recent Global Business Travel Association convention in Denver, I wrangled interviews with some of the most important executives in attendance— from the likes of American Express, British Airways, Southwest Airlines, Best Western and Singapore Air. I asked them about their outlook for the fall business travel season…. click on the video above to hear their answers.

What’s your outlook? Do you plan on traveling more, less or about the same amount this fall compared to last fall? Has the recent roller coaster ride in financial markets clipped your wings at all? Please take a peek at the 3-minute video, and leave your comments below!


Tax holiday on airline tickets. Act fast. (UPDATED)

UPDATE Sunday 7:45am: AP reports all airlines except Alaska, Frontier and Virgin America have raised fares. Only those travelers who acted fast were able to take advantage of the short term discount mentioned below. http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Airlines-are-taking-savings-apf-1533581816.html?x=0&.v=8

 

Original post from Saturday morning: Due to the budget stalemate in Washington, airlines stopped collecting some federal taxes on airline tickets at 12:01 Saturday morning.

This means that most airline tickets bought from now until there’s a budget agreement in Washington will not be subject to the 7.5% federal excise tax, the $3.50 segment fee, or the $16.30 international departure tax.

For example, travelers booking now will get a savings of $37 on a typical $400 domestic fare.

The higher the fare, the more you save on the federal excise tax. So, let’s say you need to take a quick trip to New York next week and the last minute fare is $1000 round trip– you’ll save $82 on that fare.

While airlines may be price matching soon or already — just raising fares to make up the difference and pocket the windfall– a Virgin America spokesperson confirmed that Virgin has embraced the stalemate, reducing its fares and encouraging travelers via its web site and social media channels to grab a tax-free seat now and “Evade Taxes. Take Flight.”

Alaska Airlines told the Seattle Times that it is not collecting the tax and its customers would save about 14% on ticket prices as a result.

However, a spokesman for Southwest and AirTran said that the carriers have raised roundtrip fares $8 “to offset industry cost pressures.” That means that ticket prices today will be more or less the same as they were yesterday. Also, the Washington Post reports that American and US Airways have raised fares to offset any tax savings. UPDATE: 8:30 pm Saturday– United and Delta have matched the fare increase which it had held off on doing until now. American and US Airways have also raised fares to offset any tax savings.

So if you’ve been sitting on a fence about a fare, now might be a good time to go ahead and bite the bullet– at least on Alaska, Delta, United and Virgin America. But keep an eye on this…as always fares are subject to change!


Update on United-Continental merger

There’s an excellent article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer this week about how the United-Continental merger is coming along. The piece does a great job showing how the merger will touch customers– especially frequent travelers.

>For example, the red carpet that United customers are used to seeing at boarding gate for elite level members will be switched out for Continental’s blue. (“Red is not in our color wheel.”)

>Cocktails at Red Carpet Clubs will be complimentary as they are now at Continental Presidents Clubs.

>United’s famous “Rhapsody in Blue” will remain the boarding music on the merged carrier.

>As many of us already know (and are thankful for), United’s Economy Plus seating will be installed on the Continental fleet…but not until next year.

>Not included in the piece (since Cleveland is a Continental town) is that Continental’s flights at SFO have already moved from Terminal 1 to United’s Terminal 3.

United execs say that the melding of the two carriers is currently about half done.

Here’s the link to the full story.

How you YOU feel about the United-Continental merger? Are you pleased so far? Or not?


Editorial Disclaimer: This editorial 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. Responses in the comments section are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.”