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. 

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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.

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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

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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

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Lanai: A billionaire’s work in progress

Arriving at Lanai's tiny airport

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what I saw:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Chris McGinnis

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

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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

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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

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Airbnb for a business trip? Mixed results

Airbnb balcony view

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

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

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

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

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

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

Airbnb living room 2

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

Here’s how my Airbnb stay played out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 

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Mergers that make sense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uber + Lyft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virgin America + JetBlue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some other likely combos? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Chris McGinnis

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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

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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)

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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)

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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


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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! 

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>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

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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

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Beer price index helps gauge cost of trips abroad

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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.

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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

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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts: 

United’s new copy & paste MileagePlus program

Marriott’s M Club lounge experiment

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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

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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

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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 upcoming 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. 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).

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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

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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?

***

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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!)

***

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