More United wi-fi + Buh-bye Delta 747s + Virgin’s newest plane + SFO is h-o-t + New Hyatt NYC

United's regional jets to get connected via Gogo (United)

United’s regional jets to get connected via Gogo (United)

This is Part 2 of this weekend’s Catching up on Travel News with TravelSkills. ICYMI here’s Part 1

United regional jets will get Wi-Fi. United said it will expand in-flight Wi-Fi service to more than 200 of its two-cabin United Express aircraft, including Embraer 170s and 175s, and CRJ700s. The service should be available on some planes before year’s end, with the whole job finished by next summer. “Early next year,” a spokesman said, “United expects to expand personal device entertainment to these aircraft, enabling customers to select from a wide range of movies and television shows to view on their Wi-Fi-enabled iOS and Android devices using United’s mobile app, as well as on laptop computers.” Some good news: Gogo’s wi-fi works very well on smaller aircraft where there are not too many passengers hogging bandwidth. While this installation announcement is great news, United still lags behind other major carriers when it comes to consistent inflight wi-fi.

Just in: Lufthansa’s pilots planning another strike this week. 

Delta’s 747s disappearing faster. Like other airlines, Delta is phasing out its 747 fleet– last summer we reported that it was unloading four 747s in the coming year. This week, the carrier announced that it is speeding up that process. Delta’s CEO said the airline’s 747s — used on Pacific routes — should all be gone by 2017. It is acquiring new Airbus A330s to replace the Boeing jumbos. How do you feel about this? Leave your comments below.

Inside San Francisco International's popular Terminal 2 (SFO)

Inside San Francisco International’s popular new Terminal 2 (SFO)

SFO is hot hot hot. The technology boom is playing out at SFO with airlines from around the world clamoring to get in, or expand their service there. Here’s a roundup of all the action:

Foreign carriers boost U.S. service. Subject to government approvals, Ethiopian Airlines plans to launch new 787 service next June between Addis Ababa and Los Angeles three times a week (via Dublin, Ireland, which means you can now fly to Ireland on Ethiopian Airlines) … Effective November 10, Delta’s Skyteam partner KLM will boost its Atlanta-Amsterdam schedule from seven flights a week to 12 … Air France will deploy an Airbus A380 super-jumbo on its Paris-Miami route from December 1 through March 28 … In March 2015, Philippine Airlines will begin new east coast service, flying from Manila to New York JFK via Vancouver four times a week, using a two-class A340-300.

Virgin Atlantic's newest plane, the 787-9, deployed on Boston-Heathrow. (Photo: Jim Ramsay)

Virgin Atlantic’s newest plane, the 787-9, deployed on Boston-Heathrow. (Photo: Jim Ramsay)

Virgin upgrades transatlantic fleet. Delta’s joint venture partner Virgin Atlantic has taken delivery of its first new 787-9 (the “stretch” version of the 787), and will put it into service October 28 between London Heathrow and Boston six times a week. Over the next few months, Virgin will deploy other new 787-9s from Heathrow to Dulles, Newark and JFK. The aircraft have 31 seats in Upper Class, 198 in economy and 35 in Premium Economy; the latter section has a new “Wander Wall” — “a social space where customers can stretch their legs and mingle with other passengers,” the company said.

London Bonus: Did you know that you can earn 7,500 to 35,000 MileagePlus bonus miles for United or Air Canada flights from the US or Canada to London this fall? To get the miles, register online and book between now and December 12 for trips through December 12.

HOTELS

Hilton’s new brand. What exactly is a “lifestyle brand” in the hotel industry? The definition is decidedly vague, but now Hilton is launching one of its own — Canopy Hotels. The company says the properties will provide “simple, guest-directed service, thoughtful local choices, and comfortable spaces, so guests simply feel better going forward.” (Isn’t that what all hotels do?) They’ll start opening in 2015; Hilton has letters of intent for Canopy properties in Portland,. London, Miami, Washington D.C., San Diego, Nashville, Savannah, Indianapolis, Charlotte, Oklahoma City and Ithaca, N.Y.

The aerie atop the new Hyatt Herald Square in NYC (Photo: Hyatt)

The aerie atop the new Hyatt Herald Square in NYC (Photo: Hyatt)

Another new Hyatt in NYC. Just two months after opening its posh Park Hyatt on West 57th Street, Hyatt has cut the ribbon on another new Manhattan property. The 122-room Hyatt Herald Square New York is on West 31st Street between Fifth Avenue and Broadway– a still somewhat gritty area that is now packed with new, primarily “limited service” hotels. This full service Hyatt has three food and beverage outlets including a rooftop cocktail lounge with views of the Midtown skyline.

NOTE: This is Part 2 of this weekend’s Catching up on Travel News with TravelSkills. ICYMI here’s Part 1

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

In Case You Missed It…

>The intersection of America’s obsession with food and travel. 

>Virgin America’s cutting-edge ad agency issued a mind-dulling six-hour online video about a fictional “BLAH Airlines” to show how boring its competitors are.

>Frequent travelers are getting some new perks and facilities at SFO.

>AT&T has a new plan for international calling.

>See Virgin America’s new facilities at Dallas Love Field.

>>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! 

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

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Ebola-mania + First class transcon fares soar? + Southwest: we’re sorry + Sidecar worth a look

Some good common sense advice about Ebola from the World Health Organization

Some good common sense advice about Ebola from the World Health Organization

This is Part 1 of our weekend TravelSkills News Roundup… did you read Part 2? 

All ebola, all the time. The relentless saturation news coverage of ebola may not bother veteran road warriors, but it is having an impact on the general public. In a new Reuters-Ipsos survey, almost half of the 1,577 respondents said they plan to avoid international air travel. Meanwhile, Frontier Airlines keeps re-cleaning that plane — now out of service — that an ebola victim flew on a week ago, and tracking down some 800 passengers who were on that flight or subsequent ones on that aircraft. The Centers for Disease Control issued guidelines to airlines about dealing with sick passengers and cleaning planes. And other parties are taking their own steps, from the Air Canada flight attendants who said they will start wearing plastic gloves in-flight to individual travelers who are donning everything from face masks to homemade hazmat suits. This in spite of the fact that experts say catching ebola on an aircraft is extremely unlikely.

ATL-California first class fares to soar?  Southwest told TravelSkills that the final two-class AirTran flight departs SFO as a redeye to Atlanta on Nov 1, 2014. After that it’s all Southwest-all-the-time with its one class of service for the four-hour flight. With only United and Delta offering first class seats on the route, you can bet those front-of-the-plane fares are going to swell. We’ll keep an eye on it. Right now, you can buy a first class, round trip seat on AirTran, Delta or on SFO-ATL or LAX-ATL for about $1,000-$1,200 round trip. Let’s see how long that lasts post-AirTran. Peering into January, Delta’s first class fares on ATL-SFO are already at about $1,500.

Please join the 80,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!
A Southwest B737 outfitted in a State of California flag livery. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A Southwest B737 outfitted in a State of California flag livery. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

AirTran/Southwest loyalty merger due soon. You don’t hear much about AirTran any more since Southwest has been relentlessly absorbing the routes of its subsidiary into its own system, but a significant date in the merge is coming up soon. On November 2, the two airlines’ frequent flyer programs — Rapid Rewards and A+ Rewards — will be fully combined. Here’s a handy guide to the things members should know about protecting all their program assets. A Southwest spokesperson told TravelSkills that the AirTran brand will be completely gone by December 28th– by that date all operations will be under the Southwest name and not a single AirTran liveried plane will remain in service.

Southwest says ‘We’re sorry.’ In an unusually frank letter to its best customers, Southwest Airlines has admitted it hasn’t been doing so well with on-time performance lately, and pledged to take steps that will improve the situation — from making sure its first flights of the day leave on schedule to lengthening turnaround times. TravelSkills reader DL received the note and sent us this comment via email:  Today I got a letter from Southwest’s “Senior Vice President, Customers.” It was a form letter that described Southwest’s recent troubles with on-time performance, which have stung me for much of 2014 and caused me to consider using other airlines when booking important flights. (I would say that half of my Southwest flights in 2014 were delayed by more than 30 minutes, sometimes by as much as 3 hours.) The letter explained that Southwest was spacing out the time between flights to boost its on-time performance. One wonders whether these new airfare deals [posted earlier this week] are designed to lure back customers who had drifted away. Regardless, I still like the airline and fly them a lot.”

Stay tuned…More important airline news coming TOMORROW in our second installment of Catching up on Travel News with TravelSkills!

 

CARS

Sidecar

The Sidecar app

Ride-finding service wins SFO approval. While larger competitors Uber and Lyft still await an official nod to start operating at San Francisco International Airport, a smaller firm called Sidecar already has one, and will start airport rides within 30 days. Sidecar will pick up and drop off passengers in the departures area, and its drivers will use the cell phone lot to wait for requests. The firm agreed to pay the airport a per-ride fee similar to the ones regular taxis pay. Interesting: Sidecar drivers set their own prices for each ride and will inform you of the total price BEFORE the ride. Currently, Sidecar operates in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Diego, Seattle, Chicago, Charlotte NC, Boston, and Washington, D.C. Have you used Sidecar? Would you use it if it were cheaper than Uber? Please leave your comments below. 

Flightcar in Seattle. Meanwhile, Flightcar (see our recent post: How to park free at the airport) — which lets business travelers rent out their cars to others while they’re away — has started operating at Seattle-Tacoma International; it already does business at SFO, ATL and BOS.

This is Part 1 of our weekend TravelSkills News Roundup… did you read Part 2? 

In Case You Missed It…

>The intersection of America’s obsession with food and travel. 

>Virgin America’s cutting-edge ad agency issued a mind-dulling six-hour online video about a fictional “BLAH Airlines” to show how boring its competitors are.

>Frequent travelers are getting some new perks and facilities at SFO.

>AT&T has a new plan for international calling.

>See Virgin America’s new facilities at Dallas Love Field.

 

>>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! 

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

 


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4 ways foodie culture impacts our trips

This hamburger served on a Delta ATL-SFO flight was really good! What's the best Delta meal you've ever had? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

This hamburger served for lunch in first class on a Delta ATL-SFO flight was really good! What’s the best Delta meal you’ve ever had? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The newly fervent foodie culture has truly defined the last decade, primarily fueled by a big increase in coverage across all media. So it was inevitable that airlines would soon come around to using food experiences as a differentiator.

Following that trend, airlines have jumped on board in an effort to provide a culinary offering that at least attempts to match what travelers enjoy at home. Here are a few of the most recent rollouts of interest to any traveler interested in enhanced culinary experience. Hungry? Then read on.

Pop-ups at 35,000 feet

The popup concept has changed the way we eat by allowing chefs the creative license of a limited run in a temporary space.

There’s nothing more limited than a flight from point A to point B, and SWISS has laid claim to be one of the first airline pop-ups. The airline has hired Michelin-starred Swiss Chef Andreas Caminada, of Schauenstein Schloss, to create a meal for passengers traveling in SWISS first, business and even economy on November 21 from Zurich to New York.

One of Chef Caminada's creations (Photo: SWISS)

One of Chef Caminada’s creations ready for the oven (Photo: SWISS)

The Chef will bring his own crew from his restaurant to cook in the pop-up galley. This means that the kitchen staff will personally serve the one-off creation to the flight’s passengers. Providing this personalized culinary experience can also build demand for a specific routing – for example, a Chef could be brought in each week on one route to serve a temporary pop-up meal to travelers, creating a brand-new route differentiator for foodie-focused airlines.

Would you alter your travel plans to get a popup meal onboard a flight? Leave your comments below!

Delta’s farm-to-tray movement

If there’s one airline that is pursuing a pure path straight into the heart of foodie heaven, it’s Delta. Earlier this year Delta enlisted top Atlanta chef Linton Hopkins (Restaurant Eugene, Holeman & Finch) to deliver on a “farm-to-tray” ecosystem, where each ingredient is sourced in the vicinity of the Atlanta airport from small purveyors.

The idea here is that airline food must also adhere to local, small-batch principles in order to support the surrounding vendors and farms. For flights originating outside of the Atlanta hub, chefs are encouraged to consider the local environment when designing menus.

For the fall, the first class menu on flights from Atlanta to Paris, London-Heathrow, Amsterdam and Frankfurt includes African squash soup, Sunburst Trout Farms smoked trout, and Gulf shrimp with heirloom white grits, among others. Certain flights will feature meals created by Chef Hopkins, while other routes headed south will come from Miami Chef Michelle Bernstein. On domestic flights in first class the fare is not as high falutin’, but still satisfying… like the burger pictured above.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had on Delta? Please let us know in the comments below.

Order your meal to carry onboard in one of these "hampers" from Heathrow (Photo: Gordon Ramsay)

Order your meal to carry onboard in one of these insulated “hampers” from Heathrow (Photo: Gordon Ramsay)

Or…a picnic, perhaps?

London’s Heathrow airport is experimenting with a way to boost business in-terminal by providing passengers an easy way to grab a meal to eat on-board. The initiative provides passengers with a veddy-British-sounding “bespoke hamper,” a non-disposable cooler bag containing a variety of meal items, which can be ordered from all 188 food vendors at the airport.

49 brands are participating in this foodie-forward service, meaning that transiting passengers now grab a wide selection of on-the-go food options. By providing a means to deliver a culinary experience on-board, the airport is slicing business away from on-board retailing and making food taste better.

To promote the new service, Heathrow has built a “pop-up park” in the brand new Terminal 2 (home to Star Alliance carriers) for travelers to sample the meals. So stop by and listen for the sound of birds and a enjoy a full-on faux park experience. :)

Bringing groceries home

In the “now-that’s-a-good-idea” department, some companies are now targeting homecoming travelers with empty fridges. Passengers arriving into Finland’s Helsinki airport can now pre-order groceries online that they pick up at the airport and to take home upon arrival. This ensures that a traveler is able to avoid the dreaded “empty fridge hunger” syndrome that plagues many business travelers, especially singles with no one home to buy the groceries.

Would you like to pick up groceries at the airport? Please leave your comments below!

–Nick Vivion

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

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Virgin America’s designs on Dallas Love (photos)

Virgin America's lounge for first class and elevate Gold members is a partitioned area in adjacent to its ticket counters (Virgin America)

Virgin America’s check in space for first class and elevate Gold members is a partitioned area adjacent to its ticket counters (Virgin America)

On Monday, Virgin America kicked off new flights at Love Field in Dallas and brought along its design sense for ticket counters and gate areas. 

Its new, private first class VIP check-in area is located adjacent to its new Love Field ticket counters, and will give first class passengers and Elevate Gold members a place to chill out while they check in for their flights with the help of a dedicated Virgin America VIP concierge.   

Virgin's first class lounge is located next to it's check in area at Dallas Love, picture here.

Virgin’s first class check in space is located next to it’s check in area at Dallas Love, pictured here. (Virgin America)

Virgin says the space extends its colorful cabin experience into the airport with design elements that include modern furniture pieces selected in collaboration with the Dallas-based design group Corgan – including Cassina Tre Pezzi lounge chairs, an Eames chair and ottoman and Foscaraini “Twiggy” floor lighting.  The check-in area is separated from the rest of the terminal by a billowy, LED-lit divider wall by Molo Design.

Note that the space is located pre-security next to ticket counters, not in the gate area, where it would likely be more useful. A Virgin spokesperson made it clear that this is not a lounge like its Loft at LAX, but instead a “dedicated space for First Class check-in.”  

Virgin America’s new gates also got the “Virgin” treatment, highlighting the carrier’s British roots with a classic red London phone booth and art photography from various moments in Virgin brand history – from Virgin Records to Virgin Galactic. 

Here's another image of Virgin's lounge at Dallas Love

Here’s another image of Virgin’s lounge at Dallas Love (Virgin America)

Interview: The Dallas Morning New offers an excellent interview w Virgin America CEO David Cush about its newest destination

Virgin America has added some Brit-pop touches to its gate area, like a replica of a London hotel booth

Virgin America has added some Brit-pop touches to its gate area, like a replica of a London hotel booth (Virgin America)

Related: A bright spot in LAX’s drab Terminal 3

The red and  white exterior of the modern new terminal at Dallas Love looks as if it was designed with Virgin America in mind...dontcha think?

The red and white exterior of the modern new terminal at Dallas Love looks as if it was designed with Virgin America in mind…don’tcha think? (Image: Virgin America)

-Chris McGinnis

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

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Raft of new perks for elite flyers at SFO

Walking in to United's exclusive new Global Services/First check in lounge at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Looking through the frosted glass at United’s exclusive new Global Services/First check in lounge at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Elite flyers at San Francisco International are in for a few new treats this month.

On Wednesday morning, United opens a new dedicated United Global Services/Global First check in lounge and Premier Check in area in near Door 5 at  Terminal 3. (Other such Global Services lounges are located at Chicago O’Hare and Newark Liberty)

At the same time, American Express is preparing for an early November reveal of its much anticipated Centurion Lounge, located on the mezzanine level at the far west end of Terminal 3 near the International Terminal. (Currently there are Centurion lounges in Dallas, Las Vegas and New York La Guardia airports.)

I took a stroll through Terminal 3 this week and here’s what I saw and heard.

First, starting Wednesday, all United Premier flyers will enter security through a new dedicated check in and security area located near Door 3 at the EASTERN end of Terminal 3. This is also the new PreCheck line. The Premier check in area at the west end of Terminal 3 is now for non-Premier passengers.

Here’s a photo of the new Premier check in area:

United's brand new Premier Check in area in SFO Terminal 3 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

United’s brand new Premier Check in area in SFO Terminal 3 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Now here’s a photo of the new Premier security entry point– note the frosted glass door where Global Services/Global First passengers enter from the corridor and exit into security.

United's new Premier Security line- see the Global Services lounge behind the frosted glass? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

United’s new Premier Security line- see the Global Services lounge behind the frosted glass? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Now, let’s take a 360 degree look at the new United Global Services check in lounge in the video below. This is where Global Services and Global First passengers will enter the security screening area via two sets of frosted glass doors.

First, they enter the lounge where there are five check in podiums flanked my a huge photo of downtown San Francisco, a twinkly chandelier, four mod chairs and a coffee table. They walk in the door, flash their ID and boarding pass, the continue on through another frosted glass door into the front of the line of the security screening area located adjacent to the lounge.

The door is positioned so these passengers will be able to break into the front of either the PreCheck and regular security lines. Now that’s exclusive!

Just behind the Global Services lounge (airside) is a dedicated passageway to the ramp below the terminal where United’s fleet of two brand new 2015 silver Mercedes GL 350 BlueTec SUVs can whisk passengers who are late for their flights. (The new 2015 models in go into service this week.)

New: Sign up for a new credit card and you could get a FREE trip home for the holidays… 

Now let’s move on to the new American Express Centurion Lounge, which has been shrouded in secrecy, but a few details are emerging (most  of which have not been confirmed by American Express).

The AMEX Centurion Lounge is above the T3 security checkpoint behind the glass (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The AMEX Centurion Lounge is above the T3 security checkpoint behind the glass (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>The lounge is located on the mezzanine level above the (now old) Premier Check security lines on the western end of Terminal 3.

>It is expected to open the first week of November.

>Access to the lounge will be airside only, which means that it only makes sense for those departing United’s Terminal 3 or the adjacent Boarding Area G of the International Terminal.

>The lounge is open to American Express Platinum and Centurion card holders. American Express cardholders who do not have Platinum or Centurion cards can get in by paying a $50 fee, and admittance is subject to lounge capacity.

Amex Platinum

These are the only Platinum cards that will get you in the Centurion Lounge door for free. All other AMEX cards must pay a $50 fee.

>Access to the lounge will be via a glass elevator across from gates 74 and 75.

Expect to see a "living wall" like this one in Las Vegas at SFO's new Centurion Lounge (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Expect to see a “living wall” like this one in Las Vegas at SFO’s new Centurion Lounge opening in November(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>The design of the SFO lounge will be similar to the lounge at Las Vegas, with a large “living wall,” rich wood paneling and modern furnishings. There will be a bar as well as different areas for working, socializing, and tranquility. There are restrooms and a shower room.

>Windows on either side of the lounge will look out into Terminal 3, not out onto the tarmac.

>The lounge will provide a hot buffet created by Christopher Kostow, the chef at Michelin Three Starred The Restaurant at Meadowood. 

That’s it for now! Are you one of the lucky ones who will get to enjoy these new perks, or perhaps has enjoyed them at other airports? Please leave your comments below.

-Chris McGinnis

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

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Nationwide fare sale for winter trips

A Southwest Airlines 738 in new livery takes of from Midland, Texas (Photo: Felipe Garcia / Flickr)

A Southwest Airlines 737 in new livery takes of from Midland, Texas (Photo: Felipe Garcia / Flickr)

Today Southwest Airlines kicked off a significant sale for winter trips with some seriously good deals. As usual, we expect other carriers to begin matching this sale later today. (See below for updates.)

Round trip fares for trips in December, January and early February drop to as low as $99 round trip for short haul trips and then increase in four steps: $198, $248, and $298. (Peak holiday season is not included)

If you have winter travel plans, now’s the time to book…this sale lasts only three days: starting today, Tuesday, October 14 and running through Thursday, October 16, 11:59 p.m. for the respective time zone of the originating city.

This sale brings transcon (coast to coast) roundtrip fares below $300 for the first time we’ve seen in a while. For those in the Northeast, fares to Florida are below $200 round trip. Most intra-California roundtrips are $99. Fares from across the country to Denver are nice a cheap if you are interested in a winter ski vacation.

Some examples of the low roundtrip all-in fares on offer:

  • Atlanta- Washington National or New York LGA: $198
  • San Francisco-Atlanta: $298
  • Las Vegas-Oakland/San Francisco/LAX: $99
  • Baltimore/Washington – San Diego: $298
  • Oakland/San Francisco-Denver: $198
  • Chicago/New York: $198
  • Phoenix-Oakland/San Francisco $198
  • Seattle-San Diego: $198

For a full list of these special fares, visit www.southwest.com.

These low fares are good for flights December 3 through December 17, 2014 and then January 6 through February 11. They are good for travel every day of the week except Fridays and Sundays. As usual, there are only a few seats on each flight at the lowest fares. Early bird gets the worm!

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

New: Sign up for a new credit card and you could get a FREE trip home for the holidays… 

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

As usual, other airlines will likely match this Southwest sale, so keep an eye on their websites over the next 24 hours as fares are loaded. We’ll monitor fare matching over the next 48 hours and post results here on TravelSkills.

Updates:

>JetBlue is matching fares for November & December trips only

>United is now matching most of these fares

>American launched a sale good for flights through Mar 6, but fares are not as low

>Delta has matched some of these fares

--Chris McGinnis

Here’s the fine print from Southwest:

Purchase from Oct. 14-16, 201411:59 p.m. for the respective time zone of the originating city. Travel December 3 through December 17, 2014 and January 6 through February 11, 2015. Travel to/from San Juan, Puerto Rico valid Dec. 3-11, 2014 and Jan. 13 through Feb. 11, 2015. Travel valid every day except Fridays and Sundays. Travel to Florida or Nevada is valid Sunday through Wednesday only.  Additionally, travel from Florida or Nevada is valid Tuesday through Fridayonly. Travel between Nevada and Florida is valid on Tuesdays and Wednesdays only. Some flights operated by AirTran® Airways. Fares valid on nonstop service only. Displayed prices include all U.S. and international government taxes and fees. Seats are limited. Fares may vary by destination, flight, and day of week and won’t be available on some flights that operate during very busy travel times and holiday periods. Travel is available for one-way Wanna Get Away Fares. Fares may be combined with other Southwest Airlines combinable fares. If combining with other fares, the most restrictive fare’s rules apply. Sale fares may be available on other days of week, but not guaranteed. Fares are nonrefundable but may be applied toward future travel on Southwest Airlines, so long as you cancel your reservations at least ten minutes prior to the scheduled departure of your flight. Failure to cancel prior to departure will result in forfeiture of remaining funds on the reservation.  Any change in itinerary may result in an increase in fare. Standby travel requires an upgrade to the Anytime Fare. Fares are subject to change until ticketed.  Offer applies to published, scheduled service only.

>>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! 

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

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New AT&T plan for international calling

Increasing competition is bringing international calling and data rates down (Photo: Bjorn Bechstein / Flickr)

Increasing competition is bringing international calling and data rates down (Photo: Bjorn Bechstein / Flickr)

Today AT&T rolled out a new plan for international calling today that should help frequent travelers avoid frustrating phone bill surprises when returning from overseas trips. It could also push other carriers to improve their offerings for international travelers.

What’s unique about AT&T’s new Passport plan is that it is offering three different one-time packages (for $30, $60 and $120) that you can choose instead of its recurring Global Packages– a nice alternative for the occasional international traveler.

The least expensive Passport bundle goes for $30 and with it you get 30 days of unlimited messaging (text, image or video), 120MB of data, and $1 per minute calling in 150 countries. That’s plenty for a most users, but if you are busy uploading photos or sending or watching videos, there are fatter plans: For $60 you get 300MB of data and calls at .50 per minute. And for $120, you get 800MB of data and .35 per minute calls.

You’ll pay for these packages in addition to your monthly AT&T bill and the deal expires after the 30 days are up… it’s not a recurring charge. Just be sure and sign up for a plan BEFORE you take your trip. (Details about Passport plans here)

Chart courtesy AT&T

AT&T’s new Passport bundles (Chart courtesy AT&T)

AT&T likely rolled out this plan to retain customers tempted by T-Mobile’s very popular, inexpensive and aggressively marketed Simple Choice plan, which offers unlimited data and texting and .20/minute calling in 120 countries (vs AT&T’s 150 countries) for $80 a month.  What’s nice about the T-Mobile plan is that you don’t have to “sign up” before each trip… the deal is included in your monthly rate whether or not you are traveling overseas. (Regrettably, T-Mobile’s coverage lags in many parts of the US and much of my home town of San Francisco, which is why I moved away from it two years ago after an 11 year run! But I’m going to give ‘em another try via its new, free “test drive” promo. Stay tuned for results…)

Currently, Verizon offers a $25 global data plan that provides 100MB of data overseas, but doesn’t offer free messaging or discounts on voice calls. Plus you have to sign up for it before each trip. Maybe AT&T’s new offer will push Verizon to offer a more streamlined and lucrative deal to retain its frequent traveling customers. Stay tuned….

What mobile carrier do you use? How would you rate its international coverage– and its pricing for international calls and data? 

>>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! 

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

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

 

 

 


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An update on email frequency – note from Chris

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 3.18.18 PM Hi Folks!

We are through week #1 of the new TravelSkills blog and we hope you like what you see so far!

If you are happy with what you’re seeing and reading, ignore the rest of this note and just click on this link to read our latest post:

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

New Weekly Option:

Several of you have asked for the option to get a weekly update from us (instead of the current daily updates).

If weekly is what you want, we’re here to deliver!

To switch to weekly, just click here to sign up for TravelSkills Weekly. Your frequency will switch to weekly and you’ll get one email from us each Thursday with links to that week’s posts.

Keep in mind you could miss out on time sensitive news and deals by switching to weekly.

Do nothing and you’ll continue to get one TravelSkills Daily email each evening.

As we were working through these technical issues yesterday, we skipped sending out a post, so if you missed it, here’s the link!

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

Thanks again for your patience as we work to make TravelSkills your favorite travel blog!

Best,

Chris chris@travelskills.com

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

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Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts: 

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

Huge hotel mash-up in the works?

Marriott’s 4,000th hotel opens

Unusual collection: Airline amenity kits (photos)

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

5 new business class hotels in Boston

Virgin Atlantic to fly to Atlanta!

4 warning signs of a long hot summer

Which airlines are most generous with miles?

Runway closure at SFO to impact summer travel

 


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Taking off with TravelSkills! A letter from Chris

Chris on The Tube in London (Photo: Johnny Jet)

Chris McGinnis on The Tube in London (Photo: Johnny Jet)

Hi Folks:

If you are reading this it means you’ve safely made the transition to TravelSkills. Thanks for coming along with me on this journey!

Here’s what you need to know about the new blog:

WHO: My voice will continue to dominate everything here on TravelSkills and in our social media streams like Facebook and Twitter, but as before, I’ll use contributors to help keep our content fresh and topped off. (About Me)

WHAT: The TravelSkills blog is written by business travelers for business travelers, featuring news, advice and analysis of trends affecting our trips. We have added some exciting additional features that I think you’ll like such as Wake Up Call, a compendium of the week’s most important business travel news; 5 New Hotels, an update on the newest business class hotels in major cities; and Biz Trip, my latest, greatest BBC business travel guides for about 25 cities around the world.

WHEN: On days that we post new stories, you’ll get an email in the late afternoon or evening with a link to them. For breaking news and tips, I suggest you follow our Facebook and Twitter feeds. Or via a reader using our RSS feed.

WHERE: I’ll frequently cover topics germane to travelers who live in my hometowns of Atlanta and San Francisco. If that’s the only type of information you want, see the ATL and SFO tabs at the top of the page. I’ve built those just for you. Also, speaking of WHERE, we are very excited to announce that TravelSkills becomes part of the popular Boarding Area network of blogs this week!

WHY: I created the TravelSkills blog to be the central source of my business travel content, which has been spread across various blogs, websites, magazines and TV stations over the last 25 years. The new blog will make it easier for you to follow along with what I’m saying, writing or broadcasting. Plus, by focusing on a single outlet, I’ll be able to provide you with better information.

HOW: I love the work I do on the blog, and hope to be compensated for it via advertising and sponsored content. You can help us out by clicking on ads and supporting our sponsors with your business. In the market for a new credit card? Then please get one via our links. Buying a plane ticket? Buy it via our links. You can also help by interacting with our posts via social media: Read a post that you like, then LIKE it on Facebook, share it on Twitter, or post it to your LinkedIn page! Social media stats are a great measure of our success, so please PLEASE interact.

Despite slaving over the new site over the past few weeks, I’m sure that there are still many bugs to fix. If you find something that seems off, or an important link that does not work, or any other weirdness, please email me and we’ll take care of it. (chris@travelskills.com)

Please stick with us through the transition…we are open to suggestions and will be making plenty of changes based on your feedback.

Now, sit back, relax and enjoy the ride!

Sincerely,

Chris McGinnis

Editor/Publisher

PS: While we wait for Facebook to merge our pages, please go ahead and LIKE the TravelSkills Facebook page right now!

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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, Atlanta 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! 

 


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Apologies for server meltdown (resending)

(Credit: Jon Watson)

(Credit: Jon Watson)

Dear Readers: We apologize for a temporary server meltdown on Thursday…. it happened (of course) shortly after we posted the current issue of The TICKET. Thanks for all the kind emails alerting us to the issue!

In case you missed it, here’s the link. 

Enjoy! 

Chris McGinnis

*****

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The Top of The TICKET

The Top of The TICKET is a periodic review, commentary and curation of our recent posts. Come on and hear what folks are saying!

Tip: When flying between ATL and SFO, try to book Delta’s 767 flights like this one departing SF at 7:30 am– much more comfortable and spacious than the cramped 757. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

>First off, welcome back to many of our long lost readers! Over the course of the last year as we switched over to Feedburner, we lost many of you. But using super-duper spreadsheet skills, our techie types recently hauled in many of you who never made the switch. So welcome back to The TICKET! PLEASE tell all your friends and family about it! We need more readers in order to attract more advertisers, which of course keeps The TICKET free for readers.

>Are you signed up for our Facebook page yet? We frequently break news on our Facebook page that eventually makes it into our monthly roundups. So if you want news when it happens, come on and get on our Facebook page. Our most popular recent post showed a photo of USA Today’s new format, which most of our Facebook friends panned. T. Sullivan said, “No, just no!” J Clark said, “Not the USA Today we recognize.” And E Mackle, always at ready with an acerbic comment wrote, “Garbage in, garbage out.” We also got some insightful reader comments about Economy Comfort. So come on, get social with The TICKET on our Facebook Page!

>Our latest Airline/Airport update,Problems w PreCheck, Faster wi-fi, Delta devalues miles, fall season outlook” was a huge draw. On the day it was published, The TICKET nabbed nearly 4,000 views. It was a blockbuster end-of-summer issue with lots of newsy tips, fun photos, a video of your esteemed editor on national news, and some ugly bare feet. More important was the introduction of our newest sponsor, Peachy Airport Parking, which has made a private offer of 500 SkyMiles and three miles per dollar spent to all TICKET readers. If you’ve not had a look at all the bells and whistles you get with Peachy, PLEASE check them out here, print the page and get your SkyMiles!

>Our lead item about problems with PreCheck pulled in the greatest number of comments—mostly complaints—about the “random” nature of the speedier security lines. M. Daugherty wrote: “I have Global Entry, Nexus, and pre-flight. I am Diamond and a four million miler. Nevertheless I have cleared through precheck only twice out of the last SIXTEEN flights. I hate that ‘too bad so sad’ look on the face of the TSA person.” B Grossman wrote: “When the Pre-Check program was initiated in Atlanta, I was clearing it roughly 80% of my flights during the first month. Since then, I have not been cleared a single time and I have flown more than 45 flights.” But G Schultz said, “I am also enrolled in the Global Entry program and am Diamond (only a 1 million miler, though!). I’ve gotten the TSA pre-check lane almost every time I’ve gone out in the past year. The only time I haven’t been given the pre-check lane was as I was leaving for an international flight.” Do you read comments? Sometimes, some of our best tips come from readers, so please join in!

>We also posted a photo of some feet curled around the video screen on the bulkhead row of a Delta 767. C Walker said, “The feet on the bulkhead position has always bothered me, whether those feet are clothed in shoes, the ubiquitous flip flops, socks, sandals, stockings or just bare. I often wonder if those people who do this disgusting act in public also put their feet on the walls of their homes?”

>Do you follow TICKET editor Chris McGinnis on Twitter? Every day I sift through all the business travel news out there and tweet items that I think would interest my readers most. The tweet that got the most attention this week—I guess you could call it my “Tweet of the Week” Did you know: “The TSA now allows travelers aged 75+ to pass through airport security screening with jackets and shoes on.” Another more recent tweet about a job available with Delta: “Interesting job posting from Delta for “Senior Project Manager-SkyMiles http://bit.ly/Sang6P.” Come on! Follow me!

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The best of The BAT

Oooo-la-la! What a view from the bathtub in the penthouse suite at the new Shangri-La, Paris– which goes for $23,000 per night. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Hello BATmen and BATwomen! Here’s a round up of our top posts for August…and a selection of our favorite comments. Enjoy your Labor Day!

SFO gets United Boeing 787 Dreamliner after all

>>This was by far our most popular post this month– with nearly 10K views!

Overreaction to United’s network outage?

COMMENT>>I think passengers and the media DO tend to over react in these situations. It’s become a sport to complain about the airlines, the IRS, and a few other industries. I travel A LOT with United and overall I’ve been happy and satisfied. The problem they have now is that the merger HAS created a lot of problems so every little problem gets amplified when it happens.

United reveals routes for new Boeing 787 Dreamliner

COMMENT>>Lets not forget, the 787 is made for long thin routes to secondary cities. The only route I could see the 787 on from SFO is the upcoming SFO-CDG route. All other routes to Asia/S.Pacific/Europe require the 744/777. SFO, unlike SJC, can fill the larger aircraft.

United revamps popular PS flights to New York

COMMENT>>Now, as a Silver Premier, I’ll have to buy up to EP. United has made ther message loud and clear to their “middle class” frequent travellers ( people who fly between 25k to 49k per year), “we just don’t care about you anymore, now that we have absorbed Continental’s upper tier members). After 13 years of golden handcuffs with United I now try to avoid them at all costs.Virgin American is by far a better experience – on any of ther flights.

Another Airbus A380 arriving at SFO

COMMENT>>It’s a bummer they will only have the A380 for three months! Too bad they do not have the non-stop service to Singapore like the one flying from LAX (without stopping in Hongkong)

Whenever I flew to Asia, I only want to fly either SQ or Cathay, even when redeeming my United Mileage. Flew with United once, will never do that again. SQ and Cathay both set your standard pretty high (and I am only flying coach), they make United and other American and European airlines look like they do not know how to run an airline service (from aircraft/technology/luggage limitation/customer service/in-flight service/meals). Why is so hard for the american carriers’ flight attendants not to utter swear words while on duty or just to smile and be polite?

Two exotic new hotels in Paris (Slideshow)

COMMENT>>The George V is still my spot . . . although I will stop into the Shangri La to check it out. The W rooms are too small.

Apple vs Visa vs United Olympic ads: Who wins?

COMMENT>>

Bronze – Apple. I just didn’t see the tie in to the Olympics
Silver – United. Can’t stand the Polo logo, but that’s not their fault. I’m also glad that Rhapsody in Blue as background music survived the merger.
Gold – Visa for creatively illustrating how hard our athletes work to get there!

London hotel rates crash, flights half full…

>>Hate to say we told you so, be our predictions were right on about this one! Most travel suppliers in London made squat during the Olympics. But what a great games, anyway!

 

*****

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Welcome new readers! If this information was helpful to you, please subscribe to TravelSkills via e-mail– and tell your friends about it, too!

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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.
*****

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Welcome new readers! If this information was helpful to you, please subscribe to TravelSkills via e-mail– and tell your friends about it, too!

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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:


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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!


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How new AirTran – Southwest point conversion will affect you

Current Southwest Airlines Route Map

Today Southwest Airlines announced that members of AirTran A+ Rewards and Southwest Rapid Rewards can now transfer points between the two programs.

Key points to remember:

>Members of both programs now have access to a total of 97 destinations in the two airlines’ combined networks. (See above for all Southwest destinations. Click here for AirTran route map.)

>The two programs remain separate for now—today’s announcement is about point conversion between the two programs. It’s not about a merger of the two programs. Eventually, the AirTran program will disappear, but Southwest would not commit to any specific date for this. (Last we heard, AirTran will be around until at least 2015!)

>In order for the conversion to work, you’ve got to be a member of Southwest Rapid Rewards—if you’ve not joined yet, here’s how.

>Southwest says that the new conversion site is similar to online banking sites where users can transfer money between multiple accounts online and in real time.

>Unfortunately, transferring AirTran points to the Southwest program won’t extend their life. Southwest says, “When transferring A+ Rewards Credits into Rapid Rewards Credits, the expiration date of the newly created Rapid Rewards credits will remain the same as the original expiration date of the A+ Rewards Credits converted.”

>Points transfers will not count toward elite status in either program. Points or credits earned by qualifying flight or partner activity will count toward elite status in the program in which they were earned.

>While Southwest would not reveal specific membership numbers, it’s safe to say that the Rapid Rewards membership base is exponentially larger than AirTran’s. All those Southwest Rapid Rewards members will (for the first time ever) be able to redeem points for international flights—meaning AirTran flights to Mexico and the Caribbean. With that in mind, AirTran members with plans to redeem A+ points for trips to these destinations should act fast—there is going to be a run on award flights by the zillions of members of Rapid Rewards, and the award seats are capacity controlled.

>Along the same lines as the above blurb, the zillions of Southwest Rapid Rewards members will now have access to those nice AirTran business class seats using their converted points for upgrades or awards…so it’s going to get tougher to sit up front on the dwindling number of AirTran business class seats out there…

>The points conversion site will live on Southwest.com—AirTran members will find links to the new conversion site from the AirTran.com A+ Rewards page.

>One A+ Rewards credit will convert into one Southwest Rewards credit, which means it will take 16 AirTran A+ Reward credits to equal one standard roundtrip award on Southwest.

>In the Southwest program, once your account reaches 16 credits, one standard roundtrip award credit is automatically generated, which expires in one year. So if you transfer 16 A+ Rewards into Southwest credits, a standard roundtrip award is automatically generated, which is valid for one year. (Note: Southwest’s Standard Award can be split into two in order to use for two separate one-way flights.  But you cannot generate a one-way award with only eight credits, as you can now do on AirTran.)

Got questions? Comments? Please leave them below and we’ll do our best to get them answered!  


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TASTE of The TICKET: Alpine Bakery &Trattoria

Alpine Bakery & Trattoria

12315 Crabapple Road

Alpharetta, GA 30004

770-410-9883

www.alpinebakeryandtrattoria.com

I never thought I’d say this, but Alpine Bakery & Trattoria is the kind of restaurant that makes you hope for at least a short wait for your table because it is impossible not to be immediately drawn to the bakery upon entering. You simply cannot ignore the huge selection of sweets that are presented so beautifully in perfectly lit display cases on the right side of the space. It’s the perfect way to kill time and trust me, you will want to get a head start on the dessert decision and find out how much room you should save for sweets. I had to be dragged away when it was time to be seated. Luckily, my dining companion and I were escorted to a plush booth that made leaving the bakery less painful.

We sat down and were immediately greeted by a friendly server who helped guide us toward a glass of sparkling wine to start off our meal. As we sipped our Gruet Blanc de Blanc ($10/glass, $20/half bottle), he guided us through the expansive menu. We decided to split the house antipasto platter ($15) as our appetizer. The plate of meats, cheeses, olives, tomatoes and a white bean spread is great for sharing and is more than enough for two people. And with a bakery adjacent to the restaurant, you can count on good bread.

After finishing our glasses of Gruet, we began perusing the rest of the wine list and I was really impressed with the selections. I noticed so many of my favorites on the list, ranging from pinot noirs to Italian blends to malbecs, that I had a hard time choosing. We settled on the 2008 Belle Glos “Clark & Telephone” Pinot Noir ($60/bottle), which was very smooth with bright red fruit flavors.

For my entrée, I ordered the linguini with clam sauce ($17) and my friend ordered the chicken piccata ($16). The linguini was beautifully presented and chock full of Little Neck clams. Anthony, the restaurant’s manager, later told us that it was one of his favorites and also a very popular dish among patrons. My friend’s moist chicken was topped with capers and a lemon, butter and white wine sauce served with asparagus and a risotto cake on the side. The sauce was light and provided just enough flavor, and I couldn’t stop stealing nibbles of the crunchy risotto cake. It added a nice hearty element to an otherwise lighter dish.

I had plenty of linguini and clams to take home with me for lunch the next day, but after my pre-dinner peek at the bakery, we both managed to find room in our stomachs to sample dessert. Choosing from the massive selection of sweets is no easy task, but we finally decided on a slice of the Million Dollar Cake ($6.95/slice) and the baklava ($4.25 for a jumbo piece). As the name implies, the Million Dollar Cake certainly has enough to go around. It’s comprised of three thick layers – flourless chocolate cake on the bottom, NY cheesecake in the middle and rich chocolate mousse on the top. It is the ideal way to indulge, especially if you have a hard time deciding what will cure your sweet tooth.

The baklava was equally impressive in both size and flavor. The flaky layers balance out the honey and nut filling so it’s not cloyingly sweet, and according to Anthony, it’s the addition of pistachios that makes this one so good. The bakery also makes sfogliatelli, an Italian pastry that I grew up on and have a very hard time finding in Georgia. Alpine is a place where you really feel at home, even if you aren’t Italian.

 


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SFO gets new nonstops to Washington DC Reagan National Airport

Reagan Washington National Airport is so close to DC that you can see the city's monuments from runways. (Photo: MWAA)

Starting May 14, United Airlines will (finally) offer nonstop Boeing 737-700 flights between San Francisco (SFO) and the close-in, convenient Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).

Since Washington National is slot controlled, United is only able offer a single daily flight departing SFO at 12:30 pm and arriving Washington at 8:45 pm. On the return, the flight will depart DC at 8:00 am and arrive at SFO at 11:10am.

Because the service is still subject to government approval, a United Airlines spokesperson declined to offer more details until the flights are loaded in its reservation system and for sale.

For those with business in downtown DC, the new flight will eliminate the lengthy, frustrating 45-60 minute ride from Dulles International into the city. Currently, United and Virgin America fly nonstop between SFO and Dulles.

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is located across the Potomac from the Capitol, and the drive into the city takes about 15 minutes—by cab or by the convenient METRO rail system with a stop inside the airport.

SFO is finally getting these flights as a result of new FAA legislation signed into law by President Obama on February 14. The legislation grants a total of 16 exemptions to old “perimeter rules” that forbid nonstops into Reagan National from airports located more than 1,250 miles away.

Eight of those slots will be awarded to legacy carriers such as United, Delta, US Airways or American—and another eight will be awarded to new entrant carriers such as SF-based Virgin America. However, Virgin America has confirmed that the low-fare carrier must apply for the right to offer nonstops between SFO and DCA – as there is a different process for legacy airlines versus smaller carriers.

“As the only airline headquartered in San Francisco, it is absolutely our hope to serve SFO-DCA since the Bay Area has essentially been shut out of nonstop DCA service until now. Any move to increase service is a good thing for consumers and we hope that we will be able to bring low-fare competition to the route—when more airlines compete, consumers win,” said Virgin America spokesperson Abby Lunardini.

Will you fly into Reagan National instead of Washington-Dulles? What are your thoughts on this new option? Please leave your comments below.


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TICKET readers: Who knew this about you?

(Photo: FatMandy / Flickr)

Dear TICKET Readers:

Happy New Year and thanks very much for taking the time to respond to our recent survey, which revealed some interesting traits when it comes to you and your travel habits.

Thanks also for all the unsolicited kudos that came through in your comments… Awww shucks…. we were surprised and heartened by all the warm fuzzies. Thank you.

When we decided to create this survey, we thought we’d be lucky to get 100 responses… but a whopping 620 of you took the time to participate, which means we spent hours happily pouring through and tabulating all the responses.

Here’s a round up of the results:

How long have you been reading The TICKET?

Whoa! Check out the number of loyal readers who’ve stuck with us over the eons. Many of you harkened back to the days in the 90’s when subscribers happily paid $39 a year for a monthly newsletter sent via US Mail!

  • 48% have been reading for one to five years (we appreciate the biz!)
  • 40% have stuck with us for more than five years! (Gee tanks, folks!)
  • 12% discovered The TICKET less than one year ago (welcome, newbies!)

Who decides which travel suppliers you use?

TICKET readers are clearly an independent group—83% said that they decide for themselves which suppliers to use while just 10% said that their boss or corporate travel department told them what to do. Many also said that their buying decisions are frequently influenced by ads and editorial in The TICKET.

How much do you fly?

The big surprise here was that 17% of you take more than four round trips per month—or 40 trips per year. That’s a lot of time on a plane! The average TICKET reader takes around two trips per month, or 24 in a year.

Where do you sleep?

Two thirds of TICKET readers spend the night at hotels between one and six nights per month. But get this, nearly 20% spend more than 10 nights per month in hotels—that’s 120 nights per year!

What type of metallic status do you have?

Nearly everyone said that they hold medallion status on Delta– no surprise there!

  • 23% are platinum
  • 21% are gold
  • 17% are long suffering silvers
  • 15% are diamonds (and get all the upgrades!)

Some of our long time readers are now retired, which means that 23% no longer have any status at all—or they spread their biz around among several carriers.

Where do you cheat on The TICKET?

TICKET readers are a well-read bunch, but when they don’t get what they want from us, they most often turn to: Joe Brancatelli, Chris Elliott, The Points Guy, FlyerTalk, Milepoint, USA Today, AJC and Clark Howard.

Do you fly much over water?

Two-thirds of TICKET readers jet off to international destinations one to three times per year. 11% go overseas four to six times per year and 5% go beyond borders seven or more times per year. 26% stick closer to home with no international hops.

No surprise here: TICKET readers are big spenders!

  • 33% shell out between $20,000 and $50,000 per year on travel
  • 14% spend between $50,000 and $100,000 per year
  • 6% spend more than $100K per year

Another interesting stat: TICKET readers collectively spent nearly $60,000 year last year on Delta tickets purchased via links from the site. THANK YOU!

TICKET readers’ households are very comfortable financially.

  • 18% earn between $100,000 and $150,000 per year
  • 17% earn more than $250,000 per year
  • 14% earn from $150,000 to $200,000 per year
  • 9% earn between $200,000 and $250,000 per year

You all are also very discreet—26% chose not to disclose their annual household income—which leads us to believe that there are many more in the top income brackets.

How old are you?

We knew that many of our readers were “mature” but we were surprised how few of them are very young—only 1% are less than 30 years old.

  • 32% are from 30-50
  • 31% are from 51-60
  • 27% range from 61-70
  • 5% are older than 70

Any suggestions on how we can pull in some of those young bucks?

Are you a media socialite?

When it comes to social media, TICKET readers are mixed—about 40% of you are very active, checking in on Facebook, Twitter or Linked In once or more per day, and another 40% check in a few times per month. But a surprisingly large contingent—23%– say that they never check in on social media sites. (If you are not following us on Twitter or Facebook, COME ON and join the fun. By following us, you are likely to get more money saving travel news faster…)

Do you have any more feedback, comments or suggestions for about The TICKET? Any ideas on potential advertisers or other sources of funding? Please leave your comments below, or email Chris!

*******

>>>Have you signed up for The TICKET via Feedburner yet? If not, do it right now! Email in the pink box to the right, please!>>>

HELP US HELP YOU!  Fwd our URL to friends or share The TICKET via social networking! Tell all your friends to sign up for The TICKET.


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TASTE of The TICKET: Sugo

Sugo

408 South Atlanta Street

Roswell, GA 30075

770.641.9131

www.sugorestaurant.com

After years of living in Atlanta and dining out in the city, I’m discovering what a pleasant change it can be to drive out of my comfort zone and explore restaurants outside of the perimeter. On a Friday night, my friend and I decided to do just that and made a reservation at Sugo in Roswell. A little background on Sugo – it’s a part of the Castellucci Hospitality Group of restaurants, which includes Double Zero Napoletana in Sandy Springs and The Iberian Pig in Decatur.

When we arrived for our 8 p.m. seating, the restaurant was full of couples having intimate dinners as well as groups celebrating special occasions. The dining room was dimly lit creating a cozy atmosphere in the open space. Sugo seemed to be a popular place to celebrate milestone events that night, and I suspect one particular employee may have something to do with that. While candles are waiting to be blown out, a member of the kitchen serenades lucky guests with his impressive operatic version of “Happy Birthday” or “Happy Anniversary.”

To start off our dinner, we each chose a glass of wine. I had a glass of the Frescobaldi Castiglioni Chianti Sangiovese ($9) after hearing it was the owner’s favorite. My guest ordered the Oberon Cabernet Sauvignon ($12). The wine list was extensive and I appreciated the various price ranges offered, “Easy & Enjoyable,” “No Expense Account Required” and “The Good Stuff.”

Sugo’s menu is a mix of Greek and Italian food. For starters, we chose the baked stuffed calamari ($6) and the Parma flatbread ($14). The calamari was stuffed with sautéed onions, spinach and artisan cheeses in a tomato basil sauce. This was definitely not the fried calamari I’m used to seeing at restaurants. The cheese and tomato sauce were the stars of the dish, and it almost made me forget I was eating squid. The Parma flatbread was topped with prosciutto, provolone, asparagus, roasted red peppers, poached egg and black truffles, which had a fresh taste. It’s important to note that it’s a Sardinian flatbread, which is thin and more cracker than bread. I enjoyed the flatbread a little more than my dining partner who was expecting a pizza-like flatbread.

Any slight disappointment my companion might have experienced with the flatbread disappeared completely during our entrée course. I ordered the Capesante ($28), a scallop dish served atop fresh basil pasta, tomato, red pepper pesto and grilled asparagus. While my diver scallops were cooked perfectly, I have to say my fork kept hovering over my friend’s Pork Shank Milanese ($25). The pork shank was our server’s recommendation and we both did a double-take when she brought it to the table. The menu describes it as a slow braised pound of pork shank, but even our server had to admit that was a definite underestimation. The shank looked like it would have been right at home with the Flintstones in Bedrock. Also worthy of a mention was the rich and creamy parsnip puree that accompanied the shank.

While we could have stopped there and gone home dessert-less, we decided to challenge our waistbands and sample the Spartan Cheesecake ($7) and the Zucchini Cake ($7). The Spartan Cheesecake was the ultimate fusion of Greek and Italian with a baklava crust filled with Italian crème cheesecake. I had no complaints about the delicious Zucchini Cake either, which was similar to a carrot cake.

 


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The TICKET reader 2-minute survey. Please help!

Dear TICKET readers:

As the year draws to a close, we’d like to thank you for your support and attention!  The TICKET has been getting bigger and better all year, adding helpful new content and also bringing on a load of new readers.

Looking into 2012, it’s time for us to approach potential advertisers. As you know, The TICKET is supported by advertisers, and we need to be able to show them just who TICKET readers are.

The link below will take you to a very brief online survey about you and your travel habits. It’s just 12 quick questions that you can answer with the click of  your mouse. It should take no more than two minutes to complete.

PLEASE help us by participating in this survey. The more readers that respond, the better the data we’ll get to present to potential advertisers.

Important: This is an anonymous survey… the information you provide is not associated with your name. It will not be used for anything other than to create a report on our reader demographics– which we are happy to share with you upon request.

Thanks again for your time and your support. Happy holidays!

Click here to access the reader survey

Sincerely,

Chris McGinnis, editor and publisher, The TICKET

PS: This survey will close at the end of the day, Weds, Dec 14.

 


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Taste of The TICKET: Briza

Calamari Salad at Briza in Midtown

Briza Restaurant

866 West Peachtree Street NW (inside the Renaissance Midtown Hotel)

Atlanta, Georgia 30308

678-412-2402

www.brizarestaurant.com

I had wanted to visit Briza for a while, and as a huge Top Chef fan, as soon as I heard the executive chef (Janine Falvo) was going to be on the show I knew the time had come to finally check it out.  I brought along my sister and we made our way to Briza on a particularly dreary Tuesday evening.  It was cold and rainy, but the minute we ducked inside out of the rain we felt warm and cozy.  The rich colors and soft glow of the overhead silver globes set a very cool and chic mood and I was immediately excited for the meal ahead!  All the seats feel tucked away, like you’re in your own little nook.  We were seated in a circular booth, which despite being in the center of the restaurant, felt very private and exclusive.

We decided the atmosphere called for drinks, and we started browsing the drink menu.  I settled on the Passion Royale with prosecco, grand mariner, and passion fruit ($12) and my sister went with the Nectar Margarita ($11) featuring cuervo traditional reposado tequila, fresh lime, and agave nectar.  Our drinks quickly arrived and after our first sips, the strong (but not overpowering) drinks were exactly what we needed to start warming up on that cold night. [Read more…]


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Taste of the TICKET: Chicken & the Egg (Marietta)

Chicken and the Egg

800 Whitlock Avenue
Marietta, GA 30064
678-388-8813 – www.chickandtheegg.com

Being from a small town, I know that the “farm to table” culture that has permeated the urban areas is only just beginning to trickle down to the entire population.   Now that trickle down is evident in the embrace of local food culture at Marietta’s newest restaurant Chicken and the Egg, just a quick skip up the interstate from Atlanta.

Having dined before at Chef and Owner Marc Taft’s previous restaurant Pacci, I was really intrigued to hear he was starting a farmstead style spot in his own neighborhood.  I met up with a friend recently and we ventured out to get a taste. [Read more…]


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Using American Express points on Virgin America

Good news for folks with big stashes of American Express Membership Rewards who like to fly Virgin America: You can now convert Membership Rewards points into Virgin Elevate points to redeem online for any unsold seat on any Virgin flight, without blackouts or restrictions. Bad news is the conversion rate: 200 Membership Rewards points convert to just 100 Elevate points. 

Virgin’s Elevate program is based on a “points per dollar” system, so the number of points needed to redeem for award travel vary based on price and seat availability. Virgin provided the following example in its news release:  “…a flyer booking a roundtrip ticket from New York to L.A. with Virgin America at a cost of about $320, could redeem that flight for 15,399 Elevate points, equivalent to 30,798 Membership Rewards points, which is comparable to other airline programs that would require up to 50,000 miles.”

To be fair, I should point out that most other airline programs offer domestic award roundtrips for as few as 25,000 miles– but it’s getting increasingly difficult to find awards at that level.

Nonetheless, the new partnership is getting panned by bloggers who cover the points and miles game:

The Points Guy posted:

“…unfortunately the ratio is 100 Elevate = 200 Amex, so a disappointing 2:1 ratio. This is not a great deal because Elevate is a fixed value loyalty program, which mean you can redeem points for any flight and they are worth between 1.6 and 2.1 cents each towards airfare. So if you transfer Amex to Virgin America, you are valuing your Amex points at .8 and 1.05 cents a piece, which is very low. I conservatively value mine at 2 cents a piece and you can purchase points directly from Amex for 2.5 cents.”

Wandering Aramean said:

“The only slightly reasonable explanation for why one would transfer AmEx points into Elevate at these rates is if you’ve got almost enough for a reasonably high-value award already and you just need to top off the account. Otherwise it is quite a bad deal.”

However, Virgin America’s Patricia Condon begs to differ:

“We actually think this is a very rich reward program – given that Elevate points provide a much higher value than miles on a typical legacy airline program.  You aren’t comparing apples to apples – as Elevate rewards apply in every cabin and fare class – with no blackout dates or restrictions.  The value of our points are consistently worth twice as much (and sometimes more) than many legacy frequent flyer programs, given the reality of legacy airline redemption restrictions.” She also provided the following chart to help explain:

So what do you think, folks? Would you convert your Amex points into Virgin Elevate points…or not?


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Taste of the TICKET: Double Zero Napoletana

Insalate di Mare

Double Zero Napoletana (Sandy Springs)

5825 Roswell Road

Atlanta, GA 30328

404.991.3666

www.doublezeroatl.com

Located in Sandy Springs, Double Zero Napoletana is a hop, skip and jump from Interstate 285 on Roswell Road. The restaurant offers complimentary valet service and limited self-parking spots near the front.

An out-of-town guest joined me for a midweek meal and we were welcomed by the sight of the pastry display and bar as we made our way through the dining area. The dining room was substantial but divided into three sections by warm, earth toned curtains. The curtains created a much more intimate atmosphere and also helped to dampen the sound of the room.

Once seated, we were greeted by our server who was kind enough to provide us with beverage recommendations and the cocktail of the week. I started my evening with a Barrel Aged Negroni ($15) and my guest had the highlighted cocktail of the week, Moscow Mule ($10). While not a connoisseur of cocktails, I did not leave one drop of the barrel aged cocktail could be found after I was done. Variations of classic cocktails are also offered, such as the Whiskey Old Fashioned ($9). Wine and beer lovers will enjoy the substantial selections, including Double Zero’s 100 plus list of Italian wines and one of the most comprehensive Italian microbrew selections too.

We began with a pair of antipasti dishes, Pork Belly Polenta ($12) and Mozzarella al Forno ($10, $5 more for buffalo mozzarella).  The crispy pork belly countered the smooth, creamy texture of the polenta and was a highlight for my guest and me. The tomato sauce of the mozzarella al forno had us coming back with more of the grilled rustic bread for dipping. The mozzarella seemed to get lost in the flavors of the tomato sauce at times, but I would easily order the dish again.

Our next step in our Italian journey started when I ordered the Double Zero Napoletana ($16) as my entrée. The featured pizza and namesake of the restaurant refers to the type of flour, Double Zero, used to make Neapolitan pizza. The highlight of the pizza was the freshness and flavors in its ingredients: arugula, garlic, mozzarella di bufala campana DOP and prosciutto di Parma. Because the portion is large enough to be shared by two, the crust of my last slices became moist due to how long it took me to finish. By the time I was on these last slices, my guest had already finished her Rapini e Salsicce ($16). She confirmed that the egg fettuccine dish was filling and tasty with its assortment of Italian sausage, broccoli rapini and Calabrian chiles.

The memory of the pastry bar as we walked into the restaurant revisited us when our server asked us if we saved room for dessert.  As stuffed as we were, we went with the caveat of “When in Rome.” My guest ordered the Pesche ($8) and I went with the light and refreshing Strawberry Balsamic Sorbet ($4 medium, $6 large). The pesche’s presentation was worthy of photography and the poached peaches, chiffon cake and basil gelato were fit for Julius Caesar himself.

Relatively new to Sandy Springs, Double Zero Napoletana’s tastes and flavors brought an experience of what dining in southern Italy could be. The warmth and ambience will keep you coming back, but the food and cocktails will make you feel like you’re on vacation in Italy.

 


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Taste of The TICKET: No. 246 (Decatur)

(Once every month or so, The TICKET provides a review of a new or noteworthy Atlanta restaurant that should be of interest to local or visiting business travelers. Enjoy!)

An Old Pal at No. 246

No. 246

129 E Ponce de Leon Avenue

Decatur, GA 30030

678-399-8246

www.no246.com

I’ve been waiting for No. 246 to open for what seems like ages, and when it finally did (earlier this month), I was more than eager to check it out.  The restaurant doesn’t take reservations so my dining companion and I decided to have a late dinner with the hopes of missing the crowds.

Upon arrival, we opted for a couple seats at the bar so we could get a clear view of the talented Lara Creasy preparing the Italian inspired cocktails we had heard so much about.  I’ve always loved the cocktails that Lara creates at JCT Kitchen and had high hopes for the beverage menu here.  It certainly did not disappoint. I have found my new favorite drink for summer – the Aperol Spritz ($8), which contains Aperol, Prosecco, soda water and blood orange bitters and is topped with an orange slice and pink peppercorn.  It’s light and refreshing and even looks like summer with its bright pink shade. I see many more of these in my future over the next few hot months.  My dinner guest, being a big fan of whiskey, ordered the Old Pal ($8) with Old Overholt Rye, Campari and Punt E Mes and enjoyed it as well.

We started with the Woodland Gardens little gem lettuce salad with radish, blue vinaigrette and olive oil breadcrumbs ($8), and the No. 246 meatball with San Marzano, basil and parmesan ($5). The salad was beautifully presented with colorful watermelon radishes – it matched my drink! – and the olive oil breadcrumbs gave it a delicate crunch that I really enjoyed.  I’m not much of a meatball eater but this one was the best I’ve ever had (and that counts my Italian grandmother’s famous meatballs).  My dinner companion actually ended up ordering another one to go with his entrée, that’s how good it was. [Read more…]


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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!


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Finding Delta's true lie-flat seats

 

Delta's true lie-flat seat on 767-400

Delta clocked another milestone in progress toward a fleet of truly lie-flat business class seating this week.

It completed the installation on ALL its 777 aircraft and ALL its 767-400 aircraft. The last of 18 Boeing 777 aircraft, each with 45 BusinessElite seats per plane, and all 21 Boeing 767-400ER aircraft with 40 BusinessElite seats per plane have been retrofitted with full flat-bed seats. Each seat includes direct aisle access.

Currently, 25 percent of Delta’s international fleet has true lie flat (versus the old-school cradle or the “fake” lie-flat– those that do go flat, but at an uncomfortable angle.) Delta says that its entire widebody international fleet of more than 140 aircraft will be flying with true lie-flat seats in BusinessElite by the end of 2013

Despite the progress, it’s still tough to know for sure if you are buying a true lie-flat seat on Delta. (See the popular TICKET post about this from last year: 31 flavors of Business Elite)

So, now, when booking, you know you are buying a true lie-flat seat if you see that your aircraft will be a Boeing 777 or a Boeing 767-400.

Look for this icon when booking on Delta.com

This icon means you’ll get a cradle seat: 

Delta’s web site says true lie-seats are currently available on the following routes: Dubai, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, London, Tokyo, and Sydney.

Delta tells The TICKET that you’ll also get true lie-flat on ALL Delta flights (from ATL or elsewhere) to London-Heathrow. From Atlanta, they are on ALL flights to Munich and Frankfurt. They are also on Detroit-Frankfurt and JFK-Milan flights.

Have you paid the big bucks for a seat up front on a transoceanic flight lately? Did you get TRUE lie-flat or fake lie flat? Would you move to another carrier in order to get a true lie-flat seat? Please leave your comments below.


 

 

 


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Fall Travel Sales Begin– Act Fast

(Photo: Flickr / Telstar

If steep fares are keeping you grounded this summer, there’s relief in sight.

Southwest Airlines kicked off a big sale for fall travel with fares significantly lower than what we are paying this summer. If you have firm plans to travel this fall, TravelSkills recommends that you take advantage of this sale.

Systemwide fares are based on mileage and priced at $40, $80 or $120 each way.

Sample fares for travel between August 23 through November 16 from SFO or OAK. (Fridays and Sundays and Labor Day–Sept 1-5–  are blacked out.)

> LA, San Diego, So Cal: $40 each way; $80 round trip

>Denver or Phoenix: $80 each way; $160 round trip

>Chicago-Midway: $120 each way; $240 round trip

What’s most interesting about this sale is that it includes Southwest’s new subsidiary, AirTran.

>Nonstop SFO to Atlanta or Milwaukee, and then beyond: $120 each way; $240 round trip (That’s dirt cheap for east coast flights!)

If these fares sound good to you (and they should!) you must act fast: The sale is only good between now and 11:59 pm Thursday.

Although they have not formally announced a sale matching Southwest yet, when searching for fares on Virgin America or United, you will find those that match Southwest’s (in markets where they compete nonstop.)

Please forward this link to your friends and tell them to sign up for TravelSkills! www.travelskills.com


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TASTE of the TICKET: Fado Irish Pub & Restaurant

Fadó Irish Pub & Restaurant
273 Buckhead Avenue
Atlanta, GA 30305
404-841-0066
www.fadoirishpub.com/atlanta

There are few places more comforting than an Irish pub. You instantly pick up on the neighborhood vibe, happy voices carry enthusiastically through the room and the beer is flowing… what more could you want?  There’s not much better place to while away a little time with a good friend, a pint and some hot food.

I met up with a friend recently for a late dinner to catch up and we decided to venture out to Fadó in Buckhead.  We made our way to the restaurant, which is tucked away on a side street, and walked into a lively scene of diners enjoying themselves in the shadows created from the beautiful, cascading woodwork and billowing flags in the pub.

Since it wouldn’t be right to start out without a pint, I chose a Guinness to begin and my friend ordered a glass of Kilkenny Cream Ale.  We perused the dinner menu and decided to start with the Corned Beef Rolls ($7.95).  I grew up eating (and mostly enjoying) corned beef and cabbage, but this was a step above the time-honored Irish favorite.  In this appetizer version, the corned beef and cabbage find themselves wrapped neatly in small rolls of a traditional boxty (or potato pancake) and topped with a cabbage slaw.  This was our favorite dish of the night; a modern twist on an old classic. [Read more…]


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So long QANTAS. Last SFO flight departs Saturday

QANTAS 747-400 parked at SFO. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

QANTAS 747-400 parked at SFO. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

QANTAS will depart San Francisco International for Sydney for the last time tomorrow night, Saturday May 7. The flight departs at 11:10 pm.

QANTAS is moving the daily nonstop flight to Dallas/Ft Worth where it has close ties with Oneworld partner, American Airlines.

With QANTAS out of the SFO-SYD market, only United will offer nonstops on the route. One stop options from SFO include Air New Zealand via Auckland, or QANTAS via Los Angeles. I’m wondering if perhaps the newly named Virgin Australia may consider adding nonstops from Sydney to connect with SFO-based Virgin America. Stay tuned for more on that…

I’ll sure miss seeing that graceful kangaroo on the big red tail of the QANTAS 747 parked at SFO’s international terminal.

For email updates from TravelSkills subscribe here!

SFO officials are sad to see it go, too. “We are sorry to see them go and we would warmly welcome back QANTAS in the future,” said airport spokesperson Mike McCarron.

I’ve been unable to get QANTAS officials in Los Angeles to make any sort of statement about its departure. SFO says that no formal farewell is planned.

So I guess the big Aussie bird will go quietly into the night tomorrow. A sad sight indeed.

How do YOU feel about QANTAS’ departure? Please leave your comments below!


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US, others ease Japan travel restrictions

Cherry blossoms at night. Photo from my trip to Tokyo this time last year. (Chris McGinnis)

Cherry blossoms at night. Photo from my trip to Tokyo this time last year. (Chris McGinnis)

While the situation in northern Japan is still facing numerous challenges, life in the rest of Japan is returning to normal faster than most would have expected.

As a result, the U.S. State Department and other countries’ foreign offices are adjusting previous advice to defer all trips to Japan, according to BBC.com/travel

For example, as of this morning, the US State Department advises citizens to defer non-essential trips to Tokyo and defer all travel to the evacuation zone around Fukushima. But it’s given the green light to travel elsewhere in Japan.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE ON BBC.COM HERE

Don’t Forget! BOOK ALL YOUR ONLINE TRAVEL VIA LINKS FROM THE TICKET! It helps us help you!

Just click here:

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KEEP SCROLLING DOWN>>>>>to the next post!


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US, others ease Japan travel restrictions

Cherry blossoms at night. Photo from my trip to Tokyo this time last year. (Chris McGinnis)

Cherry blossoms at night. Photo from my trip to Tokyo this time last year. (Chris McGinnis)

While the situation in northern Japan is still facing numerous challenges, life in the rest of Japan is returning to normal faster than most would have expected.

As a result, the U.S. State Department and other countries’ foreign offices are adjusting previous advice to defer all trips to Japan, according to BBC.com/travel

For example, as of this morning, the US State Department advises citizens to defer non-essential trips to Tokyo and defer all travel to the evacuation zone around Fukushima. But it’s given the green light to travel elsewhere in Japan.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE ON BBC.COM HERE


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TASTE of The TICKET: The 57TH Fighter Group

The 57TH Fighter Group Restaurant
3829 Clairmont Road (@Peachtree-DeKalb Airport)
Atlanta, GA, 30341
Phone: 770-234-0057
www.the57threstaurant.com

I didn’t really know what to expect when we arrived for dinner at The 57th Fighter Group Restaurant.  I had definitely heard a lot about the restaurant’s unique location and history over the years, but wondered if it would still be the same after its renovation in 2009.

The 57th Fighter Group Restaurant is known for its WWII aviation-themed atmosphere, and that is quite clear as soon as you arrive.  Army jeeps greet you as you pull down the restaurant’s driveway and the theme continues with an actual airplane located just outside the front door.  As we walked in, the incredible history behind the 57th Fighter Group immediately hit us.  Old photos and antique memorabilia lined the walls while 1940’s jazz music played throughout the space.

After taking in all of the design details, we were thrilled when our hostess led us to our table in front of one of the large windows with an incredible view of the Atlanta DeKalb-Peachtree Airport.  The sun had just set and the lights and sounds of the airport were taking the place of all dinner conversation.  Our server first gave us an insightful rundown on the restaurant’s renovation and new menu items and then took our orders. [Read more…]


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Chris on The BEEB! Your TICKET editor on BBC.com

Dear TICKET readers:

I’m very pleased and proud to report that I’m now the business travel columnist for BBC.com/travel! Sorry if our TICKET posts have thinned out a bit recently, but the Brits are calling! The gig started earlier this month, and here are a few posts for your perusal:

Is upscale business travel back?

The state of business travel to Japan

Moving closer to Cuba

Please do me a favor and read them! Also, sign up for BBC.com/travel’s Twitter feeds and Facebook fan pages.

And of course, let me know what you think! I’ll be periodically posting links to our content on The TICKET.

Cheerio!

Chris McGinnis, editor/publisher, The TICKET

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KEEP SCROLLING DOWN>>>>>to the next post!


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Passport ownership in the U.S. (infographic)

At 38% Georgia is slightly below average in passport ownership, NJ is #1 at 68%; MS lowest at 20% (Credit: http://blog.cgpgrey.com/)

WE’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU! What do you think about The TICKET? What’s great or not so great about this issue? What else should we be doing to make it better? Email your comments to us or leave them below. WE LIVE FOR FEEDBACK! So come on! Let us know.

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New medallion credentials in the mail (Photos)

New SkyMiles Medallion credentials on on their way to you this month.

Buffi Planas, Delta’s Marketing Communications manager in charge of SkyMiles credentials, provided The TICKET with a few interesting nuggets about this year’s tags:

>The envelope that your credentials are mailed in is clear, and the package is less bulky, using more recycled paper than before.

>The design of the credential package reflects Delta’s new black and white “Keep Climbing” campaign.

>All Diamond Medallion packs were stuffed by hand (!) and mailed out this week. Silver, Gold and Platinum packages are on a staggered schedule over the next two weeks.

>Like before, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond cards are plastic. What’s new this year is that they are one solid color: Platinum is all charcoal, Gold is all gold and Silver is all silver. (See below)

>The Diamond luggage tag and lanyard are made out of sturdy, clanky aluminum (not plastic) this year.  (More clank = More recognition, right?) Note: The Diamond Medallion wallet card is plastic, the luggage tag is aluminum.

Thanks to TICKET readers for sending along photos of their new Delta SkyMiles Diamond Medallion credentials for 2011. See photo of the Diamond card and mock ups of Silver, Gold and Platinum below. Have you received yours yet? If you’ve got new Silver, Gold or Platinum credentials, send us a photo and we’ll post it here! . (email to: ticketatl@travelskills.com )

Delta's new Diamond Medallion tags mailed Feb 2011. The card and lanyard are both metal; noisy, but tough.

Back of the Diamond Medallion tag. Note the classy raised lettering.

Note the "2" Million Miler notation

Thanks to TICKET reader Dan for sending this in!

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Taste of The TICKET: Fleming's Prime Steakhouse

Chocolate Lava Cake (order 30 mins ahead!)

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse (Dunwoody)

4501 Olde Perimeter Way

Atlanta, GA 30346

770.698.8112

www.flemingssteakhouse.com

Located in Dunwoody, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar is a stone’s throw from Perimeter Mall. Upon our arrival, we found that Fleming’s offers complimentary valet in addition to ample parking in the surrounding center.

It was a Sunday night when my guest and I dined at Fleming’s, and the restaurant was filled with laughter and conversations. We were greeted with soft lighting and dark woods throughout the restaurant as we were being seated. I started the evening with a glass of the 12-year-old Glenlivet Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($15) and my guest had the Beringer White Zinfandel ($6.50/glass).  Although I was in the mood for scotch, I did notice the restaurant does offer a large and varied wine list that can be bought by the glass or bottle.

After the drinks arrived, we were ready to put in our orders for the meal.  We started with the thinly sliced tenderloin carpaccio ($13.50) which came with a caper Creole mustard sauce and was more than ample for two.  I ordered one of Fleming’s new classics, the porcini rubbed filet mignon ($37.95), as my entrée and it came with asparagus spears and a Gorgonzola cream sauce.  The steak was tender and came out precisely as I ordered. The Gorgonzola cream sauce also complemented the steak well.  My guest ordered the petite filet mignon ($35.95), which is an eight-ounce cut. The main filet mignon ($38.95), a twelve-ounce cut, is also available if you are a bit more carnivorous. [Read more…]


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Watch Oprah get fired up about Australia (video)

As I sit here in the damp cold of San Francisco, watching Oprah roar on the sunny steps of the Sydney Opera House makes me want to jump on a jet to summertime in Sydney.

I imagine plenty of other Americans feel the same way, so get ready for a big bump in trips between here and the land down under over the next year. Online news sources report that Australian tourism officials paid Oprah $4-$5 million to come to Australia. Oprah’s company, Harpo Productions says that it will spend nearly $7 million on transportation and production of a series of shows.

“Let me just tell you — this is the truth: It is immeasurable what four hours of a love festival about your country, broadcast in 145 countries around the world, can do,” she said in a AFP article, referring to her legendary selling power.”Aren’t you glad I liked it?”

Average round trip fares from SFO to Sydney usually hover around $1200-$1500 round trip. During promotional periods, or during the Australian winter, you can frequently find fares that dip below $1000. Business class runs $6000-$8000 round trip.


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TASTE of The TICKET: Davio's (Phipps Plaza)

Davios' Maine Lobster Ravioli with Sweet Peas and Corn Purée

Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse

Phipps Plaza

3500 Peachtree Road, NE

Atlanta, GA 30326

Phone: 404-844-4810

www.davios.com

Although Davio’s is located at Phipps Plaza, nothing about this place feels like a restaurant you would normally find in a mall.  The décor is sophisticated, the service is attentive and, as I would soon discover, the food is nice alternative to the less appealing food court selections that we’re normally forced to settle for when shopping or seeing a movie at Phipps.

Davio’s occupies a large space (formerly Nike Town) and has many different seating options, so after giving us the choice of where to sit, the friendly hostess seated my dining companion and I at a booth in the bar area that felt surprisingly intimate.  While we mulled over the menu, we ordered glasses of Aia Vecchia Lagone Toscana ($14/glass) and our server brought us a fresh bread basket with a dish of spreads and olives.  It’s hard to not fill up on these, but believe me, you’ll want to save room for the dishes that follow.

[Read more…]


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Taste of The TICKET: Ray's Killer Creek, Alpharetta

Ray’s Killer Creek

1700 Mansell Rd

Alpharetta, GA 30004

770.649.0064

www.raysrestaurants.com

Friday night is date night in our household and this past Friday was no exception.  Since the most recent season of “Top Chef,” I have been curious to check out Atlanta cheftestant Tracey Bloom’s cooking.  The recent news that she took over the kitchen of Ray’s at Killer Creek was enough to push us OTP for an evening of wining and dining.

The drive from Midtown to Alpharetta barely took us 30 minutes and gave us just enough time to work up an appetite for fine dining.  The restaurant itself was beautiful and we could see right away that the service was going to be top-notch.  The friendly greeting from the manager and server’s formal uniform and friendly manner were a perfect start to the night.

[Read more…]


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Starbucks VIA contest winners

Early this fall, we put out a call to creative TICKET readers asking them to submit short snippets, poems or haikus about travel situations in which they wished they had a nice hot cuppa Starbucks VIA coffee. (Starbucks is sponsor of The TICKET.)

Wow! Y’all are a creative bunch! Especially when it comes to caffeine. We sent the 40 entries up to Seattle for judging by Starbucks executives and  are proud to present the winners below! Congratulations! Winners have received a month’s supply of Starbucks VIA Ready Brew coffee for their efforts.

>With coffee-infused romance in mind, TICKET reader Shirley wrote: “In October I will be traveling to North Carolina (Cashiers to be exact) to stay for a week at a condo in the mountains. I can think of no greater pleasure than to have Starbucks coffee when I wake up in the mornings or before a fire at night. Please consider me as a candidate for the Starbucks product which I am sure will live up to the other products I have used before. I am 75 years old and will be traveling with my friend, Bill, whom I have known for 70 years however we were both married to other people (recently died). Seems like a romantic thing to do– have a Starbucks coffee by the fireplace.”

>Reader RG went on a poetic roll, submitting four haikus. (We tried to write up a few of these ourselves, and it’s not easy!) Great effort, RG!

1>
I’m in such a rush.
Oh, this security line.
I need my VIA!

2>
Always on the go,
I really need my VIA.
It’s my sustenance.

3>
Always on the go,
I really need my VIA.
It keeps me going.

4>
My mind’s on coffee,
Waiting in security.
Gotta be VIA

>TICKET reader MJB makes a good marketing point here…that VIA comes in de-caf, too. “My job takes me to all areas in the southeast, but my home office is in Wisconsin, so I go there a couple of times a year. I only drink decaf coffee. I have found that the VIA packets are PERFECT for me when I travel. Recently though I was in a situation where I didn’t have a VIA packet…I was at my home office in Wisconsin and everyone was having their morning jolt of coffee; I went searching for my VIA packet and didn’t have one! I would have paid BIG BUCKS for one of those tiny little packets that day!  After writing this e-mail and thinking back to that morning/day, I am going to get up from desk right now and go and fix myself a decaf VIA cup of coffee!”

Thanks, folks!

Okay, now it’s back to sipping on a mug of the newest version of Starbucks VIA– Christmas Blend!

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Business travel out of the doldrums (finally!)

After a couple years in the doldrums, business travelers are anticipating an increase in corporate travel for 2011 according to a new survey from Deloitte.

Some key findings:

>MORE TRIPS: By the end of 2011, 80 percent of business travelers surveyed predict they will take more or the same number of business trips than they did in 2010.

>MORE SPENDING: 79 percent said that they will also spend more or the same amount on business travel in 2011.

>CUTTING BACK: Nearly all respondents said that they monitored business travel expenses more closely this past year by: shortening trips, reducing spending on food/restaurants, or choosing less expensive hotels.

>TIGHTER REINS: 59 percent said that their companies are more strictly enforcing travel guidelines such as getting pre-trip approvals and setting dollar spending limits for hotels.

>KEY AMENITIES: Four out of five respondents felt that high-speed Internet (79 percent) and free parking (77 percent) were the most important amenities to them when staying at a hotel for business.

What about you? Have you sensed a loosening of the purse strings at your company? Do you think you’ll be traveling and spending more next year? Please leave your comments below.

* The September survey polled a nationally representative sample of 1,001 business travelers and has a margin of error of +/- three percentage points.

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Business travel coming out of the doldrums (finally!)

After a couple years in the doldrums, business travelers are anticipating an increase in corporate travel for 2011 according to a new survey from Deloitte.

Some key findings:

>MORE TRIPS: By the end of 2011, 80 percent of business travelers surveyed predict they will take more or the same number of business trips than they did in 2010.

>MORE SPENDING: 79 percent said that they will also spend more or the same amount on business travel in 2011.

(Want to be the first to know? The subscribe via email to my important travel updates!)

>CUTTING BACK: Nearly all respondents said that they monitored business travel expenses more closely this past year by: shortening trips, reducing spending on food/restaurants, or choosing less expensive hotels.

>TIGHTER REINS: 59 percent said that their companies are more strictly enforcing travel guidelines such as getting pre-trip approvals and setting dollar spending limits for hotels.

>KEY AMENITIES: Four out of five respondents felt that high-speed Internet (79 percent) and free parking (77 percent) were the most important amenities to them when staying at a hotel for business.

What about you? Have you sensed a loosening of the purse strings at your company? Do you think you’ll be traveling and spending more next year? Please leave your comments below.

* The September survey polled a nationally representative sample of 1,001 business travelers and has a margin of error of +/- three percentage points.


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Good question: Help redeeming SkyMiles for next summer

Eiffel Tower (Photo: Leucippus / Flickr)

QUESTION:

Dear Chris: Susan and I are planning to take an anniversary trip (30th) to Europe next summer.  How soon (or late) should we book our air travel to get the best deals using points?  Are there any Delta airports or destinations that are traditionally easier / less expensive to get to?  Any other tips?  Any websites that help with these choices? We have been thinking either Ireland, Benelux, or Italy and are comfortable arriving one airport and leaving another (i.e. Rome/Milan or Amsterdam/Suttgart). Thanks for your help! –Bob

ANSWER:

Hey Bob: Congrats on 30 years! I’d go ahead and look now… usually it’s best to look about 330 days out, and then again about 2-3 months out (that’s when the airlines decide whether or not to put up some extra seats that they don’t expect to sell.)

Best bets would be to smaller, less traveled airports….Stuttgart, Manchester and Brussels should be good choices. London, Paris, Rome, Milan or anywhere in Italy are extremely tight. Also, consider making a stop in NYC if you can’t find nonstops from ATL.

Expect to be disappointed….Delta’s putting VERY few seats up at the lowest award level any more….especially for summer trips to Europe when it’s peak season. If you can go before or after peak summer season (roughly June 15-August 15) you might get lucky.

Finally, don’t rely on what you see online. It’s always best to call and ask a Delta rep to help. You only have to pay the fee if they find and book the award seats you want….which might be worth it!

Hope that helps!

Chris

Does anyone else out there in TICKET-land have some advice for Bob? If so, leave your comments below. What’s been your experience trying to redeem SkyMiles for trips to Europe?

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Get social with The TICKET

BREAKING 5 pm EDT: President Obama says that explosives were found in air cargo bound for the U.S. If you are traveling this weekend or into next week expect heightened attention around security screening– and the possibility of longer security lines. Give yourself a wider time cushion when it comes to leaving for the airport!

Hey Folks:

As you know, we crank out an email alert to remind you to check in with The TICKET once or twice a month.

But did you know that we are constantly updating the blog throughout the month? We are also posting important news and tips via our Facebook and Twitter pages nearly every day. (For example, we’ve been busy tweeting new details about Southwest+AirTran as they emerge…)

Eventually, all those blurbs end up in The TICKET each month.

But if you’d like to get your travel news when it happens, or just check in on what we are reading or thinking when it comes to the big wide world of travel, please sign up, like, follow or friend us on Facebook and Twitter!

Ready? Just click here:

The TICKET Twitter page

The TICKET Facebook page

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Use your cell phone as your room key

How many times have you flown across the country, then rushed from the airport to your hotel only to find a long line and lengthy wait just to check in? (Seems to happen to me almost every time I go to Las Vegas…)

Two Holiday Inn hotels are now testing technology from a company called Openways that allows guests to bypass the front desk entirely, proceed straight to their rooms, and unlock the door using their cell phones. That’s pretty cool.

Here’s how it works: You make a hotel reservation by phone or online and provide your cell phone number. On the day you are scheduled to arrive, the hotel sends a message to your phone, including your room number. When you arrive at the hotel, you go directly to the door of your room and call a special toll free number. When it answers, it recognizes and validates your phone number, and responds with a tone. When you hear the tone, you place your phone over the door lock, and voila! Open sesame! It opens. (See video above, or go to IHG’s Innovation Center blog)

Beta tests started last month at two hotels, The Holiday Inn & Suites Chicago O’Hare Rosemont and The Holiday Inn Express Houston Downtown Convention Center. Based on the results of these tests, the service could roll out among other hotel brands under the IHG umbrella, which include InterContinental, Indigo and Crowne Plaza hotels, among others.

So what do you think? Would you be comfortable using a cell phone as a room key? Please leave your comments below.

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Taste of the Ticket: Deadwood Saloon

Located at 12th St & Crescent in Midtown

Deadwood Saloon
66 12th Street NE
Atlanta, Georgia 30309
404-671-4290

Atlanta is known for its gorgeous and calm fall nights.  Recently, a friend and I sought out a relaxing patio where we could enjoy a couple of beers, soak up the fall breeze and occasionally check in on our favorite sports team’s score on one of the big screens inside.  After hearing about recently opened Deadwood Saloon in Midtown, we decided to check it out.

We parked in the free lot across the street and walked up to something more akin to a big Southern house than a bar or restaurant.    Walking inside, we wound our way through the Western-themed interior up to the balcony patio, where you can sneak a glimpse of the Midtown skyline through the trees, or just peek on the diners below. [Read more…]


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AAdvantage miles on BA’s SFO-London flights

BA 747 at SFO (Photo: AngeloAngelo / Flickr)

We inquired with American Airlines’ spokesperson Tim Smith about new opportunities for Bay Area travelers to earn AAdvantage miles on British Airways flights to London as a result of the new British Airways+American Airlines+Iberia alliance. Here’s what he said:

Previous to the joint business with AA-BA-IB being launched, our AAdvantage members would not have earned miles on a British Airways flight between SFO and London.  We did not codeshare on those flights so there was no provision to earn miles.

Now, under our joint business relationship, all three airlines’ flights between North America and Europe are now linked by that agreement, so our AAdvantage members will earn miles regardless of which airline – American, British Airways or Iberia — is actually flying their flight.

So, since it is 5,368 miles from SFO to London-Heathrow, a round trip in the coach cabin would earn the AAdvantage member 10,736 miles. Round trip in the business cabin would earn 13,420 miles (Business cabin earns 125 percent of the base miles).

POSTED ON OCT 11>> MORE DETAILS!

REDEMPTION:

·         AAdvantage members may redeem miles for travel on all BA flights, including trans-Atlantic flights between the U.S. and the U.K.

·         AAdvantage members may redeem their miles for an upgrade on AA, BA or IB, including on Codeshare flights both marketed and operated by AA, BA or IB

EARNING:

  • All BA flights, including trans-Atlantic flights between the U.S. and the U.K., are eligible for AAdvantage mileage accrual
  • British Airways flights flown in discount economy class will earn 100% of base miles flown
  • These miles count as Elite Qualifying miles
  • AAdvantage Executive Platinum members and AAdvantage Platinum members will earn elite status bonus miles for BA flights (Note – AAdvantage Gold members will not earn elite status bonus miles on BA.)

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You were right about South Africa

Table Mountain, Cape Town

The “Table Cloth” rests atop Cape Town’s Table Mountain

South African Nick Penny and I were friends from the time we met during a college semester in Boston in 1980 until he died tragically in 1992. He was quite a renaissance man: rugby player,

Flying over Ceres in the Cape Mountains

Rhodes scholar, art collector, economist and adventurer. Near the end of his life, he walked away from a big Wall Street job and became an economic adviser to the Zulu tribe.

Back then before e-mail, we’d write letters and cards in which he’d frequently regale me with tales of Cape Town, his hometown, and invite me down for a grand tour. Sadly, I was never able to take him up on his offer.

In 1992 I sent Nick a Christmas card. A few months later, I received a letter back… not from him, but from his father, telling me that Nick had died in some sort of ice or rock climbing accident in the nearby Cape Mountains the previous winter. His body was never recovered.

Last month, I went to South Africa for the first time in my life. Since Nick and I were frequent letter writers, it’s in his honor that I created this post (and video) in the form of a letter to him.

Dear Nick:

I finally made it to Cape Town– nearly 20 years late, and without you there as my guide. Nonetheless, it was a fantastic, albeit short, first glimpse. I’m sure to be back for more.

A few months ago I jumped at the chance when an invitation from Taj Hotels & Resorts arrived asking me to attend the grand opening of its newest hotel, the Taj Cape Town. Taj is part of a giant Indian company called the Tata Group… Since you passed away, India has emerged as a new global economic power and Tata is one of the largest companies there. It’s recently built lots of new hotels or snapped up existing ones like the posh Pierre Hotel in New York City and the Campton Place here in San Francisco. So since I’m now deep in the travel business, I was eager to see what it had going on in South Africa.

Much has changed in South Africa since you died. Apartheid is appropriately resting in the dustbin of history. Nelson Mandela was president for four years in the 90’s and is now a revered elder called “Madiba” which I learned means something like “Papa.” This year South Africa successfully hosted the World Cup and mesmerized the world, which provided a huge boost to its tourism industry. You’ve now got a Zulu president named Jacob Zuma who is mired in personal and political controversy. The gap between the haves and have-nots is still wide, but I was told it’s narrowing and a black middle class is emerging. The AIDS pandemic is taking a huge toll with the HIV infection rate at about 20 percent. Nonetheless, I detected a lot of openness, optimism, pride and camaraderie among all the South Africans I met.

Cape Town Airport (Chris McGinnis)

Cape Town Airport (Chris McGinnis)

First off, Cape Town Airport’s big bright and airy new main terminal, which opened up just in time for the World Cup, is world class. Customs was a breeze and I got a nice zing when the officer hit my passport with a South African stamp!

Since Tata owns both Taj Hotels and Jaguar/Land Rover, (yes, an Indian company bought those British automotive icons) the hotel had a shiny black Range Rover waiting at the curb for our group of travel industry folks for the 20-minute ride to the hotel.

The Taj Cape Town hotel

The Taj Cape Town hotel

The 17-story Taj Hotel now rises out of what you probably remember as the Reserve Bank building, across the street from the Houses of Parliament. What’s unique is that it’s in the middle of town, perfect for business travelers, and not out with the big name hotels on the kitschy waterfront, an area that reminded me a lot of San Francisco’s kitschy waterfront that we call Fisherman’s Wharf.

Downtown Cape Town has really gone through a renaissance– there’s an outdoor pedestrian mall through the heart of the city. The city center is reportedly not near as dangerous as it was when you were alive. Gentrification is rampant. But we were still warned to be careful walking around at night and to travel in groups, never alone– similar to what I’d tell a Capetonian visiting San Francisco!

Anyway, we arrived at the hotel at about 10 p.m. I showered and crashed for a good nine hours. My room was beautiful and nearly brand new. Big marble bathroom, king bed, huge soaking tub and a giant window between the bathroom and the bedroom. I was tempted to take a contemplative soak in the tub and look out at the African winter sky, but never got a chance. There was WAY too much to do.

On the next day my friend and CBS’s travel editor Peter Greenberg had arranged a helicopter tour and asked me to tag along. How could I refuse?

It was a picture perfect day for a helicopter ride. Generally speaking, what I saw from the sky reminded me a lot of what I see everyday in northern California: rocky and sandy beaches, arid hills dotted with eucalyptus groves, vineyards and urban clusters.

The fog had just pulled back and was gently sitting atop Table Mountain. (I remember you telling me that locals call this “the tablecloth.”) We flew south along the coast and over beachy Camps Bay and the 12 Apostles, and then all the way down and around Cape of Good Hope– that treacherous place where I’d always heard the Atlantic and Indian Oceans met– where the ghosts of the Flying Dutchmen reside. But in a total buzz-kill, the pilot said that the true southernmost point of Africa lies a bit further to the east at Cape Agulhas. In any case, the Cape looked gorgeously treacherous from the sky that day. (Be sure to check out the video I made of the trip for some awesome aerial shots!)

A lunch of kudu at Catharina’s

On the way back to Cape Town, we touched down for lunch at a very nice restaurant called Catharina’s at the Steenburg Hotel. I ordered a wonderful dish made with the tenderloin of a Kudu, which our host said was a common elk-like wild game animal. Yum!

You’ll love this: During lunch, I sat next to a friendly fellow named Andy Cluver, who runs CivAir, the aviation outfit providing our helicopter tour. Out of the blue, I asked him if he ever knew of you– because as I recall, you were a pretty famous member of a pretty famous Cape Town family. He first looked at me sort of puzzled and said, “You knew Nick Penny?” And I told him about us being in school together and how I’d learned you died. He leaned toward me and said, “You’re not going to believe this, but Dr. Penny, Nick’s father, hired my company to search for him when he was lost. You know we never found him.”

I got a chill hearing that, but grinned to myself knowing that your memory was alive and well in Cape Town.

So here are some more high points of my trip:

First off, the swank party the Taj threw for its grand opening was impressive. 300 guests got a red carpet welcome, a ribbon cutting, tuxedoes and gowns, gallons of champagne, celebs, speeches, musical combos, and ice sculptures. (Again, take a look at the video for a few glimpses of the glamor!) President Zuma was rumored to be on the guest list, but never showed up. Presumably this was because it might look bad for him to make an appearance at such a tony event when the country was gripped by a civil service strike at the time.

The next day, slightly hung over, a group of us drove down to the Cape of Good Hope where we scrambled all over the rocky, windy paths leading down to the icy blue ocean. We stopped along the way to view ostriches, penguins, and Cape baboons– an exotic site for a van full of foreigners– but our guide told us that they are feisty troublemakers, unloved, unwanted and fenced out by locals. (Regrettably, I did not get the chance to go north on safari to see the really big game animals… I’ll do that next time.)

That’s me down near the tip of Africa

Our guide that day was a talkative and engaging Afrikaner, so I had to ask him about a salacious Afrikaans slang word you taught me way back when that I’ve always remembered: soutpiel. You explained that it literally meant “salt penis” and was considered a derogatory term for a South African who spent too much time in the U.K. or U.S. with “one foot in Africa, the other in America or England, leaving the penis dangling in the Atlantic.” When I mentioned the word, the guide’s eyes just about popped out of his head, but we were immediately bonded for the rest of the day.

If you were still around, I’m sure you’d be amazed at the level of sophistication in the food and wine scene in South Africa. About all I remember you telling me about African food was the braai– the South African equivalent of a good old American back yard barbeque. Of course that’s still a big part of the culture, but these days there’s so much more!

For example, one day we headed north to Franschhoek in the Cape Winelands region. First stop: the gorgeous Graham-Beck Estate. Here we got a taste of its fine Brut NV, which cellar master Pieter Ferreira said was served at the election night celebrations of both Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama. Check out my video for a snippet of the full sensory experience Ferreira set up for us to taste his sparkling wines. Very impressive.

The lovely grounds at Le Quartier Francais in Franschhoek

After that, we continued on to lunch at a small hotel and restaurant called Le Quartier Francais– one of the most beautiful settings for a small hotel I’ve ever seen (also included in the video). Here we had a multicourse meal made with local ingredients– each dish introduced and explained by the chef. The restaurant menu included items I’d never seen or tasted like impala tenderloin, coffee-roasted warthog, Mozambican prawns or Namibian oysters all seasoned with indigenous herbs and spices. What a menu and what a meal!

I dozed all the way back to Cape Town, packed up and then flew back to San Francisco the next day. Way to early, but I had to get back.

Nick, there’s so much more I want to write about, but this letter is getting way too long. Even though you were not there in person, I know that somehow, in some way, you were there in spirit and guided me along on one of the best trips of my life, and for that I thank you.

Cheers,

Chris

P.S. Below is that famous video I’ve been tempting you to watch throughout this tome of a letter. Enjoy!

NOTES:

FTC Disclosure: Chris McGinnis was a guest of Taj Hotels, Resorts, & Palaces


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Use your cell phone as your hotel room key

How many times have you flown across the country, then rushed from the airport to your hotel only to find a long line and lengthy wait just to check in? (Seems to happen to me almost every time I go to Las Vegas…)

Two Holiday Inn hotels are now testing technology from a company called Openways that allows guests to bypass the front desk entirely, proceed straight to their rooms, and unlock the door using their cell phones. That’s pretty cool.

Here’s how it works: You make a hotel reservation by phone or online and provide your cell phone number. On the day you are scheduled to arrive, the hotel sends a message to your phone, including your room number. When you arrive at the hotel, you go directly to the door of your room and call a special toll free number. When it answers, it recognizes and validates your phone number, and responds with a tone. When you hear the tone, you place your phone over the door lock, and voila! Open sesame! It opens. (See video above, or go to IHG’s Innovation Center blog)

Beta tests started last month at two hotels, The Holiday Inn & Suites Chicago O’Hare Rosemont and The Holiday Inn Express Houston Downtown Convention Center. Based on the results of these tests, the service could roll out among other hotel brands under the IHG umbrella, which include InterContinental, Indigo and Crowne Plaza hotels, among others.

So what do you think? Would you be comfortable using a cell phone as a room key? Please leave your comments below.


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Scary times remembered: TICKET alerts from 9/11

The World Trade Center, pre 9/11 (photo: WallyG / Flickr)

Below are a series of NewsBite alerts we sent out on the morning of Sept 11, 2001. I get chills just reading them.

<< **NewsBite from: THE TICKET Newsletter**>>

>DATE: Tuesday, September 11, 2001, 10:00 am

FROM: ticketatl@travelskills.com

RE: Terrorist Attack Halts ALL Air Travel

Dear TICKET Readers:

Due to the alleged terrorist attacks, including hijackings, in New York City and Washington this morning, the FAA has suspended ALL FLIGHTS at ALL AIRPORTS across the country, according to CNN.

If you have travel plans today, expect lengthy delays, cancellations, and other interruptions.

>DATE: Tuesday, September 11, 2001, 12:00 noon

FROM: ticketatl@travelskills.com

RE: Delta Reports All Planes Safe and Accounted For

[Read more…]


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British Airways giving away 250 roundtrips

I knew that headline would grab you!

This fall, British Airways is giving away 250 round trip tickets from New York to anywhere in the world it flies.

How do YOU get one? First, you must be an entrepreneur or small business owner eager to expand your business overseas. And you have to submit a short essay or video explaining how that free ticket would aid in your expansion.

That’s it!

If your video or essay is chosen by BA, you’ll get a free trip from New York to London, where you’ll meet up with the 250 other winners for a one-day networking event with a variety of venture capitalists, small business experts and media. From London, you’ll fly to any destination in the world where BA flies, and then back to New York. (Details here)

Last year, BA ran a similar program and I was lucky enough to be there at Kennedy Airport in New York when the first batch of entrepreneurial essayists boarded a 747 bound for London and beyond.

I’ve been writing about business travel for almost 20 years and I have to say that I’d never experienced anything quite like this. (See Video)

First off, when I arrived at Kennedy Airport on the morning of our departure, I was expecting a small reception and an unsold seat on one of BA’s regularly scheduled flights.

I forgot that the Brits rarely do anything in a small way. I walked in BA’s Terraces Lounge and found a huge, catered breakfast reception with none other than London’s towheaded mayor, Boris Johnson.

The lounge was full of about 200 bright-eyed entrepreneurs grabbing some nosh, and checking each other out. Most were still clearly in a state of disbelief that they really won this thing and that they’d soon be boarding a London-bound jet, free.

Out the lounge window was a Boeing 747-400 charter flight ready to whisk us across the pond. Airport authorities allowed a few of us to venture out on the tarmac to view the big bird that had been painted with the words “Face-to-Face.”

Seats were assigned by lottery– I was hoping for a nice big first class cocoon, but I ended up with a seat in the World Traveler Plus section…what most other airlines call premium economy.

That seat turned out to be just fine for this unusually social flight. I was smack in the middle of the plane, which was a perfect position for observing the whole festive scene. Everyone was up and about talking, networking, checking out the various cabins (there were no restrictions on where you could go on this flight) and enjoying the free-flowing champagne.

On most international flights, nearly every business traveler has tunnel vision and big barriers up. Conversation and conviviality are rare. This was the complete opposite. Every entrepreneur on this flight had a great story to tell about their business, where they were going and why. Plus, they were all eager to learn everyone else’s story. (Even the flight crew was amazed at the mood of this flight– See video)

I felt right at home and fit in nicely with this crowd, because I run a successful small business too, writing and consulting about the travel industry.

Our daylight flight departed New York at 10 a.m. and arrived at Heathrow’s enormous, new Terminal 5 at about 10 p.m. We sped through immigration, and then walked to the brand new Sofitel, attached to the terminal by a skyway. There our rooms as well as a champagne and canapé reception awaited. By this time, entrepreneurial camaraderie was at its peak, and everyone had found new friends and contacts and business cards were flying like confetti.

The next day, BA had a breakfast and motivational morning program set up for our group, with presentations by colorful British entrepreneurs and BA CEO Willie Walsh among others. (See Video for snippets.)

After that, most had to hustle back to their rooms to pack up and catch their connecting flights to their face-to-face meetings in Shanghai, Rome, Sydney, Nigeria, Ireland, and Germany… really all over the world. (See video for an interview with two of the lucky winners who were taking off for Sydney, Australia to clinch a deal for their very special new paint.)

There must be hundreds of Bay Area entrepreneurs with the writing skills and moxie to pull this off. If you’ve been eager to try and bring your business idea overseas, here’s your chance! Start writing or shooting your “elevator pitch” video right now. You could easily win this thing! Good luck!

For details, go to: www.ba.com/contest Deadline for submissions is October 21, 2010.

Need any more inspiration? Then check out this video about Judi Henderson-Townsend, a woman from Oakland who runs a mannequin business. Her winning essay got her a trip to London to meet up with a colleague that she’d only spoken with on the phone!)


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Reader Feedback

(We love getting excellent feedback like this! Take a read over what consultant Jennifer G has to say here. Send us your comments and we’ll periodically highlight them like we’ve done here:)

This most recent issue of your blog was excellent, and I found that I had comments in most every section, so an email may work better.  For context, I’m a 3MM, Diamond Medallion with 300K MQMs already this year, and Platinum status with both Marriott and Starwood, so here goes…

–      On the re-vamped business class seats, can’t wait to see it.  I flew a triple 7 and I have to tell you that take off and landing feel strange when you facing almost sideways. [Note from Chris: Hate to disappoint, but the new seats are for 747’s only. Those side/rear facing 777 seats are not going away any time soon.]

–      Starbucks Via – YES!  Love it…I could have used it when I stayed at Le Meridien and had to wait 25 minutes for a coffee pot to be delivered to my room. At that point I was ready to walk out the door to go to work.

[Read more…]


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3 TICKET readers get free supply of Starbucks coffee

The weak, plasticky and unsatisfactory in-room coffee experience

As you may have read in previous issues, The TICKET has partnered with Starbucks to get the word out about VIA, its new line of instant coffee, among frequent travelers like YOU!

Starbucks VIA is perfect for those times you find yourself deprived of good coffee on the road. You know what I mean…like when your only option is that weak tea-like brew you find on hotel breakfast bars. Or worse, when you don’t have time (or money!) for room service and the stuff produced by the “coffee” maker in your hotel room is your only option. Ick! Then there are also those times when the coffee urn runs dry at that all-morning meeting…

With Starbucks VIA, just keep a pack in your briefcase or carry-on bag to ensure a really good cup of coffee no matter where you are. All you have to do is add hot or cold water. The taste is amazing—I honestly have a tough time telling the difference between VIA and the real thing. (>>>Click on the ad to the right for more info about VIA>>>)

How would you like to give Starbucks VIA a try for a month, for free?

Here’s all you have to do:

Leave a comment below or send me an email describing a travel situation where you WISHED you had a pack of Starbucks VIA to get your day off to a good start with a REAL cup of coffee. THAT’S IT!

Just two or three lines are all I’m looking for. But if you are feeling especially creative, send it along as a poem…or haiku*…or a photo. If you are already a fan of VIA, tell us why.

I’ll pick what I feel are the top three entries, and those folks will get a one-month supply of Starbucks VIA and a nice new mug sent to them. Easy!

I look forward to hearing from you!

*HAIKU: a 3 line, one stanza poem with a syllable count of 5, 7, 5.


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Is business travel back? You betcha! (See 2 min vid)

(Are you having problems viewing or hearing this video? Please email me and describe issue if so: chris@travelskills.com I’ve gotten a few reports of issues and I’m trying to get to the bottom of the problem. Thanks–chris)

Last week I attended the National Business Travel Association convention and exposition in Houston, Texas. This is an annual gathering of about 6000 corporate travel buyers and sellers.

I attended the same conference last summer in San Diego, where the mood was a lot different. Last year, attendees were searching for ways to deal with “the new normal,” pondering which airline or hotel chain would file for bankruptcy next, and wondering if they’d still have their jobs and be back again for this year’s conference.

Check out my two-minute video from the trade show floor in Houston last week to learn how eight business insiders responded when I asked if business travel was back. Their answer was crystal clear.

How would YOU respond if I asked you the same question? Have you noticed much change from last year when it comes to your inclination to hit the roads and skies this year? Please leave your comments below.

(Like what I’m doing here? For more frequent travel updates, follow me on Twitter or Facebook!)


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SFO gets free wi-fi early

San Francisco International flipped on the switch early for free wi-fi, airport-wide, on Friday. The new service was originally set to launch in September.

This means that TravelSkills Readers can now access the internet for free at our three main airports, SFO, Oakland and San Jose.

To log on at SFO, choose “sfo free wifi” when searching for networks.

(Like what I’m doing here? Then follow me on Facebook! You’ll get more frequent updates!)

I have used the free wi-fi at Oakland Airport, and while I appreciated the convenience and the price, the service was a bit wobbly and slow. Fine for checking email, but slow for viewing large photos or video.

Similar to what I’ve sometimes found when I get free wi-fi at hotels or elsewhere, it’s frequently a “get what you pay for” experience. I hope that’s not the case at SFO.

I’ve not yet been out to SFO to test the new service, but maybe you have? Please report your experiences and thoughts about free wi-fi below. Easy to find? Easy to connect? How’s the speed?


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Delta's new home page

Delta rolled out a new design for its homepage at delta.com today. It looks great and focuses on the functions frequent travelers use most.

Note that for now, it’s ONLY the homepage that has changed. The guts of the site are the same, but Delta says the redesign will eventually work its way throughout the entire site. Stay tuned.

Take a look delta.com and LET US KNOW what you think. Is this just “lipstick on a pig” or a meaningful move in the right direction?

Here’s a snapshot of the new page:


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United tweaks new logo, livery

The new combined United/Continental released a “tweaked” new look today. (It originally just replaced the word “Continental” with “United.” This is a bit more refined.)

The new logo displays the combined company’s brand name in capital letters (UNITED) in a custom sans-serif font, joined with the global mark which has represented Continental’s brand image since 1991.

A corresponding update of the combined airline’s aircraft livery will adopt Continental’s livery, colors and design, including its blue-gold-white globe image on the tail, combined with the new-style UNITED name on the fuselage.

Scroll down to see both and leave a comment!


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Obama vs. the travel industry

Air Force One

On Tuesday, President Obama urged federal government employees to cut back on business travel in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The president wants the federal government, now the largest energy consumer in the country, to cut its emissions from indirect sources like commuting and business travel by 13 percent by 2020.

That sounds fair enough, but the announcement did not sit well at all with the travel industry.

On Wednesday the U.S. Travel Association fired back, calling Obama’s effort to curb government employee travel “short-sighted and counter-productive…. and will further economic decline at precisely the wrong time for the more than two million Americans whose jobs depend on business travel.” (Read the full statement here.)

Michael McCormick, executive director of another travel trade organization, the National Business Travel Association stated, “President Obama’s recent statements calling for a reduction in government travel are troubling for two reasons. First, they are part of a pattern of negative and misguided comments from the Administration that hurt the travel industry at an incredibly challenging time. Second, they seem to imply that cutting travel is the goal. The goal should be to use travel as cost-effectively as possible to meet the needs of the United States…”

On Thursday, perhaps as a way to hold out an olive branch to the beleagured travel industry, the President announced the he and his family would be vacationing on the Florida Gulf coast in August.

Who is right here? Should we be cut back on business travel to reduce emissions? Or should we encourage business travel to aid an ailing travel industry that’s just now starting to recover? Please leave your comments below!

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Don’t Forget! BOOK ALL YOUR ONLINE TRAVEL VIA LINKS FROM THE TICKET!

airtran.com | delta.com | Hotwire


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Obama vs. the travel industry

Air Force One

On Tuesday, President Obama urged federal government employees to cut back on business travel in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The president wants the federal government, now the largest energy consumer in the country, to cut its emissions from indirect sources like commuting and business travel by 13 percent by 2020.

That sounds fair enough, but the announcement did not sit well at all with the travel industry.

On Wednesday the U.S. Travel Association fired back, calling Obama’s effort to curb government employee travel “short-sighted and counter-productive…. and will further economic decline at precisely the wrong time for the more than two million Americans whose jobs depend on business travel.” (Read the full statement here.)

Michael McCormick, executive director of another travel trade organization, the National Business Travel Association stated, “President Obama’s recent statements calling for a reduction in government travel are troubling for two reasons. First, they are part of a pattern of negative and misguided comments from the Administration that hurt the travel industry at an incredibly challenging time. Second, they seem to imply that cutting travel is the goal. The goal should be to use travel as cost-effectively as possible to meet the needs of the United States…”

Who is right here? Should we be cut back on business travel to reduce emissions? Or should we encourage business travel to aid an ailing travel industry that’s just now starting to recover? Please leave your comments below!


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I traveled with Carly Simon!

I’m still a little bit star struck.

Last week, on the first leg of my journey home from my summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., I traveled with one of my all-time favorite singers and songwriters, Carly Simon.

Here’s what happened: As we were walking along the pier to enter the queue for the ferry back to the mainland, a woman in a billowy white dress, a big handbag, blonde hair and a very familiar face walked up behind us in line.

Carly Simon looking and sounding great at 65 on the ferry between Martha's Vineyard and Woods Hole, Mass. (and me!)

I looked at her and smiled, then looked away, and then a little bell went off in my head. I turned and looked again, and she smiled back at me, and I stuttered something like, “Did anyone ever tell you that you look like. . . um wait a minute. . . are you Carly Simon?” As a long-time fan, I knew that she lived on Martha’s Vineyard, so the possibility was not completely far fetched.

She smiled and said, “Yes, I am,” and seemed eager for a friendly chat, so I engaged. [Read more…]


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My trip with Carly Simon

I’m still a little bit star struck.

Last week, on the first leg of my journey home from my summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., I traveled with one of my all-time favorite singers and songwriters, Carly Simon.

Here’s what happened: As we were walking along the pier to enter the queue for the ferry back to the mainland, a woman in a billowy white dress, a big handbag, blonde hair and a very familiar face walked up behind us in line.

Carly Simon looking and sounding great at 65 on the ferry between Martha’s Vineyard and Woods Hole, Mass. (and me!)

I looked at her and smiled, then looked away, and then a little bell went off in my head. I turned and looked again, and she smiled back at me, and I stuttered something like, “Did anyone ever tell you that you look like. . . um wait a minute. . . are you Carly Simon?” As a long-time fan, I knew that she lived on Martha’s Vineyard, so the possibility was not completely far fetched.

She smiled and said, “Yes, I am,” and seemed eager for a friendly chat, so I engaged. I introduced myself and my partner Barkley, told her I was a big fan and that I cut my music-listening teeth on many of her hits on AM radio way back in the 70’s. (like You’re So Vain, Anticipation, Nobody Does It Better.)

(Like what I’m doing here? Then follow me on Twitter or Facebook for more frequent updates!)

I was looking around to see if her people, her handlers, her bodyguards or anyone else was around and realized quickly that it was just Carly, all by herself. She was toting a box of 100 or so CD’s that I offered to help her with, but she insisted on carrying it.

She told us that she was doing some very personal publicity for her new acoustical album Never Been Gone– and that the box was full of teaser CDs with two songs from it. Her plan was to stand at the entryway of the returning ferry and hand them out to passengers, and urge them to go to a record store on the Vineyard to buy the album for half price when they presented the teaser CD.

We made a little more small talk, boarded the ferry, she sat down, handed me a CD, we said goodbye, and I walked away floating about 10 feet in the air.

I found my seat, got out my iPod and started listening to her Greatest Hits album. After a song or two, I decided to go back and ask her to sign the CD she’d given me and maybe even ask for a photo.

Carly Simon’s latest album, Never Been Gone. (Iris Records)

With pen in hand, I went back to where she was seated, still by herself, and asked if she’d autograph the CD. She said, “Of course,” and pulled out a Sharpie (natch) from her big bag and asked, “Would you like to sit down? Now, Chris, is this just for you, or for you and Barkley?” (Inside, I thought, wow, she even remembered our names!)

I sat down. She signed the CD and we talked for ten minutes or so, about the horrendous summer heat wave, about her 42-year-old horse that recently died, her bout with Lyme’s disease, the brand new iPad she was fiddling around with, life on Martha’s Vineyard and about my week there.

Finally, I mustered the courage to ask if I could snap a photo and she said, “Of course, let’s do it!” I took two pics and then we huddled over the camera and she chose the best one. I returned to my seat, and continued on my journey to Boston and then back to the Bay.

What a great way to end a great vacation!

So anyway, frequent travelers . . . since this is a travel blog and not a celebrity blog, let’s add a travel angle here with a question:

Have you ever encountered a celeb or superstar on your frequent travels? If so, how did you react? I’d love to hear your stories and I’m sure other readers would like to hear them, too! Comments, please! Let’s have some fun with this . . .


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Business class clambers back from the abyss

Singapore Air's business class "seat" looks more like a sofa

Remember last year when everyone thought that no one would fly in the front of the plane again…forever? Times they are a changin’! And for the better if you are a frequent international business traveler.

Check out what American Express found when looking at its first quarter data:

Historically there has been close to an even split of passengers flying businesses class versus economy for International travel. However during the heart of the recession last year – particularly in the second quarter of 2009 – the percentage of tickets booked in business class hit its lowest rate at 36%. As the trending now shows, percentage rates are on the rise, indicating travelers are moving back to the front of the plane.

> Q1 2010 International Business Class – 41%

> Q1 2009 International Business Class – 39%

> Q1 2008 International Business Class – 51%


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American Airlines zaps San Francisco-Boston nonstops

A neon American Airlines logo at Boston-Logan International Airport (photo: chaostheory)

American Airlines has confirmed to TravelSkills that it will eliminate its nonstop flights between San Francisco International and Boston-Logan on November 17.

Despite American’s departure from the route, frequent travelers can still jump on a nonstop between here and Beantown on Virgin America, JetBlue or United. In fact, the preponderance of other carriers on the route is part of the reason American is bowing out.

Nonetheless, the move seemed odd to me, given the fact that American is clearly making a significant investment in SFO’s Terminal 2, which includes a new 10,000 square foot Admirals Club. (See my recent report and hardhat tour video of SFO’s Terminal 2.)

But there are larger forces at work. “We are realigning our domestic network and concentrating on flights to, from or between what we are calling our ‘cornerstone’ or hub cities– Chicago, Dallas, New York, Miami and Los Angeles. You’ll see a lot less point-to-point flying between non-hub cities,” said American spokesman Tim Smith.

That of course forced me to ask the question…What about American’s nonstops between San Francisco and Honolulu, both non-hub cities? Are those in jeopardy?

“The San Francisco-Honolulu market is a specialty market for us with lots of traffic and I don’t see American taking any actions on that route. Plus, it’s a huge market for our frequent flyers,” said Smith.

To dig in a little deeper, I called on my friend Henry Harteveldt, a San Francisco-based travel industry analyst with Forrester Research. Here’s his take:

“It’s possible that some of American’s decision-making, both here and in Boston, may reflect the loss of some corporate account business. In the Bay Area, American’s utility has steadily declined — it closed Oakland after the 2008 fuel price spike, and has not added any new routes from SFO. The airline also dropped its San Jose, CA-Austin “nerd bird” route . . . . Since American has decided it’s not going to ‘fight’ for business at OAK, SJC, or SFO, it’s possible that corporate travel managers at Bay Area companies shifted business to other airlines. Hence, a route like SFO-Boston is no longer financially viable for AA.”

(Do you like what I’m doing here? For more frequent updates, follow TravelSkills on Facebook!)


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TASTE of the TICKET: Yeah! Burger

YEAH! BURGER

1168 Howell Mill Road, Suite E

404-496-4393

www.yeahburger.com

The burger craze has certainly hit Atlanta in the past year as several burger-focused eateries are popping up all over town.  I decided to see what the buzz was all about and visit the latest modern-day burger joint, YEAH! BURGER.  The restaurant is owned and operated by Chef Shaun Doty of Shaun’s in Inman Park and entrepreneur Erik Maier.  Since Doty is normally known for his upscale fare, I was curious to see how his casual burger joint would pan out.

We arrived at YEAH! BURGER on a Monday evening right around 6 p.m. and the restaurant was fairly busy with a nearly full house inside and a few couples enjoying their meal on the patio. I liked that YEAH! BURGER was designed as a fast-casual restaurant where customers place their order at the counter and their food is delivered to the table.  I think this offers a certain convenience for this type of restaurant. [Read more…]


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Opt-Out Letter for CLEAR customers

Here’s the full “OPT-OUT” email sent to previous CLEAR card holders.(Click here For the full post on the new CLEAR.)

NOTICE OF INTENT TO TRANSFER CUSTOMER DATA AND OPPORTUNITY TO RECEIVE FREE CREDIT FOR REMAINING SUBSCRIPTION TERM OR TO ELECT TO HAVE DATA DESTROYED

TO CUSTOMERS OF CLEAR AND VERIFIED IDENTITY PASS, INC.

PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that Verified Identity Pass, Inc., the owner and operator of Clear (“Verified”), is selling substantially all of its assets (the

“Assets”) to Alclear, LLC which will do business as CLEAR (the “Buyer”).  Buyer is a private company backed by various investors including L-1 Identity

Solutions, a leading biometric solutions company listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

As part of its purchase of the Assets, the Buyer will restart the CLEAR service and offer each current or former customer (“Customer”) the

opportunity to enter into the new CLEAR service.  Each Customer that accepts the offer will receive a credit equal to the number of months that remained in

that Customer’s contract with Verified as of June 24, 2009.  Buyer will be sending you details of the new CLEAR service, including how to qualify for the

credit and what changes will be made to the Verified Privacy Policies under the new program, in the near future.

I.      OPT-OUT NOTICE TO TRANSFER OF PERSONAL INFORMATION AND CHANGE IN PRIVACY POLICY TO REFLECT TRANSFER

PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that Verified is seeking to transfer as part of the Assets any and all personal and biometric data of any Customer stored and

maintained by or at the direction of Verified (the “Customer Data”).  Subject to future notice of change from Buyer, Buyer will maintain the security of all

Customer Data it receives from Verified according to all applicable rules, law and privacy policies, including applicable Transportation Security

Administration rules, regulations, and standards and Verified’s privacy policies in existence at the time your Customer Data was collected and at the time

Verified ceased operations.  Buyer has expressly agreed to be Verified’s successor-in-interest of your Customer Data if transferred to Buyer, to be

responsible to you for its violation of those policies following the transfer of your Customer Data, to use your Customer Data only for the purposes for

which it was originally collected or for which you’ve given consent, and not to disclose, sell, or transfer your Customer Data to any third party in a way

that’s inconsistent with the applicable privacy policy.

PLEASE TAKE FURTHER NOTICE that the transfer of any Customer Data requires a change to Verified’s privacy policies.  Verified’s privacy policy for

the Clear program in Section 3A (ADDITIONAL LIMITATIONS ON APPLICANT AND MEMBER PERSONAL INFORMATION) stated that Verified does not sell or give personal

information of its Customers to other businesses.  That privacy policy has been changed to reflect the transfer to Buyer of the Customer Data of those

Customers who do not object to the transfer.  This change to the privacy policy will be posted on the Verified website (http://www.verifiedidpassinc.com) in

a “redline” form that highlights the changes made to the privacy policy so you can track the changes.

II.     OPT-OUT INSTRUCTIONS IF YOU DO NOT WANT YOUR DATA TRANSFERRED

If you want to receive your free credit for the remaining subscription term, no action is necessary at this time.  We will contact you at the

appropriate time with more information about how to become a customer of the new CLEAR service.  No Customer will be billed until he or she accepts a plan of

service with the new CLEAR service.  If you do not object to the transfer of your Customer Date to the Buyer, you do not need to do anything.

If you do object to having your Customer Data transferred to the Buyer, then you must take affirmative action to have your Customer Data destroyed by

completing and mailing the attached Customer Data Destruction Election Form (“Form”) to P.O. Box 42010, Nashville, TN 37204-2010, postmarked no later than

July 22, 2010.  If you do not complete and mail the attached Customer Data Destruction Election Form by July 22, 2010 (the “Deadline”) to the address above,

you will be deemed to have consented to the transfer of your Customer Data to the Buyer.  If you complete and mail the attached Data Destruction Election

Form by July 22, 2010 to the address above, your Customer Data will not be transferred to the Buyer.  Instead, it will be destroyed within 30 days after the

Deadline and you will be ineligible to receive your credit for the number of months that remained in your contract with Verified.  If you complete and return

your Form on time, you may be contacted by Alclear or one of its affiliates to confirm your election.

PLEASE TAKE FURTHER NOTICE that in order to advise the court with regards to the transfer of the Customer Data to the Buyer and to assure continued

privacy of the Customer Data, the Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York appointed Todd B. Ruback as a consumer privacy ombudsman (the

“Ombudsman”) in connection with the sale of the Assets.  The Ombudsman has reviewed and approved these procedures and has worked with Verified and the Buyer

to ensure the security and continued privacy of all Customer Data.

ABOUT THE BUYER

Alclear is thrilled at the opportunity to rebuild CLEAR. We are a private company backed by various investors including L-1 Identity Solutions, a

leading biometric solutions company listed on the New York Stock Exchange.  Your biographic and biometric data will be stored in a Government-certified

secure facility.

You may obtain further information about Alclear and its plans to restart the CLEAR service at www.flyclear.com.

Dated: June 22, 2010

CUSTOMER OPT-OUT OF TRANSFER OF CUSTOMER DATA AND CUSTOMER DATA DESTRUCTION ELECTION FORM

By signing and mailing this form to the address set forth below you are expressly opting-out of the transfer of your customer data from Verified Identity

Pass, Inc. (“VIP”) to Buyer and are forfeiting your right to receive free credit for your remaining term. By opting-out of this transfer, you are electing to

have your customer data destroyed. In order to opt-out of the transfer of your customer data and therefore have your customer data destroyed, you must

complete and mail this form to the address set forth below postmarked no later than July 22, 2010.

P.O. Box 42010
Nashville, TN 37204-2010

By signing below, I certify the following:

I was a customer of Verified Identity Pass, Inc. and I was enrolled in VIP’s CLEAR Registered Traveler program.

My name and current address, as set forth below, is true and correct. I am providing this information for the sole purpose of allowing VIP to verify that I

was enrolled in VIP’s Clear Registered Traveler Program.

I DO NOT CONSENT TO THE TRANSFER OF MY CUSTOMER DATA TO ALCLEAR, LLC AND I INSTRUCT VIP TO DESTROY MY CUSTOMER DATA

I acknowledge that, by completing and mailing this form, my CLEAR customer data will be destroyed and I will be ineligible to receive a credit from Alclear,

LLC for the number of months that remained in my CLEAR member contract with VIP after June 24, 2009.

(Click here For the full post on the new CLEAR.)



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TASTE of the TICKET: Miller Union

Fresh herbs on the patio at Miller Union (photo: David Naugle)

MILLER UNION

999 Brady Ave, NW (map)

Atlanta, GA 30318

Phone: 678-733-8550

www.millerunion.com

Admittedly, I became a sucker for this place the moment my dinner companion and I sat down. Upon arriving, we had asked the host if there were any available tables on the patio, and the only one left was being held for another reservation so we were seated in one of the small dining rooms.  Five minutes later, the host came back to tell us the guests who had reserved the outdoor table were going to be late and offered to move us outside.  Though a small gesture, this thoughtfulness really made an impression on me.

The patio turned out to be lovely and our table was surrounded by large planters filled with fresh herbs, which is always a good sign at a restaurant that touts local cuisine.  I ordered the Papi Chulo cocktail ($11) and my companion ordered … [Read more…]


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BAT editor talks summer travel on KRON 4 TV

Your BAT editor took a few minutes out of his Memorial Day working in his garden (see background) to discuss summer travel trends with KRON 4 News. Nice segment!


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$483 round trip all-in, SFO-Auckland

(Photo: griffs0000 / Flickr)

Air New Zealand is offering flash sale: $483 round trip SFO-Auckland incl. tax! Must travel late May-Early June. Book by May 14. This is as low as I’ve ever seen it. Interested? Act fast cuz the cheap seats are selling out.

NOTE: frequent flyer miles are not awarded on this fare.

http://www.airnewzealand.com/hot-deal-to-new-zealand


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SFO welcomes Air Berlin!

An Air Berlin A330-200 at SFO

San Francisco’s newest international airline, Air Berlin, touched down at SFO this afternoon.

I have not had a chance to fly Air Berlin so here’s what I have been able to pick up from a few online sources.

>Air Berlin is the second largest airline in Germany (after Lufthansa) and is considered Germany’s “low-cost” airline.

>Ironically, Air Berlin’s SFO flights don’t fly to/from Berlin. Instead, they fly to/from Dusseldorf, a wealthy and fashionable city on Germany’s western edge.

>Roundtrip coach fares for summer travel between SFO and Dusseldorf are running in the $1300 range according to a quick scan on Kayak.com. Round trip in business class is about $3400.

>Nonstop roundtrips between SFO and Dusseldorf (DUS) run just twice a week– on Wednesdays and Fridays– using an Airbus A330-200. The flight arrives SFO at about 1:20 pm and departs at about 3:20 pm (arriving in Dusseldorf at about 11:20 am the following day.)

>Coach seating on Air Berlin is tight. According to Seatguru.com, Air Berlin’s seat pitch in coach on the A330 is just 30 inches. (For comparison, Delta’s A330’s offer 31-33 inches.) There is no in-seat video entertainment. Movies play on overhead screens.

>Business class seats recline, but do not lie-flat.

>What do YOU know about Air Berlin? Please leave your comments below!



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What United + Continental means to YOU

The new United livery keeps the Continental look, but changes the name. (Photo: United Airlines)

United and Continental boards have approved a merger of the two carriers, which is expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year.

What does all this mean to TravelSkills Readers?

FARES: While consolidation and fewer competitors ultimately leads to higher prices, the reality is that Continental and United never really competed with each other out of Bay Area airports. And there are few routes from here that are dominated by the two. For example, nonstop flights between SFO and Houston on both United and Continental have always been expensive– expect them to stay that way. Those who want a deal on the route should consider a one-stop flight on low-fare carriers Southwest or Frontier.

FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAMS: Since it appears that United will be the surviving entity, Mileage Plus members should not expect any huge changes. If you’ve got any extra Continental OnePass miles lying around, those will be added to your Mileage Plus balance. Good news: OnePass has always been one of the best rated frequent flyer programs out there, so maybe Mileage Plus will cherry pick the good parts? Time will tell.

EARNING, BURNING MILES: Mileage Plus members already have access to the Continental network due to its recent inclusion in the Star Alliance, which added nice earning and burning opportunities where Continental is strong, such as in Mexico, Central and South America as well as the South Pacific (on Air Micronesia). See Continental Route Map.

ECONOMY PLUS: United is the only legacy carrier to offer its frequent flyers roomier coach class seats. Continental does not offer the equivalent of United’s Economy Plus seating (which I really appreciate on the long haul) so I hope the concept survives.

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P.S. FLIGHTS: I’m wondering if we’ll see those nice P.S. flights between SFO and New York-JFK shift to Newark where Continental has a large, efficient hub operation and better club space… at least nicer than United’s minor presence at JFK.

SFO AIRPORT: The combination of United and Continental will mean Continental will leave Concourse 1 and operations will move to United’s hub at Concourse 3, which will get even MORE crowded than it already is at peak times.

BRAGGADOCIO. SFO will also get bragging rights for being a hub of “the world’s largest airline” which will result when United and Continental merge. The new United will take that title away from the new Delta, which when it merged with Northwest, enjoyed a short life as the biggest player.

WHO NEXT? American and US Airways are likely entering a major flirtation stage at this point. They are the remaining two legacy airlines and will be dwarfed by the new United and new Delta.

More info from United on the merger here.

It’s a little early to tell, but here are my initial thoughts. I’d be eager to hear what you think about the merger and how it might affect your flying. Please leave your comments below.

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United + Continental deal is done.

(Crain’s) — United and Continental airlines have reached an agreement on a merger and expect to announce a deal by Monday, pending approval by their boards, a source briefed on the matter says.

United’s board is set to meet Friday to discuss the deal, the source told Crain’s, and Continental’s board is expected to vote Sunday.

A deal isn’t assured. Continental’s board voted down a merger with United two years ago in a Sunday afternoon vote.

But that seems less likely now. Then, the industry was headed into a recession, and United’s financials were deteriorating. Now, air travel is beginning to recover, and United is leading the way, enjoying the biggest gains in revenue among the traditional carriers.

Here’s the full story:

http://www.chicagobusiness.com/cgi-bin/news.pl?id=38032&ba=1

What are your thoughts on this big move?


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Ambien to blame for yesterday’s Delta diversion to Bangor?

(Photo: Zacharmstrong / Flicker)

Details are emerging from Bangor, Maine where a Delta flight from Paris bound for Atlanta was diverted yesterday due to a security threat.

Wire stories state that Derek Stansberry, a 27 year-old Air Force veteran, told federal air marshalls onboard the plane that he had bombs in his boots and laptop, that his passport was fake, and that he thought he was being followed.

He said that he had taken up to eight Ambien, but then changed his story and said he’d taken only one. (Ambien is a prescription sleep aid.) He also mentioned that he’d taken a Valium before the flight.

After Stansberry was removed from the plane in Bangor, the flight continued on to Atlanta, arriving three hours late.

All this makes me wonder about whether we should be taking hard drugs when we are up there flying across oceans, especially in light of heightened alertness to strange behavior brought on by the well-known Christmas Day “crotch bomber.”

Do you use prescription drugs to help you sleep on long flights? I’ve taken Ambien on overseas flights in the past with no side effects other than a bad hangover. (So bad, in fact, that I no longer use it.)

On a recent trip to Asia, I went the homeopathic route. I tried Jet Lag Formula ($20), an herbal concoction designed to help battle the ill effects associated with flying. I also followed the advice of Bill Ashton who runs the “StopJetLag” program ($35 per trip) out of Palo Alto, which (among other things) encourages the use of melatonin as a sleep aid in flight. I was surprised that I was able to get plenty of good quality sleep on flights in both directions. And jet lag was not nearly as bad as I’ve experienced on previous journeys, although I must say that it was a lot easier going over than coming back.

Have you ever used Ambien or other prescription drugs to help you sleep on transoceanic flights? Is it worth the risks? Have you ever had, or witnessed, strange behavior as a result of taking those drugs in flight?

Please leave your comments and experiences below.

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The TASTE of The Ticket: Shaun’s Restaurant (Inman Park)

Shaun’s Restaurant

1029 Edgewood Avenue NE

Atlanta, GA 30307

404.577.4358

www.shaunsrestaurant.com

A cool, spring evening  brought me to the doorstep of Shaun’s Restaurant in the heart of historic Inman Park. My guest and I entered at dusk and were greeted by a clean, bistro interior. It immediately felt like I was in a dining room right out of Southern Living. We knew we could not pass up the opportunity to sit on the patio on such a clear, refreshing evening and decided to enjoy our dinner amongst the brick walls, candles and strings of lights that zigzagged above the tables.

Having perused the menu for the week prior to my visit, my first decision was to order a Guinness ($6.50), while my guest went with a Riesling ($11).  Now that I had that tough decision out of the way, it was time to get to the nitty-gritty and order our dinner.  To start off, we shared the Maryland style jumbo lump crab cake ($16), which came with a grainy mustard sauce and Napa cabbage slaw. The crab cake came out warm from the oven and the slaw was a nice and cool counterpoint.

Our server informed us that the salmon had just come in that day, so I went with the wild troll king salmon for my entrée ($28). The salmon came with braised organic greens, garlic caper relish, bacon butter and spring asparagus. This was by far my favorite part of the experience at Shaun’s. The bacon butter complemented every item on the plate and I made sure to dip every item in it.

My compatriot ordered the roast Georgia chicken ($21), which came with wild nettle polenta, sweetbreads and spring asparagus. I did not get the opportunity to taste it, but she said she really enjoyed it. It was such a large portion that she could not even finish the plate. I wish I had more to say about this because the chicken and polenta looked quite appetizing, but I was focused on my salmon and bacon butter and for good reason.

My guest and I somehow managed to find room in our stomachs for dessert. I went with the vanilla bean cheesecake ($7), which had a corn flake crust and cranberry compote. My cheesecake was a soft, melt-in-your-mouth, type of good. The sticky toffee pudding ($7) was my guest’s choice and she said it was full of flavor and a great way to end the night.

From the flavorful Southern fare to the warm welcoming atmosphere, my experience at Shaun’s was a memorable one. I can now see what has made it a staple of historic Inman Park.

Don’t Forget! BOOK ALL YOUR ONLINE TRAVEL VIA LINKS FROM THE TICKET!

airtran.comdelta.com |  Hotwire


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New airline at SFO. Free Wi-Fi coming to SFO. And MORE!

LAN Boeing 767 (Photo: James J. Jenkins)

1> NEW NONSTOPS TO SOUTH AMERICA. LAN Airlines will launch 4x per week nonstop flights between San Francisco and Lima, Peru on July 1. The new Boeing 767 flights will be the ONLY nonstops between SFO and South America, so this is great news for those who don’t like to connect in LA or Dallas or Miami to get there. LAN is an outstanding carrier; by far the best in South America with a fleet of new planes and an excellent lie-flat business class seat. LAN has a code share on the route with American, so AAdvantage members can earn and burn miles on the flights. Details here

2> FREE WI-FI COMING TO SFO. The rumor has been floating around for a while, but today I got confirmation from airport officials that FREE Wi-Fi is tentatively scheduled for implementation at SFO in September. The official start date should be released in coming weeks. Woo-hoo!

3> HUGE BONUSES FOR TRANSCON TRIPS. Delta started it, now American and United have joined in on the bonus bonanza for frequent travelers between SFO (or LAX) and New York-JFK. The deals vary slightly, but the gist is this: Pay full fare round trip business class or first class and you get an eye-popping 50,000-mile bonus. Discounted business class and full fare economy round trips earn a 25,000-mile bonus. The cheap seats– lowest economy fares– don’t earn any special bonus on the routes. The bonuses can be earned an unlimited number of times through June 30. KEY: You must register for this promotion. Here are the links:

DELTA (NOTE: Delta’s “premium Economy class” is only premium in the sense that it costs more. It’s not equivalent to United’s Economy Plus which offers extra legroom.)

UNITED

AMERICAN

VIRGIN AMERICA: so far, there’s been no competitive response.

4> SOUTHWEST BONUS. Rapid Rewards members get one bonus credit per flight (for a total of two) through May 26. This means you can get a free Southwest ticket after just four round trips instead of the usual eight. More expensive Business Select fares earn even more. To get the bonus you must first register and book your trip online.

5> IPAD STAYS IN YOUR BAG. Thanks for all your comments on my recent post about wanting an iPad for business travel. I’ve still not bought one, but was nearly pushed off the fence when I read that the TSA will NOT require travelers to remove iPads from carry on luggage for scanning as it does for laptops.

6> HOTEL BOOM IN NYC. If you are like me and you LOVE a brand new hotel, especially in Manhattan, you’ll love this news: Twenty-one hotels opened in Manhattan in 2009. Thirty-two new hotels will open this year. Click here to see the full list. Speaking of NYC hotels, two W Hotels in NYC (The Court and the Tuscany, both on 39th St) have been sold to a London-based outfit called St Giles Hotels.

7> UNITED+US Airways? I just can’t see a whole lot of positives when two struggling carriers combine to form a much larger struggling carrier. I was sorta hoping that United would merge with Continental, which is considered by many to be near the top of the heap of “legacy” carriers in terms of good management. Well, in any case, airline merger rumors come and go as fast as Hollywood romances, so I’ll reserve further commentary or speculation until this one gets some legs.


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Taste of The TICKET: Aria (Buckhead) Turns 10

Roasted Tenderloin of Cervena Venison oyster mushrooms, roasted shallots, celery & potato gratin (photo: George Sanchez)

Aria

490 East Paces Ferry

Atlanta, GA 30305

404.233.7673

www.aria-atl.com

With the economy the way it is, fancy date nights are few and far between these days.  Sometimes you have to break out and enjoy yourself a little, so we decided to enjoy ourselves with a night out recently at Buckhead’s Aria restaurant.  Their recent 5 star review in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution made us eager to try out the menu for ourselves.

We got there a little early for our reservation; I always love to check out the bar at restaurants and enjoy a signature cocktail before dinner.  The bar area was cozy and dark, with a luxurious red couch wrapped all around the room.  Date night points – check! [Read more…]


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British Airways strike grounds SFO flights (update)

A BA 747 at SFO. (Photo: Angeloangelo / Flickr)

UPDATE  Sunday March 21 1:15 pm. British Airways has told me that both departures from SFO to London will happen today (flights 284 and 286). One flight will arrive from London with passengers and depart with passengers (BA 287). Another (BA 285) will arrive from London with cargo only, but will depart for London with passengers (BA 286).

UPDATE: Sunday, March 21. British Airways contacted me to report that it has reinstated a single roundtrip flight (BA 287 and BA 286) between SFO and London-Heathrow today. They say that more workers than expected are showing up, so they are able to reinstate more flights than expected. No word yet on when BA’s second daily SFO-London flight (BA 284/285) will be reinstated.

SATURDAY: A strike at British Airways has grounded the carrier’s two daily flights between San Francisco International and London Heathrow.

According to BA’s web site, BA flights 285 and 287, which originate in London have been scrubbed today (Saturday), Sunday and Monday. From the BA website it appears that BA planes that are already here or in the air on their way here will operate today (Saturday) and fly back to London. But once there, they will be grounded.

It’s unknown now how the strike may affect flights after Monday.

If you are holding a BA ticket to London, here are your options:

  1. rebook your flight within one year (BA waives change fees)
  2. rebook your flight via another U.S. city where BA flights have NOT canceled (Note that flights from both LAX and PHX have canceled, too so not many options from SF).
  3. cancel your flight for a full refund
  4. call British Airways (1-800-247-9297– expect a long wait on hold!) or your travel agent and ask that they re-book you on another carrier.

Note: If you are currently booked to travel to London on another carrier (such as Virgin Atlantic or United which both offer nonstops to London from SFO) expect your flight to be VERY full. And expect the gate area to be rather angst ridden with lots of displaced BA passengers standing by and hoping to board your flight.

For more information and to monitor the situation, go to www.ba.com/strike

News around this strike is changing fast, so if you know more than I’ve been able to include here, or have updates, please add them in the comments section below.

Here’s BA CEO Willie Walsh with an apology and outlook (smart use of social media during a crisis!)

(Photo: Angeloangelo / Flickr)


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Southwest offers double credits for California flying

Something nice for those who fly close to home….Southwest is offering double Rapid Rewards credit each time you travel within the state of California between March 11 and May 26, 2010. That means you can get at least two credits for every one-way flight (four credits when you travel roundtrip) between any two California cities (Burbank, Los Angeles, Oakland, Ontario, Orange County, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose).

If you earn double credits, that means you’ll get a free flight in just FOUR roundtrips instead of eight. Not bad!

If you buy the pricier, but nicier Business Select Fares  you’ll earn 2.25 credits for the shorthaul flights.

Details here: http://bit.ly/9rxW9A

This is not as rich as the offer in 2007 when Southwest offered double credits for not only INTRA California flights, but ANY flight to/from or within Calif. But hey, it’s still nice!


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7 things BAT readers need to know this month

Those tired old "Mobile Lounges" are history! (Photo: Kumokasumi/Flickr

1>DULLES AEROTRAIN IS OPEN. R.I.P. “MOBILE LOUNGES.” Finally, those awful, awkward “mobile lounges” that travelers to and from Washington, DC’s Dulles Airport had to endure to get to their gate…are history! The airport’s new underground AeroTrain system commenced service last month. Every two minutes, shiny new trains whisk passengers along a central spine connecting the main terminal with distant concourses. (Sorta similar to train systems at airports in Atlanta and Denver…) Note: For the time being, international travelers still have to board the mobile lounges to get to the airport’s “D” gates. Now, if they could just add a high-speed rail line to get from Dulles to the District. That 45-minute slog is a tough on after a 5-hour flight from the Bay.

2>NEW YORK-JFK IS A MESS. This week the NY/NJ Port Authority closed JFK’s main runway for four months of repairs. While the airport and airlines say that they’ve been able to plan around this without any major issues, I remain skeptical. So stay tuned and be prepared. In the midst of all this airport angst, a story broke this week revealing that an air traffic controller at the JFK tower brought his child into work one day and allowed him to talk via radio to aircraft under his control. (Controller was subsequently put on leave…)

3>SKIP HOTEL HOUSEKEEPING FOR POINTS OR DOLLARS? Guests at many Westin and Sheraton hotels can opt out of daily housekeeping in exchange for a $5 credit or 500 Starpoints. That seems like a good idea to me since my room remains mostly tidy when I’m traveling on business. It also has environmental benefits since less water and chemicals are used to clean the room. The Wall Street Journal points out that an average high-end hotel saves about $22 per room if the guest opts out of housekeeping. What do you think? Would you take a hotel up on an offer like this?

4>CREDIT CARD ACT NOW IN EFFECT. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act took effect on February 22, will force more consumer-friendly practices on card issuers. But it will also increase competition among banks for lucrative affluent customers with good credit ratings (i.e. frequent travelers) according to an interesting article in Business Week. Customers with credit ratings of 750+ should expect to receive more bonus rewards, solicitations and promotional offers. Speaking of affluent customers, here’s another newsy nugget from the BW article: “American Express dominates the market for affluent users, with individual card purchases averaging $9,342 in 2008 compared with $2,672 for Visa and $2,300 for MasterCard. Its cardholders have average credit scores of 754 compared with 722 forthe rest of the industry.” (Disclosure: I engage in occasional consulting work for American Express.)

New room at the recently re-done Best Western President Hotel in Manhattan

5>BEST WESTERN MATCHING ELITE STATUS. Everyone knows about how airlines will match elite level status to poach frequent travelers from competitors. Now hotels are getting into the act as well. Just this week, Best Western announced that it would give elite status in the Best Western Rewards program to anyone who sends them their elite level credentials from another chain. Elite membership in the BW program offers members room upgrades, early/late check in/out, and earning bonuses. Details here

6>NYC BOUND? SHERATON MANHATTAN NO LONGER SHERATON. Starwood has announced that the Sheraton Manhattan in midtown will loose its brand affiliation this spring due to its deteriorating quality. However, the Sheraton New York (across the street on the EAST side of 7th Ave) will keep its brand flag. (It always seemed a little weird to me to have two Sheratons so close to each other anyway.)

7>ARE YOU A TRAVEL SOCIAL MEDIA MAVEN? Or do you want to be one? Later this month a “who’s who” in the burgeoning realm of travel social media will meet in Fisherman’s Wharf to talk shop at the “Social Media Strategies for Travel” conference (Mar. 24-25). From the looks of the agenda, there will be a mix of global social media superstars (think Trip Advisor or Facebook), big time travel names (Expedia, InterContinental, Virgin America) and a lot of consultants and content providers. Plenty of local startup firms in the travel space will share the limelight, too, such as NileGuide and TravelMuse, both of which help travelers imagine and then plan their trips. I’ll be there, too!


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Good News: Virgin zaps point expiration

One of the most frustrating things about Virgin America’s frequent flyer program has been the fact that points expired after 18 months…even if you were flying Virgin all the time. That set it apart from most major airline programs that allow members to keep points as long as they do business with the airline at least once every 18 months.

Today, Virgin eliminated that frustration. Now, members of its Elevate program retain their points indefinitely, as long as they either earn or redeem points at least once every 18 months.

Elevate points will not expire as long as a member has at least one qualifying activity every 18 months. Qualifying activities include: purchasing Virgin America flights; completing Virgin America reward travel; earning Elevate points with partners like Avis/Budget and Hilton Honors; and accruing points via the Virgin America credit card or the Red store. Elevate members can earn free flights just by shopping online at the Red Store,

If you are not yet familiar with Virgin’s Elevate program, here are some key features:

  • No black-out dates – guests can redeem points for any available seat on any flight
  • Simple “points per dollar” system, instead of typical miles or segments flown
  • Members earn five points for every $1 spent on base fares and can book a free flight with as few as 2500 points
  • Visible “price in points” for booking flights online
  • Price in points varies based on class of service and seat availability
  • Ability to use points to book one-way travel and book any class of travel
  • Customized member profile to help speed bookings – go from flight to confirmation in just a few clicks
  • Points do not expire as long as member has earned or redeemed in the past 18 months
  • Members receive exclusive offers to unique Virgin America events, including past opportunities to fly with the Victoria’s Secret supermodels, tickets to the in-flight premiere of HBO’s Entourage and the chance to earn a seat on a Virgin Galactic sub-orbital space flight.

Stay tuned: More Elevate partnerships and rewards are planned to roll out later this spring. For more on Elevate or  visit Virgin America’s Web site.


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TASTE of the TICKET: Saskatoon

Saskatoon

360 Pharr Road (Buckhead)

Atlanta, GA 30305

404-891-1911

www.saskatoonatlanta.com

I met my dinner date at the newly-opened restaurant, Saskatoon, on a week night and was pleasantly surprised as soon as I walked in the door.  The interior was warm and inviting with soothing jazz music playing in the background and several fireplaces blazing brightly. It was an excellent escape from the harsh wintry weather.  The friendly hostess seated us and we immediately started to scan the eclectic menu.  Our server soon came over and gave us all the information on the restaurant and its background.   It was then that we realized we were in for something totally different at Saskatoon. The mountain lodge-like eatery offered everything from a basic filet mignon to ostrich. We didn’t know where to start!

We both ordered a Sweetwater 420 Extra Pale Ale ($5) and began trying to decipher what we were going to have for an appetizer.   Since we wanted to get the full Saskatoon experience, we went with the wild game sausage sampler ($10).  I also chose the BLT wedge salad ($8).  Both came out of the kitchen in a timely fashion and we dug right in.  The sampler included venison, duck and rabbit sausages served with roasted potatoes, caramelized onions, corn relish and Saskatoon’s signature barbeque sauce.  The sausage selections were very tasty and the combination of the different components worked nicely together.  The salad was simple, and served as a cool complement to the sausage sampler.

[Read more…]


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How Credit Card Act Will Affect You; Car Rental Rates Rant

CREDIT CARD ACT NOW IN EFFECT. The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act took effect on Feb 22, will force more consumer-friendly practices on card issuers. But it will also increase competition among banks for lucrative affluent customers with good credit ratings (i.e. TICKET readers!) according to an interesting article in Business Week.  Customers with credit ratings of 750+ should expect to receive more bonus rewards, solicitations and promotional offers. Speaking of affluent customers, here’s a nugget of info from the article that we did not know: “American Express dominates the market for affluent users, with individual card purchases averaging $9,342 in 2008 compared with $2,672 for Visa and $2,300 for MasterCard. Its cardholders have average credit scores of 754 compared with 722 for the rest of the industry.” (Disclosure: Travel Skills Group, the publisher of this blog, engages in occasional consulting work for American Express.)

CAR RENTAL SURPRISES CONTINUE. We keep hearing similar stories from TICKET readers about rapacious car rental rates. Here’s another…”I’m an Avis Preferred First Member.  Last night I tried to make a reservation in Boston in April (not Easter weekend).  The airlines are having a great sale ($128 RT midweek) so I decided to see about visiting kids and grandkids.  The airfare for 2 was about $320 with taxes, etc. but the car (economy) was $375!!!! Fully one third of that was taxes and garbage.  I am aware of this imbalance and realize it’s been going on for a while, but in this economy, it seems bizarre.  I realize, or at least I’ve heard, that the car companies have cut back the number of cars available in order to keep the price high. To get the best deal, I booked it at Orbitz for $100 less.  Here’s the problem or challenge: Avis won’t let me use my Avis Preferred First status with the rental. I really don’t care about the mileage but I was annoyed to think that I’ll be forced to check-in at the counter. No manner of questioning from either Orbitz or Avis produced any answer.  Customer service??  Not!  Anyway, keep up the good work!”–JL


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The BAT on Bloomberg! (Talking Business Class)

United's Lie-Flat Biz-Class Sleeper. Now on ALL 747 and 767 aircraft

Hey Folks: Our new little BAT blog is getting some good press! Check out our quote in the following Bloomberg article about the s-l-o-w return of business class amenities on international flights.

Here’s the link: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=a10He8umbUY4

And here are a few lines from the intro:

By Mary Jane Credeur and Mary Schlangenstein

Feb. 26 (Bloomberg) — Delta Air Lines Inc. and AMR Corp.’s American Airlines, the world’s two largest carriers, are counting on lie-flat seats and Tahitian crab soup to help win back their most-profitable customers.

With the easing of an 18-month global slump in first- and business-class travel, Delta’s seats that recline 180 degrees into beds and American’s Asian-fusion appetizers are lures for the corporate passengers whose ranks dwindled when the global recession ravaged budgets for international flying.

Filling the premium seats at the front of airplane cabins is pivotal to U.S. airlines’ efforts to return to profit in 2010 after weak demand forced them into discounting to woo vacationers. Business fliers are prized because they typically pay the highest prices and take to the air more often.

“If you’re flying to Japan or Seoul, it makes all the difference in the world to put your legs up and really sleep and arrive rested and ready to go,” said Chris McGinnis, editor of TravelSkills, a San Francisco-based newsletter and blog for frequent travelers. “You’re going to feel really taken care of.”

U.S. airlines have been playing catch-up in recent years with overseas competitors such as Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. that moved more quickly to add amenities including seats that convert into beds.

Here’s the link: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=a10He8umbUY4


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ANA offers “women-only” lavatories

(This item also appeared on my SF Gate blog, The Frequent Travel Advisor.)

Taking a bathroom break in the sky has always been a rather unisex affair. But that might be changing.

ANA women's lav door

Japan’s ANA airlines (with daily nonstops between SFO and Tokyo) announced today that it will offer “women only lavatories” on its international flights. Citing “numerous requests from passengers for this service” the carrier will designate a single lavatory in the rear of the aircraft “for women only.”

Men will know to stay away when they see the special pink signage (above) on the door. However, there are cases where men will be allowed to use the women-only facilities:

  • When required for safety reasons, just prior to the seat belt sign being turned on during take-off and landing.
  • When a passenger is not feeling well and a personal emergency requires such use
  • When there are very few female passengers and the women-only designation has been lifted for the flight
  • An in-flight announcement will be made in such cases.

This is not the first time ANA has engaged in potty talk. You may have read before about its pre-flight boarding announcements which ask passengers seated at gates to empty their bladders in airport bathrooms in order to decrease the weight of the aircraft, which will in turn mean less fuel spent and less environmental impact.

I’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts about this, so please leave your comments below.


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The TASTE of The TICKET: Tuk Tuk Thai Food Loft

Tuk Tuk Thai Food Loft

1745 Peachtree Rd

Atlanta, GA 30309

(678) 539-6181

www.tuktukatl.com

As you enter Tuk Tuk Thai Food Loft you are greeted by an authentic tuk tuk, a type of pedi-cab found all over the main cities in Thailand. This jewel of a neighborhood restaurant is in the former Taurus space, meaning it’s awkwardly located on the 2nd floor of a building in the Brookwood Square shopping center. It’s worth finding.

Tuk Tuk opened quietly in December. They have yet to do any marketing so the large space is usually pretty empty. The owner is the daughter of well-known Atlanta Thai restaurateurs Charlie and Nan who own Tamarind and Nan. It’s not a copycat. Tuk Tuk is more street food focused. The largest part of the menu is the small plates which are meant for sharing. Also offered are Thai salads, Bangkok street noodles, big plates, sides and dessert. The room is beautiful and will be even prettier when they get some artwork and more people in the chairs. [Read more…]


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Airline offer poses ethical dilemma

[TravelSkills is now on SFgate! Click here]

This morning I got an email from Delta Air Lines offering me a fat $500 credit for a future Delta flight if I book a round trip “Business Elite” ticket between San Francisco and New York.

The same email offered a $200 credit if I book an expensive full-coach round trip on the same route.

(Here’s a link to the offer from Delta)

That’s a huge incentive for me to book Delta. It’s also a huge incentive for me to book its most expensive fares between SFO and New York. Here’s what I mean by expensive:

  • Mid-February round trip Business Elite fares between SFO and JFK are currently $2265. (Here’s a video that shows what Delta’s Business Elite looks like.)
  • Full-coach (Y, B or M) round trip fares range from $1000 to $2200.

The cheapest round trip coach fare (T) is just $250.

(Do you like what you are reading?? Then SIGN UP for TravelSkills today!)

Let’s say I take Delta up on its offer and spend thousands on a ticket instead of just $250.

After the trip, I submit my expenses to my company or to my client and get reimbursed.

Then Delta sends me the $200 or $500 credit good for any flight through June 15, 2010.

To whom does that credit belong?

Me? I’d love to use it on a fare to Hawaii this spring.

Or does it belong to my company or my client? I’m sure they’d appreciate an extra $500 discount on my next business trip.

To help me with this ethical dilemma, I called on Henry Harteveldt, the principal travel analyst at Forrester Research here in San Francisco.

He said, “A company could legitimately claim that if it paid for a fare that qualifies for the rebate, then the credit should go to the company. However, the credit may be issued in the name of the traveler– and the credit is non-transferable. A company could mandate that if an employee uses company funds to buy a ticket that qualifies for the credit, that the credit should be used to defray the cost of any future company-paid travel for that employee.”

But, he concedes, “I don’t know whether corporate travel departments are equipped to monitor this. Clearly there is an issue of trust involved.”

Caleb Tiller, a spokesperson for the National Business Travel Association, a trade group that represents the interests of corporate travel managers, says that the question about who owns the credit is moot at companies with strong managed travel programs. He says, “Effective travel policies generally dictate that travelers either use a preferred carrier or purchase the lowest logical fare.”

That’s true at many large corporations that can afford to have staffers and agencies manage travel-buying decisions.

But there’s still a lot of leeway at smaller companies.

What would YOU do with the credit? What’s the RIGHT thing to do? I’d be very interested to hear your comments!

[TravelSkills is now on SFgate! Click here]


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New jetlag drug causes a stir

 

The older I get, the more I’m affected by jet lag, which is not a good thing for someone who makes his living in the travel industry.

Over the years, I’ve tried every drug from Ambien to Xanax; gone the homeopathic route with melatonin and herbs; tried starving myself, avoided alcohol, and experimented with caffeine. I’ve tried sleeping with hotel room drapes open and taking long walks in the sunshine upon arriving. I even tested an oversized visor with a battery-operated light under the bill that was supposed to offer some sort of “light therapy.”

The sad news is that none of them really worked. I still get that prickly, woozy, sweaty feeling on my first few days overseas. I sleep soundly for an hour or so, then lie awake in bed for the rest of the night, and then feel sorta hollow the next day. YUCK!

So every time I hear about a new substance or practice (other than denial) that might help ease the pain of jetlag, I’m eager to learn more.

Introducing Nuvigil

There was much talk among the international travel crowd this month when the New York Times ran a story about a new jetlag drug called Nuvigil, on the market since last June.

Nuvigil is not a sleeping pill. Instead, it is a stimulant that travelers can take to treat the daytime sleepiness associated with jetlag—it does NOT help shift the body’s clock to a new time zone. (Nuvigil and its precursor, Provigil, are frequently used by people who suffer from narcolepsy and sleep apnea.)

Nuvigil’s maker, Cephalon, has plans to sell the drug to frequent business travelers—those who might pop over to Europe for a couple of days of meetings and then return. The Times article reports that in clinical trials among adults flying to Paris from the east coast, those who took Nuvigil did not nod off during the day as quickly as those who took a placebo.

I asked physician Jim Braude, who travels to Europe several times each year, for some insight and he said, “These drugs work by somehow stimulating the brain (although the mechanism is not clearly defined), and can cause heart palpitations and raise blood pressure. So as much as I personally want to eliminate jet lag, I’m not ready to try these given the risk/benefit formula.”

Several readers have used Provigil, but not the new Nuvigil. TravelSkills reader Matt reports, “I use Provigil. It works well at keeping you up with out giving you the jitters. I can see how it can help when you first get some place and need to make it through the first few days until you get adapted to the new time zone.”

Another reader, MG, wrote, “I have used Provigil for almost a year now, and find it to be a ‘miracle’ drug for jetlag as well as many other ailments. It is astonishing! Somewhat like a stimulant in its results, it has almost no side effects and is a completely beneficial option for dealing with stresses to both the body and mind. Insurance companies (mine, two different ones) are reluctant to pay for it and it is quite expensive.”

Hmmm. I’d still like to try Nuvigil, but I think I’d experiment first on a trip that did NOT include an important meeting.

Since I’m alway curious to try anything to help with my jet lag issues,  I’m considering trying a new herbal concoction for an upcoming trip to Tokyo made by Mountain View acupuncturist and herbalist Ted Ray. He says he’s “tested his Jet Lag Formula on Silicon Valley executives for about seven years  and almost all notice an improvement in how they feel in the days after arrival– though some more than others.” The formula consists of a round of capsules containing a cocktail of various herbs that you take before during and after your flight.

How about YOU? How do you deal with jetlag?


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Canada Eases Carry-On Rules for Flights to U.S.

As of today, Canadian authorities have relaxed the onerous ZERO carry-on bag policy enacted after Christmas Day bombing attempt over Detroit. Passengers on flights bound for the U.S. from Canada can now carry on a single bag, plus a personal item like a purse, briefcase or laptop bag.

This is more or less a return to the rules in force before the Dec 25 incident, but a spokesperson at Transport Canada told The TICKET that travelers should expect tighter enforcement of the one-bag rule.

This is VERY good news for Vancouver Winter Olympics-bound travelers headed north in February.


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Canada lifts zero carry-on bag rule

As of today, Canadian authorities have relaxed the  onerous ZERO carry-on bag policy enacted after Christmas Day bombing attempt over Detroit. Passengers on flights bound for the U.S. from Canada can now carry on a single bag, plus a personal item like a purse, briefcase or laptop bag.

This is more or less a return to the rules in force before the Dec 25 incident, but a spokesperson at Transport Canada told TravelSkills that travelers should expect tighter enforcement of the one-bag rule.

This is VERY good news for Vancouver Winter Olympics-bound travelers headed north in February.


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DOT: Virgin America is indeed AMERICAN

photo: life.com

NEW!! See TravelSkills on SFgate

Love what Virgin America as done for flying from the Bay Area? (There are a lot of chihuahuas that sure do! See video below) Then you’ll be glad to know that it’s cleared an important challenge to its U.S. citizenship. This just in from the AP:

The Transportation Department has rejected an Alaska Airlines challenge to the U.S. citizenship status of privately held carrier Virgin America.

The agency said Friday that Virgin America remains a U.S. citizen and remains under the actual control of U.S. citizens. Under U.S. law, foreign ownership in a U.S. air carrier is limited to 25 percent of the voting interest in the carrier.

The Virgin Group, controlled by British billionaire Richard Branson, is a minority holder in Virgin America. DOT said the Virgin Group holds a 25 percent equity stake in Virgin America.

Here’s a link to the complete AP article

And Virgin America’s public statement on the decision

YO QUIERO VIRGIN AMERICA:

And here’s a very cute Chihuahua story that was a publicity coup for Virgin America…it got the brand on ALL the big morning talk shows in New York, plus tons of Bay Area and national media coverage. It was a feel good travel story in the midst of a bad travel news week!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rjmRSHemqs

(Too bad the voice over says “Virgin ATLANTIC” instead of Virgin America! I bet the PR’s are cringing down in Burlingame!)

NEW!! See TravelSkills on SFgate


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First Hand Account: Int'l Traveler Returns to ATL on Dec 30

Here’s a copy of an email sent by TICKET reader P. Sinnott regarding her experience returning from Belgium on Weds, Dec 30. Remember that most of the TSA rules here apply to INCOMING international flights only. Most domestic flying remains mostly unchanged, except for heightened security at checkpoints. Many thanks to Ms Sinnott for this!

I flew back from Brussels Belgium to Atlanta yesterday (Dec. 30) on Delta and arrived at the airport three hours ahead of time for check-in. [Read more…]


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Airport News

rdu_skyclub_01-dec-2009_66-croppedSKY CLUB AT RALEIGH OPENS. Delta has finally opened a snazzy new 4000-sq-ft Sky Club at RDU’s brand new Terminal 2 offering complimentary Wi-Fi, beverages and snacks, personalized flight assistance, a full-service bar and satellite TV.

NO MORE THAN THREE. Lengthy tarmac delays are a rarity at ATL thank goodness! But they do happen (but mostly up north due to snow and ice or de-icing.) Nonetheless, the feds have enacted new rules (effective later this winter) that will force airlines to provide food and water after two hours on the tarmac and a mandated return to the gate if they’ve been on the tarmac for more than three hours. If they don’t, they are fined $27,000 per passenger (that’s $5.5 million for a planeload of 200 pissed off passengers). Ouch! While the airlines are saying that the new rule will do more harm than good, the reality is that when faced with a fine like that, they will be forced to make operational changes that, in the long run, will prevent the horror stories we’ve all heard about folks stuck in stinky planes for hours on end. Your TICKET editor has a comment about the whole brouhaha in this ABCNews.com article.

Don’t Forget! BOOK ALL YOUR ONLINE TRAVEL VIA LINKS FROM THE TICKET!

airtran.comdelta.com |  Hotwire


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INTERNATIONAL

NEW MEMBERSHIP REWARDS PARTNER. Got a big bank of American Express Membership Rewards points that you are aching to redeem? You’ve got a new option: British Airways Executive Club recently became the 17th participating frequent flyer plan in Membership Rewards. BA flies to 150 destinations worldwide from ATL via its daily flight to London.

NEW ARRIVALS TAX IN ARGENTINA. Effective immediately, all U.S. citizens arriving at Buenos Aires Ezeiza Airport must pay a one-time “reciprocity fee” of USD $131.00 upon arrival. Why? Because that’s the amount the U.S. charges Argentines applying for entry into the U.S. (Several other South American countries such as Chile, Brazil and Bolivia already require such fees.) While the fee might make travelers wince, the Argentine government stands to pull in a cool $52 million from the 400,000 or so Americans that arrive each year.

DELTA DOWN UNDER. Now that Delta’s the largest airline in the world, it’s beefing up its presence in Australia. To do so, it’s teamed up with Virgin Blue in a code share deal on flights between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. SkyMiles members can also earn SkyMiles on V Australia (another Virgin carrier) transpacific flights. Delta’s BusinessElite customers, Platinum, Gold and Diamond Medallion members and Sky Club members also gain complimentary access to Virgin Blue lounges at airports throughout Australia NOTE: Your TICKET editor was recently in Australia and is happy to report that Virgin Blue is a class act…much more efficient and highly regarded than QANTAS. If you’d like to see V Australia’s business class seats, check out the last few second of this VIDEO of its seats from the National Business Travel Assoc. Convention last summer.

FLY FROM HERE TO THERE ON WHO? In one of the more interesting USA Today articles we’ve read in a while, columnist Ben Mutzabaugh presents the whole concept of “fifth freedom” routes where foreign carriers fly from U.S. cities to countries where they are NOT based. For example, you can fly on Korean Air between LA and Sao Paulo. Or from Las Vegas to Vancouver on Philippines Air. From New York to Toronto on LAN, or from Newark to Brussels on India’s super luxe Jet Airways. Definitely worth the read!

Don’t Forget! BOOK ALL YOUR ONLINE TRAVEL VIA LINKS FROM THE TICKET!

airtran.comdelta.com |  Hotwire


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The Taste of The TICKET: TRUVA (downtown Atlanta)

truvaYou remember the old Steak & Ale in downtown Atlanta? Well it has been transformed into Truva – a stunning Mediterranean restaurant.  One moment you are in the middle of downtown and the next you are inside a gorgeous, comfortable space with a warm fireplace, splashes of burnt red and turquoise and great seating options.  We loved the casual feel of the lounge and the option to sit in the more formal dining room.  Apparently, there is also an upstairs for large parties but we didn’t get to see that space. [Read more…]


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Hotel News

VEGAS WILL BE PACKED. All indications are showing that this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (Jan 7-10) is going to be full to overflowing. Why? Pent up demand. This time last year we were all in economic shock. Attendees for CES and many other conventions were forced to cancel their plans. With things looking up this year, everyone wants to go back. So expect FULL flights between ATL and Vegas, full hotels, and the necessity of restaurant reservations. The city is expecting in excess of 100,000 visitors for this, the city’s largest event of the year.

HILTON HHONORS. Hilton is increasing the number of HHonors points required for award redemptions starting on January 14. Most reward categories will require an additional 5000 points for a free night stay. Stays at Hilton’s poshest brand, the Waldorf=Astoria Collection, are now pretty much standardized at 50,000 per night in the low season and 60,000 in high season. (TIP: Redeem points before Jan 14 on the old schedule and you’ll save.)

http://hhonors1.hilton.com/en_US/hh/landing/RewardFAQ/index.do

MISCELLANY

DEAD WEEKS. (SEE VIDEO) If you’ve got some flexibility in your travel schedule, don’t forget that the first three weeks of January are considered “dead weeks” in the travel industry. This is when travel demand plummets and you’ll find some of the very lowest prices of the year if you can take off at the last minute. It’s a great time to troll for bargains on last minute sites like Hotwire or name your own price sites like priceline.com. You can also find tons of last minute deals on cruises departing Florida and Gulf Coast ports. You’ll also find incredible weekend deals at luxury hotels located in downtown areas. And this year, with AirTran launching service to Jamaica, Aruba and the Bahamas, (and Puerto Rico) you will find lots of last minute bargains to warm weather destinations. Also, all those nice new hotel rooms in Las Vegas are a steal (except Jan 6-10 when the Consumer Electronics show is in town.)

PER MILE RATE CHANGE. The IRS recently announced that, starting January 1, 2010 it would lower the standard mileage rate to 50 cents per mile, down from the current 55-cent rate (and a high of 58.5 cents in 2008) The IRS standard mileage rate is the maximum amount you can deduct from your taxes for business use of a personal vehicle. It’s also used as a guideline for companies reimbursing employees who use their personal vehicles on company business.

Don’t Forget! BOOK ALL YOUR ONLINE TRAVEL VIA LINKS FROM THE TICKET!

airtran.comdelta.com |  Hotwire


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A Round-Up of New and Reinstated Flights at SFO

The following new airlines and routes will be added at San Francisco International Airport in upcoming months:

January 5:

  • Jetblue adds second daily A-320 nonstops to/from Boston and New York-JFK
  • JetBlue adds two daily roundtrips to Long Beach for a total of five daily.

February 11: United adds new roundtrip A320 nonstop to/from St. Louis

March 28:

  • United reinstates second daily  flights to: London,  Frankfurt and Tokyo (all Boeing 777 aircraft)
  • United adds two more flights per week to Osaka for daily nonstop service

May 4: WestJet adds seasonal nonstops to/from Calgary with B737 aircraft.

May 10: AirBerlin starts Weds and Fri roundtrips to/from Dusseldorf using A330 aircraft

June 1. Swiss begins 6x per week roundtrips to/from Zurich with A340. (no Tuesdays)

June 22: Air France adds second daily seasonal flights to Paris on Tues, Thurs and Sat.


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Delta Offers New Upgraded “Business Elite” SFO-New York (2.5 min VIDEO)


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khIytDRus58

Delta’s now offering a schwanky new transcon Business Elite service for flights between SFO and New York-JFK.  Fares run in the $1000 to $3000 range.

I have only flown United P.S Business and Delta on this route and would love it if someone could chime in with some comments below about American’s premium classes or Virgin America’s first class on the route.

Delta’s upgraded service brings it up to par with rivals on the busy route.

Like United’s PS flights, Delta flies only Boeing 757’s on the route. However, Delta offers 16 Business Elite seats in the front section of the aircraft (forward of the galley and to the left when you enter the plane). The rest of the plane is coach (no first class.)

United P.S. offers 12 first class, lie flat seats and 26 business class, cradle style seats which are similar to Delta’s. (On United, first and business class comprise about two thirds of the on-board real estate.)

Delta Transcon Business Elite offers a wide range of entertainment options, but no live TV on its in-seat AVOD system. United passes out portable, individual inflight entertainment units that offer more limited choices than Delta’s.

United currently has in-flight wi-fi on ALL P.S. flights. Delta says that its wi-fi installation on these flights should be complete by the end of Dec 2009. Both United and Delta offer in-flight power plugs for laptops.

Anyway, TravelSkills recently went along for a test ride— see our 2.5 min video review. Enjoy! Take a look and let us know what you think. LEAVE YOUR COMMENTS BELOW!


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Your BAT editor on KGO TV Channel 7 re: British Air Strike (since called off)

ABC-7 reporter Lillian Kim called on your BAT editor Chris McGinnis for commentary about the British Airways strike, which was thankfully called off by court injunction the following day. The story was mostly about a high school band’s plight, but Chris supplied the expert opinion (See 1:20) ….this is great publicity for the blog! GO BAT!

See BA statement re: strike cancellation below….

BA STATEMENT RE: STRIKE CALL OFF:

We are delighted for our customers that the threat of a Christmas strike
has been lifted by the court.

It is a decision that will be welcomed by hundreds of thousands of families
in the UK and around the world.

There was never any need for a strike and we hope that Unite will take this
opportunity to reflect before deciding its next steps. We believe the
public would want that too.

In recent days, we believe Unite has formed a better understanding of our
position and of the ways in which we could move forward.

It has also become very clear that our customers do not believe that
old-style trade union militancy is relevant to our efforts to move British
Airways back toward profitability. Financial success is essential to build
the kind of business our customers want and provide long-term opportunities
for our staff.


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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.”