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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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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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! 

facebook like

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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16 brand new must-see NYC hotels

A brand new Marriott Courtyard AND Residence  Inn open in this skyscraper near Central Park (Photo: Marriott)

A brand new Marriott Courtyard AND Residence Inn open in December in this skyscraper near the SW corner of Central Park (Photo: Marriott)

New hotels are sprouting up throughout New York City like mushrooms after a storm—New York has added more than 5,000 rooms in the last two years, and by the end of 2014, it will boast over 100,000, according to NYC & Company, the city’s tourism organization.

See my Google slideshow of new hotels here- photos and captions 

In December alone, Marriott will open two brand new hotels inside the same building: a 378-room Courtyard and a 261-room Residence Inn. The soaring steel and glass tower near the southwest corner of Central Park is now the tallest hotel building in the western hemisphere. Also in December, Hyatt opens the brand new-from-the-ground-up 487-room, 54-story Hyatt Times Square.

Check out the view from this room at the brand new Viceroy Hotel on 57th St. (Photo: Viceroy Hotel)

Check out the view from this room at the brand new Viceroy Hotel on 57th St. (Photo: Viceroy Hotel)

While heavy demand is keeping hotel prices high, many of Manhattans newest hotels are in the less expensive category—for example, in an area between the Empire State Building and Herald Square (just south of Times Square)… there is a concentration of brand new mid-priced, big brand hotels such as Best Western PremierHilton Garden InnHoliday Inn Express or Marriott Courtyard  (among others). These hotels offer relatively good deals, new (but small), modern rooms, free wi-fi, breakfast and points in your favorite hotel loyalty program– definitely worth checking out.

While most business travelers have likely spent the night at hotels in the popular, central Midtown or Times Square areas, demand has prompted a hotel building boom across all five boroughs of the city, providing a slew of brand new, upscale options in areas like the Upper West Side (NYLO hotel), Greenwich Village (The Jade Hotel) Brooklyn (Wythe Hotel) or Queens (Z Hotel).

Despite all the new construction, upscale hotels in NYC are expensive. It’s difficult to find a decent hotel room for less than $400 per night. Of course there are some times of year when rooms go for much less than that (like early January) but for the most part, you are going to have to part with a lot of cash for a nice room in NYC.

See my Google slideshow of new hotels here- photos and captions 

A few more highlights:

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

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

The opulent 909-room New York Palace hotel (on Madison Ave in Midtown) just completed a major $140 million re-do of all rooms and suites. Its triplex suites (see photo) are unlike anything I’ve ever seen in NYC. Wowza!

The mod, eclectic 178-room Hyatt Union Square opened in April 2013 one block south of Union Square Park on Fourth Ave and 13th St.

Hilton devotees should be pleased to know that  the new 463-suite Conrad New York hotel in Battery Park City (near Freedom Tower) took the place of the one time Embassy Suites in the same building. It’s now much more upscale, and full of downtown financial types from Wall Street or the Goldman Sachs building next door (which incidentally owns the hotel.)

The chic 240-room Viceroy New York opened in October 2013 on West 57th Street near Carnegie Hall– and right next door to the Parker Meridien.  The urbane 208-room Quin hotel opened down the street last earlier this month.

The new 60-room High Line Hotel (on the west side of town in Chelsea) is part of a mixed-use block that is part hotel, part Episcopal seminary and part residential building.

It’s fashionista central at the new 197-room Refinery Hotel, located in the garment district near Bryant Park.

See my Google slideshow of new hotels here- photos and captions 

Have you visited New York City recently? Where did you stay? Please leave your comments below

Chris McGinnis 

 

 


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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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Chris in Clark Howard's new book!

clark howard book

Clark’s new book is a real page turner!

By now you’ve probably heard that Clark Howard has a new book out … it’s called Living Large for the Long Haul and just rolled off the presses this month. ($12 on Amazon.com)

What you may not know is that Clark included an entire chapter (six pages!) called “The Savvy Business Traveler” about yours truly, TICKET editor Chris McGinnis! Yep, buy the book and flip to page 205 and you can see it for yourself!

Via an interview with me, Clark explains how my life (going all the way back to my childhood!) led to a career as a travel correspondent and consultant. He also reveals a lot of my top tips and best advice for business travelers. Of course and as usual, the book is peppered full of great practical and advice and tips…so buy it!

I’d like to highlight a few paragraphs from the chapter that I thought might stimulate a little dialog here on The TICKET. Take a read and please respond below!

Interestingly, Chris does not believe business travel is more difficult today than it was a generation or two ago.

‘I know I’ll get a lot of disagreement on this one, but having watched business travel closely over the last twenty years, I’m confident to say that business travel has improved enormously, and this has a lot to do with the transparency brought on by the Internet.’

Chris says that we have far more control over our trips than we used to– and control is all important to the business traveler.

‘Think of all the other advances we have now… Wi-Fi on planes; no smoking on planes; safer, new hotels; big, bright airport terminals; seats that fold into flat beds for sleeping on overnight flights; modern trains from airport to city; a fast and easy rental car process. All of these were dreams of business travelers back in what many like to call ‘the golden age of travel,’ when everyone dressed up to fly. Hogwash!

So dear TICKET reader… what do you think? Is business travel better or worse than it was in ‘the golden age of travel?” In your eyes, is the experience getting better…or worse? Please leave your comments below. 

*****

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10 things about new Aloft hotels

IMG_2704

Over the last year, I’ve been hearing a lot about the new Aloft hotel brand from Starwood. Since I have not had the chance to sleep over in one yet, I asked for a tour of the Aloft San Francisco Airport, one of the three Aloft hotels in the Bay Area—all of which have opened in the last year. Currently there are no Aloft hotels in Atlanta… but one is slated to open downtown this winter.

With my camera and notepad I met up with hotel sales & marketing manager Janfred Agarao who showed me around the hotel located on Millbrae Ave just south of SFO.

(click here for my Google+ slideshow of the Aloft at SFO)

Here’s what I saw and learned.

>The Aloft brand is billed as “A Vision of W Hotels” and it’s clear that the W is from where the new chain’s quirky and colorful spirit comes. The SFO property was the 62nd Aloft hotel to open—Starwood expects to have 80 by the end of this year. The other Bay Area locations the Aloft Silicon Valley, located in Newark, which used to be the old W Silicon Valley, and the Aloft Cupertino, near the Apple campus.)

>Most Aloft hotels are built new-from-the-ground-up, but this building started out in the 60’s as the Thunderbird Hotel (which starred in the film, Bullitt), and most recently was a Clarion hotel. Starwood came in and took the building down to the studs and added brand new space, so the look and feel is brand spanking new.

IMG_2751

>The six story Aloft at SFO opened last September with 252 rooms. Its average rate is about $239 per night. Occupancy is healthy—the hotel regularly sells out on midweek on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but struggles to fill up on weekends (which is when rates take a tumble to the $150 range).

(click here for my Google+ slideshow of the Aloft at SFO)

>Most Aloft hotels are located in suburbs, near airports or on the fringes of major downtown areas. For example, New York City locations are in Harlem and in Brooklyn.

IMG_2723

>The lobby of the Aloft at SFO is big, bright and lively—the hotel calls it the “remix area” and there’s room for small groups to gather, communal tables, an unusual blue pool table, free wi-fi, and electrical outlets all over the place. Stationary iPads are available for browsing or making reservations via OpenTable. There are also two desktop computers and a printer.

>Food service is “grab and go” with a wide variety of snacks, such as prepared salads and sandwiches Butterfingers, trail mix or Doritos, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream or It’s It bars are available for sale. Guests who want a full service meal can walk across the parking lot to the Westin hotel.

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

IMG_2722

>Agarao said that the busiest time in the lobby is morning and during happy hour, from 5-8 pm when there’s live acoustical music and discounts on snacks, beer and designer cocktails at the WXYZ bar– muddled watermelon martinis anyone?

(click here for my Google+ slideshow of the Aloft at SFO)

>While Starwood is clearly trying to cater to a younger crowd with the Aloft brand, Agarao said guests generally range from 20 to 50 years old.

IMG_2735

>Beds in nearly every room at the Aloft are placed opposite the window instead of lining up along side it as they do in most hotel rooms. Good feng shui? Who knows? But rooms appear modern, comfortable and well appointed with Bliss bath products, coffee makers and quirky touches like retro-clocks.

>Rooms located on the hotel’s 6th floor offer excellent views of planes taking off and landing on SFO runways…a hypnotizing sight…and only minimal rumbles from jet blasts.

(click here for my Google+ slideshow of the Aloft at SFO)

Have you stayed at an Aloft hotel yet? Let us know what you think! Please leave your comments below! 

Chris McGinnis

*****

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Do you trust hotel review sites? [Infographic]

Copenhagen's elegant Hotel D'Angleterre opens May 1 after a 2 year re-do (Chris McGinnis)

Copenhagen’s elegant Hotel D’Angleterre opens May 1 after a 2 year re-do (Chris McGinnis)

Nearly every traveler I know (including me) checks out hotels on TripAdvisor before making a booking. I’m sure you do, too. Right? The infographic below provides an interesting look at how travelers use the review sites and what makes them trustworthy. It also provides some tips on spotting “fake” reviews.

How do YOU feel about hotel review sites? Do you use them? Trust them? Other than TripAdvisor, which sites do you find most helpful?

Please leave your comments below!

HotelReviews-olery-infograph-FULL

Chris McGinnis

*****

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14 Amazin' Asian hotel pool views

[pb_slideshow group=”1″]

Over the last year or so, I’ve been making the trip across the big green Pacific a lot… and have seen some stunning, sparkling hotel pools along the way. Here’s a slideshow of the nicest ones I’ve seen. (All photos: Chris McGinnis)

I’m hoping this might help you all dream of warm tropical places after a long cold winter….

Happy Spring!

Let me know what you think about occasional slideshows like this….I travel a lot… and take a lot of photos. I’d like to share them here, but don’t want to bore my readers. So please provide some feedback about our slideshows below. Thanks!

Chris McGinnis

Like what you are reading? Then please click on the Facebook LIKE buttons above! Tweet The TICKET. Post it on your LinkedIn page. Get social with The TICKET because it helps us help YOU! 


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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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*****


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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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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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4 fabulous 5-star hotels in London worth checking into

The view across the Thames from London’s new Corinthia Hotel– that pointy building surrounded by cranes in the background is The Shard, Europe’s newest, tallest building. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

I love London for many reasons, most of which revolve around my career in the travel biz. To me, the city just feels like the center of the universe, so every time London calls, I answer!

The dynamic London hotel scene is endlessly fascinating. There is always plenty of experimentation, unusual quirks and something new or unusual to check out.

In preparation for the visitor onslaught brought on by they upcoming Summer Olympics, I recently took off across the pond for a peek at the London hotel scene, and found four fabulous new (or newly renovated) five-star properties worth checking into.

Even if you can’t spend the night, it’s worth stopping by their lively lobbies to have a drink and a gawk at the cool design, have a meal or just to sit and enjoy the outstanding people watching.

A two-ton, LED illuminated Baccarat crystal chandelier sparkles in the lobby of London’s brand new Corinthia Hotel (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Corinthia Hotel London:

Wow! London’s not seen a stunner like this since the much anticipated re-opening of Fairmont’s Savoy Hotel in 2010. Just walking into the big, bright and airy lobby takes your breath away.

This magnificent 294-room newcomer is housed in a gorgeous, historic Victorian-era building that’s been so deeply renovated that it feels brand new. There’s none of the creaky floors, noisy plumbing or mustiness found in some of the capital’s finest grand dames. Rooms are modern, clean, and very big by London standards.

But it’s the big, bright, and buzzy lobby that really wowed me. In the center of the space is a soaring dome adorned with a giant, two-ton, globe-shaped Baccarat crystal chandelier composed of 1,001 grapefruit-sized crystal baubles—each illuminated from within with a tiny white LED light. Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, it’s worth walking through the lobby just to see this gorgeous work. While you are at it, pop in for a meal at one of the hotel’s two popular restaurants, The Northall (traditional British fare with a fresh twist) or Massimo’s (Italian seafood).

The Corinthia also earns high marks from business travelers because it’s one of the few five-star London hotels that include high-speed wi-fi in the nightly rate. Another big selling point for Americans is its liberal no-restrictions check-in and check-out policy—if you are arriving on an early morning flight, just let the hotel know beforehand, and your room will be ready when you arrive—no interminable wait in the lobby while your room is made up

The imposing, yellow sandstone building in Whitehall previously housed Britain’s Ministry of Defense. Malta-based Corinthia Hotels reportedly bought the building and restored it to the tune of about $550 million. Construction began in 2008, and the hotel opened in April 2011. See www.corinthia.com/London

Hipster doormen in rolled jeans and flannels set the scene at London’s new bohemian chic Belgraves hotel

Belgraves

If your business is showbiz, fashion, tech, PR or advertising, the brand new Belgraves hotel is custom-made just for you. It’s the first British outpost of the popular NYC-based Thompson Hotels Group (which recently merged with SF-base Joie de Vivre hotels), and inserts a bit bohemian Americana to its buttoned-up Belgravia neighborhood near Sloane Square. The 85-room hotel, which opened on February 1, is located in the shell of the old Sheraton Belgravia hotel—but there’s nothing Sheraton about this place anymore.

American touches abound– Check out the jeans-and-flannel-clad hipster doormen, or the US flag art behind the front desk. The mid-century modern furnishings in the cozy lobby conversation nooks are straight out of Mad Men.

Comfy-mod rooms have smallish bay windows with plush jewel-toned velvet love seats, and big bright marble bathrooms with tubs that overlook a leafy square across the street. Nice touch: Bedside docking stations can accommodate either an iPad or iPhone. See http://www.thompsonhotels.com/hotels/london/belgraves

Spectacular city views from the glass-walled 10th floor spa atop London’s recently renovated Four Seasons Park Lane Hotel. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Four Seasons Park Lane

The Four Seasons on Park Lane oozes opulence as soon as you step out of your black London taxi in the porte cochere. Handsome doormen in knee length brown jackets and snappy English Trilby hats greet you by name (by sneaking a look at the tag on your bag). Well-heeled guests in finely tailored suits, Italian shoes and horn rimmed specs float through the lobby on their way to their rooms or to the hotel’s popular Amaranto restaurant.

Originally built in 1970, the hotel closed in 2008 for a complete makeover, and re-opened in January 2011. The sumptuous lobby is now bathed in sexy white streaked Italian black marble and mahogany paneling, trimmed in red leather and spritzed with hundreds of white orchids.

Room design is mostly masculine—reds, browns and wood paneling. Black leather covered desks. Light brown and orange wool tartan curtains, big walk in closets. There are even 32 rooms with working fireplaces.

During the recent re-do, the nine story, 217-room hotel got a tenth floor—housing a gorgeous light and airy spa, gym with views across Mayfair to the London Eye, the new Shard and the City. This aerie also serves as a day lounge where early arriving guests can set up shop while waiting for their rooms.

Nice: The hotel also has two big black Rolls-Royces on hand to shuttle guests to points within central London. See www.fourseasons.com/london/ Note: There are two Four Seasons in London—the other is located in Canary Wharf on the city’s eastern edge.

Gothic architecture looms over London’s fab new Renaissance St Pancras hotel (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Renaissance St Pancras

When my cab pulled up to the front of this north-central London hotel, I felt like I was arriving at Hogwarts with its ominous clock tower, gothic arches, spires, red brick and wrought iron. The hotel is actually part of the London St Pancras International train station, built over 150 years ago, but redeveloped in the last decade.

The old hotel part of the station had fallen into disrepair, and was nearly demolished when developers swooped in and returned the space to its former glory as a very unique luxury hotel—unlike any Marriott-branded hotel I’ve ever stayed in.

For instance, developers transformed the station’s old iron and glass porte cochere into a lively, bright lobby area. The adjacent ticketing office is now a warm and clubby lobby restaurant and bar—packed with locals as well as passengers waiting to board the Eurostar trains that depart St Pancras for Paris or Brussels.

In addition to historic (and more expensive) “chambers” rooms in the old building, a modern Marriott-style 200-room wing was added out back— not as unique, but probably better suited for business travelers who prefer to spend most of their free time in public spaces and work in their rooms. See http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/lonpr-st-pancras-renaissance-london-hotel

Disclosure: McGinnis was a guest of the house at some of the hotels mentioned in this post.


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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.

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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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Trip Report: The London West Hollywood Hotel

The rooftop pool and cabanas at the London West Hollywood hotel.

The rooftop pool and cabanas at the London West Hollywood hotel.

In March I was in Los Angeles on business and extended my stay over the weekend at the London Hotel in West Hollywood which opened in 2009. I loved it. (So do a lot of others…it is currently ranked #1 among hotels in the area on TripAdvisor.)

In my mind, this hotel has all the elegance, class and comfort of LA’s well-known (and enormously expensive) west side grande dames combined with a hip design-forward factor you would expect at the W or the Standard. For example, all hotel hallways are sheathed in a voluptuous pale gray suede-like fabric that is “brushed” every day. (See photo below)

Rates run in the $300 range per night, but if you are staying longer than one night, you’ll want to pay a bit more for a room with one of those sweeping twinkling south-facing views of LA. (Disclosure: I was a guest of the hotel one night, and paid $300 for one night, during my two-day stay.)

The 200-room hotel, once known as the Bel Age, is located a block downhill from Sunset Boulevard (at San Vicente) in West Hollywood. It shares a parking lot with the infamous Viper Room. It’s got a sexy rooftop, cabana-ringed, glassed-in, pool area with a stunning 360-degree view that adds a fun, SoCal glam edge. There’s also a buzzy Gordon Ramsay restaurant on-site.

Three top features frequent travelers will appreciate: This is a luxury hotel that offers free high-speed Internet connections. It also serves up one of the most elaborate and varied complimentary breakfast buffets (including items like scones, smoked salmon, fresh fruit salads, quiche…see below) I’ve ever torn into. And all rooms are big, bright and over-sized…as a matter of fact, the hotel refers to all rooms as “suites.”

Come on along for the show and see all the pretty pictures! [Read more…]


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Smiling about Barcelona

The brand new W Barcelona hotel (Photo: Paco CT / Flickr)

Diverse, colorful, convenient Barcelona is one of those cities that always makes business travelers smile when they learn they have an assignment there.

If you are heading to Barcelona on business, or are wondering what’s so wonderful about the Spanish city, check out TICKET editor Chris McGinnis’ latest BBC.com post— he reveals his top picks for elegant or edgy hotels, offers suggestions for outings with colleagues and plenty of other secrets and advice.

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Still paying for hotel Wi-Fi?

Ask any business traveler about his or her biggest travel-related gripes and you’ll undoubtedly find hotel fees for in-room Internet access near the top of the list.

As much as travelers (and travel writers) squawk about how wrong it feels to have to pay for something that has become as basic to a hotel stay as hot water, the hotel industry has resisted – especially at the high-end.

But I think we might have reached a tipping point in the war against these fees.

Last week global hotel giant Carlson launched a new loyalty program which offers its members free Internet access at all Radisson Hotels worldwide, and at all Carlson brands in the US. That’s nearly 1,100 hotels. And the only thing guests have to do is sign up for the program; no elite status required (details below).

Thorsten Kirschke, COO of Carlson Global, said he’d like to eventually see free Internet access for all guests at all Carlson hotels, and this is the first step in that direction. (Radisson hotels in Europe already offer free access to all guests.)

This move shows that the idea of free hotel Internet access is moving up the food chain to higher-tiered hotels and across entire hotel brand families.

Most of the world’s largest hotel families, such as Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott and Starwood, charge for Internet access at their upscale brands, but do not charge for it at their budget brands. Best Western was the first to offer free Internet access chain-wide in 2004. (The exception is elite level members of some hotel loyalty programs, who now get it free.)

In addition to Radisson’s move, smaller upscale hotel chains such as Fairmont, IHG’s Hotel Indigo, Hyatt’s Andaz, Kimpton (US) and Omni (US) have moved to free access. Two big standouts at the top of the hotel heap are the ultra-luxe Peninsula and Shangri-La brands; both offer free in-room Internet at all properties worldwide.

So we are getting there. Our cries about fees for Internet access seem to have reached hotel company boardrooms and change is in the air.

In the meantime, here’s some advice to consider on the topic of hotel room Internet access:

Free access does not always mean fast access and in too many cases, business travelers get what they pay for. Now that business travelers are using a lot more bandwidth – to watch movies, or send and receive large files – hotels with older systems can get overloaded and slow down fast. If having a fast Internet connection is crucial, call the hotel before you book and ask the front desk if they get a lot of complaints from guests about Internet connections or speed.

Frequent travelers who always need fast Internet access should consider USB sticks or cards for laptops that provide access to new 3G, 4G or other mobile broadband networks.

Some hotels have moved to a two-tier system. Basic, low bandwidth wi-fi (good enough to check email or browse the web) is free. If you want to watch movies or videos, or interact on social networking sites like Facebook, you’ll have to pay a fee for more bandwidth.

What about you? Are you getting it for free more often than not?

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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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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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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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Hotels roaring back to life

IHG's Priority Club members now earn/burn points on the Vegas strip (Photo: Christopher Chan)

After a two years of big declines in occupancy, rates and optimism, the hotel industry seems to be roaring back to life.

>Just this week InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), which includes giant brands like Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza, reported that its occupancy was up 4 percent in the third quarter. It also announced big plans to move into the recovering Las Vegas market. (See below)

>Starwood’s CEO says that the chain’s occupancy rates are back now back at 2007 levels with rates in positive territory. (Westin, Sheraton and W Hotels fall under the Starwood umbrella.)

>Best Western reports that it sold 15 percent more room nights on its web site in September compared to the same time last year.

>Marriott’s feeling so confident about the future that this week it announced an ambitious plan to add 80,000 to 90,000 new rooms to its portfolio of brands over the next three years.

All that is great news for hotels, but not such great news for travelers– as a result of increasing demand, hotel rates are on the rise. Expedia reported today that hotel rates were up 4 percent in the third quarter.

Frequent travelers will feel pricing pressure most in big gateway cities such as New York where third quarter rates were up 12 percent according to STRGlobal. In San Francisco, rates were up about 7 percent; in Boston, they were up 6 percent.

Are you paying significantly more for hotels than you have in recent years? Leave your examples or comments below.

Now for a few more newsy nuggets from the hotel scene:

EARNING AND BURNING ON THE STRIP. Priority Club Rewards members should be pleased to know that they now have 7000 plush rooms on the Las Vegas strip where they can earn or redeem their hard-earned loyalty points.

This week InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) announced a new alliance with the Venetian and Palazzo that will, among other things, allow Priority Club members to book suites on the IHG web site, redeem a minimum of 40,000 points for a one-night stay, and earn points as if they were staying at any other IHG brand. (Stay tuned…this functionality is not yet available on its web site.) Until now, IHG had only a minor presence in Las Vegas with a handful of off-strip properties.

In a similar move, Marriott recently (and for the first time) announced that it too would make a splash on the strip by teaming up with the Cosmopolitan, which opens in the new City Center complex on December 15. Marriott Rewards members will have similar opportunities to earn and burn program points on the strip.

Surfboard's up at the front desk at Marriott's new EDITION hotel in Honolulu

Surfboard's up at the front desk at Marriott's new EDITION hotel in Honolulu

ALOHA MARRIOTT. Marriott introduced its new design-chic EDITION hotel in Honolulu earlier this month. (In the building that previously housed the Renaissance Ilikai Waikiki hotel near the Ala Moana Shopping Center.)

Marriott partnered with hotel design maven Ian Schrager to create the new EDITION brand, so guests can expect the highly stylized surroundings they may have experienced at Schrager’s other hotels that include the Delano in Miami, the Mondrian in LA, or the Gramercy Park or Royalton in NYC. This is the first EDITION hotel to open; Marriott says more will open in other “24-hour cities” over the next few years.

Pro: The Waikiki EDITION offers free high-speed internet access– unusual for an upscale hotel. Con: The hotel is located on Ala Moana Blvd across from a Marina and not on the beach– but from photos it does seem to have a super-sexy pool area.

Rates run in the $375 per night range, but can dip as low as $195 during promotional periods. Marriott Rewards members can redeem a minimum of 35,000 points for a one-night stay.

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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.

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

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NYC hotels getting pricey and unusual

Minimalist stylings at NYC's new Andaz Fifth Avenue hotel

Like many frequent travelers, I’ve spent plenty of nights in New York City hotels over the years. When looking for a place to stay, I nearly always look for two key words: brand new.

I like new hotels for a couple of reasons: First, since I’m in the travel biz, I’m eager to see and experience the latest trends in hospitality. Second, since hotel rooms in Manhattan are nearly always occupied, they get worn out quickly. A brand new hotel will have little evidence that hundreds of others have spent the night in my room before I did. (Note: If you like new hotels, you’ve got to be somewhat forgiving when it comes to service—it takes a while for hotel staff to grow out of the “green” stage.)

Good news: When it comes to “brand new” in NYC, there’s plenty to choose from– this year alone, 33 new hotels will open, adding some 7,500 rooms to the market. Despite the increase in capacity, average rates in New York are climbing—up 12 percent in September year-over-year to an average $281 per night, according to STR Global

Last month I stopped by New York on my way back from London and checked out one of the more noteworthy newbies: The Andaz – Fifth Avenue.

Hyatt has always been a reliably classy brand. But with its new Andaz boutique-style brand, it’s moved out of that cozy comfort zone and onto the cutting edge.  >>>there’s plenty more, plus a list of all the new hotels opening in NYC this year below the break!<<<

[Read more…]


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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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Bumping up your SkyMiles balance

(Photo: Friscocali / Flickr)

As the end of the year draws nigh, SkyMiles members are gunning to build up those mileage balances. Here are some promotions to help you do just that:

1>EARN MQM’s AT HILTON. We know that TICKET readers love those super-special Medallion Qualifying Miles or MQM’s that help speed up getting to elite status. This fall, Hilton’s helping out by offering MQMs and double miles to those who stay at any Hilton Family hotel two or more nights by December 10. You must register first.

2>25,000 SKYMILES FOR $500 SKYMALL PURCHASE. Through Friday, September 17, SkyMiles members who spend at least $500 at SkyMall will earn a whopping 25,000 bonus miles. This is a great deal if you have items (like electronics or massage chairs) on your shopping list anyway…and if you don’t mind slightly overpaying. (SkyMall prices are always slightly higher than elsewhere.) Details.

3>ALASKA AIRLINES DOUBLE. Those who fly Delta from Atlanta to the west coast and then connect to an Alaska Airlines flight will earn double bonus (not MQM) miles between now and November 15. For example, if you have a meeting in Seattle, fly Delta to San Francisco or Los Angeles, and then connect to an Alaska Air flight for the second leg to Seattle. Note: These are LONG flights, so the double miles really add up and could make the stopover worth your while. Do the math: ATL-LAX-ATL = 4000 miles x 2 = 8000 miles. LAX-SEA-LAX = 2000 miles x 2 = 4000 miles. So, a total of 12,000 miles plus your Medallion bonuses. Not bad! Register here.

4>DELTA + HAWAIIAN. SkyMiles members can now earn and burn SkyMiles on Hawaiian Airlines’s inter-island flights as a result of an expansion of the carriers’ code-sharing pact. This means you can buy a single Delta ticket from the mainland to Honolulu and then on to one of the 70 daily inter-island flights operated by Hawaiian Airlines between Honolulu and Kahului, Lihue, Kona and Hilo. Mahalo!

5>TRANSFER MEMBERSHIP REWARDS, GET 20% MORE SKYMILES. Periodically, Delta offers American Express Membership Rewards members a nice bonus when they transfer their points from Amex to Delta SkyMiles. Through September 30, that bonus stands at 20%. Details and registration.

6>DELTA TO OFFER SKYMILES DEBIT CARD. If you are a fan of debit cards and Delta’s Amex charge card offerings aren’t doing much for you, stay tuned for a flurry of new Delta/MasterCard debit card offers. Delta and MasterCard announced this week that they’ve teamed up to offer a debit card product that will extend debit cards beyond just SunTrust, the current sole provider of Delta debit cards.  But you won’t be able to get the card (or those nice sign up bonuses) on until they sign on with a local bank to issue it.

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

Just click here:

airtran.com | delta.com | Hotwire


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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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Hotel News

(Photo: Nhanusek / Flickr)

IHG HOTELS PAYING BAG FEES. Here’s a deal that should be music to the ears of non-elite air travelers forced to pay those dastardly new fees for checked bags. IHG Hotels (which include Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Staybridge Suites, Indigo among others) is offering to rebate $50 to travelers who book two or more weekend nights now through Dec 30. Must use Visa card to pay for your stay. Details.

MARRIOTT FALL DEAL. Marriott hotels kicked off the slower fall travel season with a pretty nice offer: Stay twice between September 15 and January 15 and get one free night. Must pay with Visa. Details

NEW HYATT CARD. Hyatt has unveiled a new Chase card with some nice bennies: You get two free nights and any Hyatt worldwide with first purchase. You get three Gold Passport points for every dollar spent at Hyatt. And they’ve eliminated those pesky foreign transaction fees. Annual fee is $75. Details

ARE YOU INDEPENDENT? Do you love independent, non-chain, upscale or luxury hotels, but miss the free nights you earn with big chain frequent stay programs? A new program called Stash Hotel Rewards offers five points per dollar spent at over 80 hotels, like the Affinia Dumont hotel in Manhattan, or the hotel Andra in Seattle, two of your TICKET editor’s top picks in those cities. Stash estimates that the average traveler could earn one free night after about five stays. Here’s a current and rapidly expanding list of the hotels that participate in Stash. To get points, you must book directly with the hotel’s web site, not via third party channels. Worth a look! Details

PICK YOUR ROOM. Did you know that Hilton’s Homewood Suites now allow travelers to choose their exact room 36 hours prior to arrival? Now that’s something I’d like to see across the hotel industry! Details

MORE FREE WI-FI. Slowly but surely, hotel chains are getting the message that frequent travelers  really REALLY want Wi-Fi charges included in their room rates.  Hilton recently joined a trend among several chains by offering free Wi-Fi across ALL its brands to elite level members of its HHonors programDetails.

NICE IDEA! Hyatt’s new upscale Andaz chain offers free mini bars (alas, no booze…but still) Details. Have you stayed at an Andaz yet? If so, please leave your comments below.

STARWOOD CARD FEE. The popular Starwood/Amex card recently hiked its annual fee for the second time in two years to $65. Still worth it? (Maybe they felt they were leaving money on the table considering Hyatt’s new card fee of $75…)

COOL POOL. Singapore may now have the coolest rooftop hotel infinity pool ever. You’ve gotta see these photos to believe your eyes. It’s located at the brand new Marina Sands hotel there.

HOTEL HOUSEKEEPING TRENDS. We recently posted an interesting item about certain Starwood hotels that offer guests 500 Starpoints for opting out of hotel housekeeping. We heard from many of you who thought that was a dandy idea. Now there’s more. Best Western says that when asked, about 40% of it’s guests now opt for limited or no housekeeping. Hmm. I sorta like the idea of having my room cleaned each day. I don’t necessarily need linens changed, but a quick clean up is nice. What about you?  Leave your comments below.

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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!

Like what I’m doing here? Then follow me on Facebook!

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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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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Hotel News

With the peak summer travel season right around the corner and plenty of TICKET readers busy planning their trips, we’ve put together an array news and tools to help you make the right decision. Happy planning!

CONSUMER REPORTS RATES HOTELS. There are all kinds of hotel ratings and rankings and lists out there…so many in fact, that I sorta glaze over when I read about them. However, when Consumer Reports ranks hotels, I prick up my ears. Its ratings are based on the experiences of nearly 28,000 CR readers regarding their hotel stays between January 2008 and April 2009. You’ve got to subscribe to the magazine for the full report (June 2010 issue), but here are a few nuggets: Ritz-Carlton (no surprise) placed at the top of the “Fanciest” category. For “luxury” hotels, Renaissance (Marriott) and Embassy Suites ranked highest, Sheraton lowest. In the “upscale” category, Homewood Suites (Hilton) came out at the top, Radisson at the bottom.  For moderate hotels, Drury Inn & Suites ranked highest and Howard Johnson ranked lowest. (Have you ever stayed at a Drury Inn?? If so, please leave a comment. I’m not familiar with this chain and I’m curious!) In the budget category, Microtel ranked best and America’s Best Value Inn ranked worst.

CR SAYS IT PAYS TO HAGGLE WITH HOTELS. From the article that accompanied the Consumer Reports hotel ranking: “Only 35 percent of respondents tried to negotiate for a better deal, but those who did were rewarded with a lower rate or room upgrade 80 percent of the time. That’s a slightly higher success rate than readers experienced in our 2006 survey. Those who called ahead to do their haggling were even more successful than those who tried to negotiate in person.” What’s your experience with haggling with hotels? Leave your comments below.

The Ellis on Peachtree

HOTEL INDUSTRY INSIDERS’ TOP PICKS FOR 2010. Since 2007 Expedia has produced the annual Insider’s Select List, an excellent resource for those blindly seeking a good hotel in an unknown city. Why do I like it? Because the selection is based on three factors: first, of course, it incorporates user reviews…but since user reviews are not always such a great gauge, they also include input from Expedia’s 400 local hotel market managers who know what’s hot and what’s not in their hometowns. They also use a value rating of each hotel, which compares the hotel’s average rate with that of comparable properties in the market. Combined, those three factors churn out some very reliable winners. In typical Expedia fashion, hotels are easily searchable by region, country and city. (In Atlanta, the top four hotels are: The Ellis on Peachtree, The Omni at CNN Center, the Grand Hyatt in Buckhead and the Ga. Tech Hotel and Conference Center in Midtown.) Disclosure: I  was editor of  Expedia Travel Trendwatch 2005-2009.

DESPERATELY SEEKING FREE WI-FI. It’s getting easier and easier to find free Wi-Fi at hotels these days as operators are finally tuning in to the fact that business travelers see it as a necessity and expect it to be included in the rate. But every now and then you get a big surprise when you have to pay $15 a day for the convenience. To help avoid that, the good folks over at hotelchatter.com have produced an exhaustive list of hotels with and without free Wi-Fi.

SPEAKING OF FREE WI-FI. Did you know that if you simply join frequent stay programs at Fairmont, Kimpton or Omni hotels you’ll get free Wi-Fi access? All you have to do is sign up. Other full-service brands such as Marriott, W (Starwood) and Hilton only offer free Wi-Fi to top-tier members of their programs.

SUMMER HOTEL BONUSES: The “Big Four” hotel chains have come out with their summer promotions and they are looking pretty good. Here’s a rundown:

>MARRIOTT: Marriott Rewards members earn a free night for every third stay at any of its 3200 hotels between June 1 and August 31. Marriott will also toss in a certificate for a $10/day discount on Hertz. Free stays are good through December 31 in Category 1-4 hotels only. Register here.

>MARRIOTT AND DELTA. SkyMiles members who stay at any of Marriott’s 3200 “participating” hotels worldwide between May 1 and September 6 will earn a whopping 5000 bonus SkyMiles beginning with the second stay. (Max: 60,000 miles) Register here.

>STARWOOD: Starwood is offering a free weekend (Fri, Sat or Sun) night after every three stays. However, Starwood’s earning window is earlier than Marriott’s: May 1-July 31. Free nights are good through December 19. What makes this a better offer, though, is that the free nights are good a ALL Starwood hotels in Categories 1-6 which even includes some of the pricey St Regis properties. Register here.

>PRIORITY CLUB (InterContinental): Members earn double Priority Club points OR airline miles OR up to $500 in gift cards starting with their second stay at any of the chain’s 4400 hotels worldwide. Good for stays from May 14 through August 31. Double points or miles awarded beginning with second qualifying stay. Gift cards are good at Best Buy, Home Depot, Target and others. Register here

>HILTON: According to a blog post by Hilton’s new CEO Chris Nassetta, all Hilton brands (3.500 hotels) will offer a “up to a 30% discount” plus free breakfast for stays between May 28 and September 6. (Details should be posted on Hilton.com site starting May 10.) Interesting aside: In the post, Nassetta points out that Hilton HHonors “enrollment from January to March 2010 were the highest enrollment levels for the program during those months within the last four years.” Why is that interesting? Because in January, Hilton increased its award redemption levels by about 25 percent, which got it a lambasting by travel media.

24 BRAND NEW HOTELS IN NEW YORK? You betcha. Check out this list and see how many you know of. Interesting to note how many of them are midscale and on the western side of the city.

  • The Standard New York (SEE PHOTO BELOW)  Full-Service 335 848 Washington Street Greenwich Village Jan 2009
  • Hilton Garden Inn Tribeca Select-Service 150 6 York Street Tribeca Jan 2009
  • Hotel Reserve Select-Service 116 20 Maiden Lane Financial District Jan 2009
  • Ace Hotel New York Full-Service 262 20 West 29th Street Chelsea Mar 2009
  • Fairfield Inn Manhattan/Times Square Limited-Service 244 330 West 40th Street Midtown West Mar 2009
  • Hilton Garden Inn – West 35th Street Select-Service 298 63 West 35th Street Garment District Mar 2009
  • Smyth Tribeca – A Thompson Hotel Boutique 100 85 West Broadway Tribeca Mar 2009
  • West 57th Street by Hilton Club Timeshare 161 102 West 57th Street Midtown West May 2009
  • Four Points by Sheraton Midtown Select-Service 244 326 West 40th Street Midtown West Jun 2009
  • Comfort Inn Manhattan Bridge Limited-Service 60 61-63 Chrystie Street Nolita Jun 2009
  • Hampton Inn Times Square South Limited-Service 184 337 West 39th Street Garment District Jul 2009
  • Holiday Inn Express Times Square Limited-Service 210 343 West 39th Street Garment District Jul 2009
  • Candlewood Suites Times Square Extended Stay 188 339 West 39th Street Garment District Jul 2009
  • Hotel Indigo Chelsea Select-Service 122 127 West 28th Street Chelsea Jul 2009
  • Doubletree New York – Chelsea Full-Service 237 128 West 29th Street Chelsea Jul 2009
  • Comfort Inn Midtown West Limited-Service 70 343 West 44th Street Midtown West Aug 2009
  • Ink48, a Kimpton Hotel Full-Service 222 653 11th Avenue Midtown West Sep 2009
  • Crosby Street Hotel Boutique 86 79 Crosby Street SoHo Oct 2009
  • Club Quarters World Trade Center Full-Service 421 140 Washington Street Financial District Nov 2009
  • The Strand Hotel Full-Service 177 33 West 37th Street Garment District Dec 2009
  • Fairfield Inn & Suites Manhattan Limited-Service 92 21 West 37th Street Garment District Dec 2009
  • Andaz New York – Wall Street Hotel + Condo 253 75 Wall Street Financial District Jan 2010
  • W NY-Downtown Hotel & Residences Hotel + Condo 217 123 Washington Street Financial District Feb 2010
  • The Distrikt Hotel – Ascend Collection Select-Service 155 342 West 40th Street Midtown West Feb 2010

Source: Hotelresource.com

The new Standard Hotel on the west side of Chelsea straddles the new High Line Trail (photo: C. McGinnis)

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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.

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A Big Bargain in the Bustle of Tokyo

In April, your TICKET editor was on a business trip to Asia and checked in at the new Best Western Shinjuku ASTINA Hotel in Tokyo. It’s currently the only Best Western in town and offers a great value to business travelers visiting one of the most expensive cities in the world.

A few unusual touches to see in the video below: Pajamas and buckwheat pillows, smoked trout and miso soup on the breakfast bar and heated toilet seats!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgONunfdG7U

(Disclosure: I contribute to Best Western’s travel blog at youmustbetrippin.com)


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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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Hotel News

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?

SHERATON MANHATTAN NO LONGER SHERATON. You might not be able to opt out of housekeeping at the Sheraton Manhattan, though. Starwood has announced that the hotel will loose its brand affiliation this spring due to it’s 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 have two Sheratons so close to each other anyway…)

Updated room at the Best Western President Hotel near Times Sq- NYC

WHO KNEW IT WAS A BEST WESTERN? Check out my latest blog post on Best Western’s youmustbetrippin.com blog about the increasing number of Best Western hotels that may surprise you and make you say, “Wow! Who’da thunk THIS could be a Best Western?” I take a look at unusually cool BW hotels in San Francisco, Seoul, New York and Honolulu.

HOTEL BIZ IN BIND. Despite whispers of the return of business travelers, the hotel industry is still hurting. That’s because even as business travelers creep back, they are paying significantly lower rates. Evidence: IHG, the world’s largest hotel operator (Holiday Inn, InterConti, Crown Plaza, etc) said it’s revenue for 2009 was down 19% compared to 2008. However, the company said declines in January were less severe.

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

airtran.comdelta.com |  Hotwire


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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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