Routes: Delta, ANA, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, JetBlue, Alaska

Delta and ANA have shifted routes from Narita to Tokyo's close-in Haneda Airport. (Image: Haneda Airport)

Delta and ANA have shifted routes from Narita to Tokyo’s close-in Haneda Airport. (Image: Haneda Airport)

In international route news, Delta shifts a pair of Tokyo routes to a new airport and ANA does the same; Delta and Virgin Atlantic expand code-sharing to India with Jet Airways, and Delta drops a couple of Italy routes; British Airways adds a U.S. gateway – but not from Heathrow; JetBlue sets the launch dates for its new Havana service; and Alaska postpones the start of its new Cuba route.

New rights to fly to/from Tokyo’s close-in Haneda Airport took effect over the past weekend, resulting in some route changes at Delta and at Japan’s All Nippon Airways. Delta has started its new nonstops from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Tokyo Haneda, which replaces its MSP-Narita service; Delta also shifted its Los Angeles-Tokyo flights from Narita to Haneda (and earlier this month, Delta dropped its New York JFK-Narita route as well). Delta still flies to Narita from Seattle, Portland, Detroit and Atlanta.

ANA, meanwhile, has shifted its New York JFK and Chicago O’Hare routes from Tokyo Narita to Haneda.

Delta's code-sharing with India's Jet Airways is expanding to London and to Virgin Atlantic. (Image: delta)

Delta’s code-sharing with India’s Jet Airways is expanding to London and to Virgin Atlantic. (Image: Delta)

Across the Atlantic, Delta and partner Virgin Atlantic announced an expansion of Delta’s code-sharing partnership with India’s Jet Airways, which is currently available for connections to India via Paris and Amsterdam. Starting November 2, passengers on Delta and Virgin Atlantic flights into London Heathrow will be able to connect onto Delta code-shares operated by Jet Airways to Mumbai and Delhi, and beyond to 20 domestic destinations in India.

In other transatlantic news, for 2017 Delta will no longer offer summer seasonal service from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Rome or from New York JFK to Pisa; both routes had been planned to launch May 25. And to South America, Delta has just switched aircraft on its Atlanta-Buenos Aires route from a 767 to an A330-300, providing a 20 percent increase in the number of seats it flies.

British Airways next summer will add a new Florida route. The carrier said that starting July 6, it will fly to Ft. Lauderdale four days a week during summer and three days a week the rest of the year. But it will fly the route out of London Gatwick, not Heathrow. BA will use a 777-200 on the route, which will be its fourth into Florida.

Havana

Refrigerator magnets from a recent trip to Havana (Chris McGinnis)

JetBlue is the latest U.S. carrier to announce the starting dates for new service into Havana. JetBlue, which won rights for three routes into the Cuban capital, said it will begin daily roundtrips out of its New York JFK base on November 28; daily flights from Orlando on November 29; and daily service out of Ft. Lauderdale starting November 30 (increasing to twice a day December 1)

Alaska Airlines, meanwhile, has pushed back the start of its single new Havana route. The carrier had planned to start Los Angeles-Havana service on November 29, but now won’t begin flying the route until January 5.

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

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Most popular: Longest flight + California airlines + Best credit card + New lounge + Qantas

Chris McGinnis

Chris excited and looking fresh before this week’s 17-hour flight from SFO to Singapore- and back in just 4 days (Photo: Charles Schuler)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

17 moments in 17 hours on Singapore Airlines Airbus A350Weekend Edition

Singapore Air opens up about longest nonstop

Routes: United at San Jose + Delta, JetBlue, American, Virgin America

Trip Report: The long flight home SIN-SFO

JetSuiteX

The JetSuiteX Terminal at Concord, CA, east of SF- a nice break from the craziness at OAK or SFO! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Big news at two small California airlines

First look: LAX’s fancy new Terminal 6 (photos)

9 key phrases every traveler should know

How to choose the best travel credit card

National pop up lounge

National is installing free popup lounges with wifi like this one at Washington Dulles (Photo: Jeff Pearce)

Airports: Screening upgrades, Oakland lounge, National Car pop-ups + more

10 A new look & feel for Qantas

What do flight attendants love most about SFO? A fun new promotional video from San Francisco International Airport, introduced by Tony Bennett, offers personal accounts from flight attendants representing a number of airlines about the interesting things to see and do at the airport. See video What do you love most about SFO? Leave your comments below.

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

US State Department orders departure of family members at Istanbul consulate

DOT: Average U.S. air fares down almost 10 percent year over year

Got 2.5 million SkyMiles to burn? You can fly Delta Private Jets

(Image: Delta News Hub)

Use your SkyMiles for a ride on a private jet? Yep. (Image: Delta News Hub)

Southwest eyes new fees, but not for bags or ticket changes

JetBlue introduces fancy new amenity kits for Mint cabin passengers

Air India re-routes its SFO-DEL nonstop

Air India's first flight from New Delhi arrived at SFO before dawn. (Image: Peter Biaggi)

Air India’s flight path has changed (Image: Peter Biaggi)

Lowest airfares since 2009

Latest on Alaska-Virgin deal: Close, but still, no cigar

Delta app enhancement lets users follow their checked bags

Want to find your Uber rating? Here’s how

United introduces improved earbuds for economy passengers

AA/BA partner Iberia will get on board with premium economy seating next year

U.K. government backs plan to build a third runway at London Heathrow

Austrian Airlines promises instant replies to customer queries via Facebook Messenger

14 new Boeing 747-8 aircraft ordered, but you’ll never get to fly on one

(Photo: Brandon Farris)

Does that flagged winglet look familiar? (Photo: Brandon Farris)

Alaska Airlines reveals new military inspired special livery

This week Alaska Airlines revealed a new paint job, or livery, on a new 737-900ER. At first glance, that American flag wingtip may look like a move to integrate Virgin America design elements (see its flagged winglet here)  into the look of Alaska Airlines, but it’s part of a new initiative called “Alaska Airlines Salutes,” to support and honor those who serve. The design features an Alaska Airlines Salutes medallion and a fallen soldier badge, with the Battlefield Cross to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The plane also features five rings surrounding the engine, representative of the five branches of the United States military, and American flag winglets.

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

Kicking support animals off planes | Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | Marriott-Starwood: Higher prices, better rewards | The 10,000 points question! | Eye-catching maps explain state of the world | Test your planespotting skills!

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Update on Alaska-Virgin talks with regulators

Alaska Airlines & Virgin America's merger has been slightly delayed. (Image: Alaska Airlines)

Alaska Airlines & Virgin America’s merger has been slightly delayed. (Image: Alaska Airlines)

A few weeks ago, Alaska Airlines and Virgin America said they were extending their anticipated date for winning Justice Department merger approval from late September to October 17. But the latter date has come and gone with no further word. So what’s going on?

According to media reports, the airlines are still involved in discussions with the Justice Department’s antitrust specialists. No one seems to think that DOJ will try to block the merger (according to TheStreet.com), but it may seek to impose some conditions on its approval.

Reuters, citing sources close to the talks, said that DOJ might require Alaska to terminate one or more of its existing code-share partnerships with other domestic airlines in order to gain antitrust approval, or at least to reduce the scope of that code-sharing to fewer routes.

Alaska currently has domestic code-sharing partnerships with Delta and American. Given the heated ongoing competitive battle between Alaska and Delta at Seattle, it’s unlikely that Alaska would be too upset about ending those code-shares. American might be another matter; last spring, Alaska and AA implemented a substantial expansion of code-sharing on domestic routes.

According to Reuters, JP Morgan analysts estimated that the Delta and American code-sharing partnerships bring about $350 million in annual revenues to Alaska.

Sir Richard Branson wants to keep the Virgin name alive in the U.S. (Photo: Nancy Branka)

Sir Richard Branson wants to keep the Virgin name alive in the U.S. (Photo: Nancy Branka)

Meanwhile, Sir Richard Branson told a Dallas TV station this week that if Alaska ultimately decides to fold Virgin America into the Alaska brand, he is likely to start up another new carrier with the Virgin name.

“I hope the Virgin America brand never goes away,” Branson said in an interview Dallas’ Channel 8 WFAA. “If Alaska decides to drop the brand – because we didn’t actually want the sale to happen – we’ll start again and Virgin America will very much back here.”

How likely is it that the Virgin American brand will survive long term? We’d love to hear your thoughts. 

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

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Big news for big spenders as banks roll out new bonuses and perks (Image: Pixabay)

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New California routes: Southwest, AA, Delta, JetSuiteX, Mokulele + more

Southwest will add two more California routes in March. (Image: jim Glab)

Southwest will add two more California routes in March. (Image: Jim Glab)

In domestic route news, much of the action is in California, including a pair of new Southwest routes, new American flights from northern California and LAX, a new Delta market from Los Angeles, and new intrastate service from JetSuite and a small Hawaiian carrier; meanwhile, Alaska upgrades its equipment on two California routes.

Southwest Airlines, which has focused much if its recent growth on California, plans to add another pair of routes there. The carrier said that beginning March 9, it will start new service to Salt Lake City from both Sacramento and Burbank. Southwest is offering introductory fares starting at $59 one-way for booking through October 20.

American will begin Phoenix flights from Santa Rosa's Charles M. Schultz Airport. (Image: Charles M. Schultz Airport)

American will begin Phoenix flights from Santa Rosa’s Charles M. Schultz Airport. (Image: Charles M. Schultz Airport)

On February 16, American Eagle/SkyWest will kick off new daily non-stops between Sonoma County’s Charles M. Schulz Airport in Santa Rosa and AA’s Phoenix hub. The carrier will use a CRJ-700 on the route. Elsewhere in California, American plans to initiate summer seasonal service next year from Los Angeles International to Grand Junction, Colorado. The flights will operate from June 3 through August 19, also with an American Eagle/SkyWest CRJ-700.

Outside of California, American will begin new regional jet service on February 16 from Phoenix to Bullhead City, Arizona; and AA this month began American Eagle/Envoy Air flights twice a day from its Chicago O’Hare hub to Akron/Canton.

As we mentioned the other day in a post about the expansion of lie-flat premium seats on transcontinental routes, Delta plans to launch new service on April 24 between LAX and Washington D.C.’s close-in Reagan National Airport, using a 757-200 equipped with fully-flat seats in the front cabin. At the same time, Delta will drop one of its two daily Salt Lake City-DCA flights, replacing it with a Salt Lake-Washington Dulles service.

This Phenom 100 jet from JetSuite seats six (JetSuite)

A Phenom 100 jet from JetSuite (JetSuite)

JetSuiteX, which offers small-plane public charters within California, will begin new service October 17 between San Jose and McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad, north of San Diego. The company will use a four-seat Phenom 100 to fly the route four times a week, on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. On the same day, JetSuiteX will boost frequencies between San Jose and Burbank to two flights a day– and currently flights from both Concord and San Jose to Burbank are on sale for just $59 each way (for November trips) and that includes checked bags and wi-fi.

Following United’s recent decision to stop flying between San Francisco and Santa Maria, California, that town just got new service from an unlikely source: Hawaii-based Mokulele Airlines. The carrier is flying four times a day between Santa Maria and Terminal 6 at Los Angeles International Airport using nine-passenger Cessna Grand Caravan turboprops.

In nearby Santa Barbara, meanwhile, Alaska Airlines has started to use new 76-passenger Embraer 175s on its routes to Seattle and Portland, replacing 70-passenger CRJ-700s. The new planes have first class, Preferred Plus and regular coach seating, and are equipped with Wi-Fi service.

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

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Airport news: Inside newest Delta SkyClub + Phoenix, Seattle, Boston, LAX

Delta SkyClub

An exclusive preview party for Delta’s newest, and second largest SkyClub (Photo: Delta / Flickr)

In airport news this week, Delta opens its newest SkyClub, ride-hailing service passenger pick-ups will soon be legal at Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson; Phoenix travelers should be prepared for flight delays in October; more gates will be added at Seattle-Tacoma; American will consolidate its gates at Boston Logan; and Alaska Airlines tests a new baggage procedure at Los Angeles International.

Delta hosted a special preview this week of its newest SkyClub located in a dedicated space on the top of Concourse B at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson. Delta is calling the new SkyClub its “flagship” lounge, which is the second largest in its system behind the one at New York-JFK. The carrier says that the new $24 million, 25,000-square-foot, 500-seat space follows the airline’s strategy of “giving each new club a sense of place.” It features locally sourced fare, craft beer from Georgia breweries, artwork from seven Atlanta galleries and other local artists. Its modern design features “tiered ceilings bracketed by massive windows to let in the Southern sun and afford views of downtown,” but alas no outdoor space like you get out at the Concourse F (Int’l) club. It is located at the center of the concourse, adjacent to Gate B18 and opens to the public on Sept 23. Delta’s two other SkyClubs on the concourse will close.  Next up for Delta SkyClubs is a new opening in Seattle expected in late October or November. See this video from the ATL preview party. More details from the Delta News Hub here.

Also at ATL… Some UberX and Lyft drivers have been picking up passengers for months at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson, but they have to try to avoid enforcement officers, since what they are doing is technically illegal. But that will soon change: The Atlanta City Council this week approved a measure that will make passenger pick-ups at ATL legal beginning January 1. The measure will add a $3.85 fee to the passenger’s fare for airport pick-ups. ATL is the largest airport in the nation that doesn’t yet allow legal ride-hailing service.

Travelers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International are being advised to expect delays during the coming month due to runway improvement projects. Officials said the airport’s north runway – one of three at the facility – will be closed from Thursday, October 6 through Sunday, November 6. “Arrival and departure delays of up to 30 minutes are possible during peak travel times: 7:30 a.m.-10 a.m. and 5 p.m.-8 p.m.,” the airport said. It advised passengers to check flight status before coming to the airport.

Sea-Tac's North Satellite will get eight more gates. (Image: Port of Seattle)

Sea-Tac’s North Satellite will get eight more gates. (Image: Port of Seattle)

The Port of Seattle’s governing body has approved final plans for an expansion of Seattle-Tacoma International’s North Satellite terminal, which is used by Alaska Airlines. The project will add eight gates to the terminal, with construction starting early in 2017 and completion expected in 2019. According to the Seattle Times, the project will also expand Alaska Airlines’ lounge on the terminal’s upper floor to 14,485 square feet, and will bring 3,000 square feet of retail and food and beverage concessions to the space. Alaska will continue to use concourses C and D as well. SEA is also building a new international arrivals terminal due to debut in 2019. Passenger numbers at SEA this year are running 10 percent ahead of last year, and 2015 passenger numbers posted 13 percent growth over 2014.

Big changes are coming to Boston Logan’s Terminal B. The Massachusetts Port Authority said an improvement project will consolidate all American Airlines gates from two different locations in Terminal B to 18 contiguous gates on the side of the terminal formerly occupied by US Airways. Also, the three existing security checkpoints on that side of Terminal B will be consolidated into one checkpoint. The project will also bring expanded ticketing/kiosk areas, improvements to the baggage handling space, and reconfigured concessions. Overall, the effort will add 75,000 square feet of passenger space, Massport said, adding that once the project is finished, Southwest Airlines will move from Terminal A into the former American Airlines gates in Terminal B.

Alaska Airlines is testing self-service bag drops at LAX. (Image: Alaska Airlines)

Alaska Airlines is testing self-service bag drops at LAX. (Image: Alaska Airlines)

At Los Angeles International, Alaska Airlines has started testing self-service baggage drops for passengers. Customers participating in the test – which runs through November 10 — will check in online, by mobile app or at an airport kiosk; they can print a bag tag at home or at an airport kiosk. Then they’ll show an ID to a customer service agent and use one of the six new bag-drop lanes to deposit their luggage. Touch screens will walk customers through the process. “This technology will allow customer service agents to interact more with customers one-on-one in the lobby while having the machines complete the technical work of dropping the bags,” an Alaska official said.

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts! Shocked passenger refuses to pay $3 for water | More Delta SkyMiles for Asian tripsTips from a Hawaiian Vacation | JetBlue-Delta slugfest means lower fares | Test your planespotting skills! )

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Burning question re: Virgin America’s new app

"Flights with Benefits" is the racy name for one of Virgin America's new A320 ETOPS jets (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Virgin America launches new app with Alaska takeover looming (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

At long last Virgin America is poised to join most major airlines with a new app which it says will launch later this summer.

The new app looks slick and has that fun/mod/funky Virgin feel- not unlike its current website. I’m very excited to give it a try and will definitely sign up to test the beta.

Now that's unusual!

Now that’s unusual!

But I have a burning question: Why? Why is Virgin America going to the trouble to create, launch and promote a new app when its takeover by Alaska Airlines is looming? Didn’t Virgin shareholders just this week approve the plan to merge?

Here’s what a Virgin spokesperson told TravelSkills when we asked that very question:

In answer to your Alaska question – airline mergers can take up to 1-2 years to complete, and our merger with Alaska hasn’t even closed yet, so you’re going to see Virgin America around – and be able to continue using the app for future travel – for a long time to come. So for now, it’s business as usual, and we will be encouraging all our guests to download this app and use it for their flights with Virgin America. Guests can also sign-up today to be the first to take the beta version for a test-drive.

The Virgin America app, which along with virginamerica.com was co-designed by Brooklyn-based Digital Product Design and Development shop Work + Co, is launching in beta in the coming weeks and to the world later this summer.  Virgin says, “The new mobile app will build on our site by offering an engaging and personalized experience for flyers that we hope you’ll agree was worth the wait.”

In the coming weeks, select Elevate members and other top customers – including a team at one of Virgin’s kep partners, Google – are participating in the beta test for the new app.  If you’d like to take the beta version for a test drive and didn’t yet receive an invite, you can register your interest by signing up here.

Below is a quick video walk-through of the app:

Now here’s an interesting and unique feature: The new app will use Spotify to help create a destination-specific soundtrack for your trips.

The Virgin Blog states: Virgin America has always been about more than just getting you from Point A to B. So, we’re furthering our relationship with Spotify for a first-of-its kind trip soundtrack mobile feature on an airline app. Guests can get inspired for their trip by streaming one of the city “Mood Lists” via Spotify. Simply click the Spotify button after you check-in to hear some tunes that will put you in a state-of-mind inspired by your destination.

Thoughts? What’s your favorite airline app? Will you give Virgin’s new app a go? 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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Havana, Cuba airline tickets from US cities coming soon

Havana

Refrigerator magnets from a recent trip to Havana (Chris McGinnis)

Last month, the U.S. Transportation Department awarded U.S. carriers new route rights to serve secondary cities in Cuba, but not the biggest plum – Havana.

This week, DOT finally acted on all the requests it had from U.S. airlines to operate regular scheduled service to the Cuban capital, awarding Havana routes to eight airlines for flights that are likely to start sometime this fall.

The preliminary route awards are still subject a public comment period before being finalized. Tickets are not yet on sale, but should be later this summer. Right now, round trip charter flights from Miami to Havana are running at about $450 round trip, a price that we expect to drop significantly when competition cranks up in the fall.

The only Havana route from the West Coast went to Alaska Airlines, which will operate daily non-stops from Los Angeles using a two-class, 181-passenger 737-900ER. The flight will originate in Seattle, offering same-plane service top Cuba. Alaska said it expects to begin the service by year’s end. From LAX or SFO, current fares to Havana via Mexico City (Aeromexico) or Panama City (Copa) are about $625 round trip.

Recent: Curious about Cuba? Don’t miss this!

Cuba cars

Vintage cars serve as tourist taxis in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolucion (Chris McGinnis)

Most of the new routes will be from the eastern U.S., especially Florida. The exception to that rule was DOT’s selection of United to operate Houston-Havana flights, but only once a week. United will also operate daily non-stops to Havana from its Newark hub.

American Airlines will offer four daily roundtrips to Havana from Miami and one a day from Charlotte; Delta’s new route authority includes daily roundtrips to Havana from Atlanta, New York JFK and Miami; JetBlue won rights for two daily flights from Ft. Lauderdale and one each from New York JFK and Orlando; Southwest’s new route authority provides for two daily roundtrips from Ft. Lauderdale and one from Tampa; Spirit Airlines got two daily Ft. Lauderdale-Havana flights; and Frontier will be allowed a single daily flight from Miami to Havana.

Don’t miss: Cruising into Cuba: It’s complicated!

Havana nonstops

Nonstops to Havana from US cities announced today (Image: Great Circle Mapper)

Technically, the U.S. still does not allow for simple tourist travel to Cuba; Americans who go there must fall into one of 12 categories approved by the government, including things like journalistic activity, professional research and meetings, educational activities and so on. Here’s a link to the Treasury Department’s rules for travel to Cuba.

Have you been to Cuba yet? Will you go in the near future? Why or why not? Please leave your comments below!

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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Routes: Alaska, American, JetBlue, Frontier, Allegiant

Alaska Airlines 737 New Livery

Alaska Airlines will add a new trancon route. (Image: Alaska Air)

In domestic route developments, Alaska Airlines will add a new transcontinental route as well as service to another California city; American plans to trim capacity for its Northeast Corridor shuttle service; JetBlue sets a starting date for more transcontinental service with Mint-equipped aircraft; Frontier adds a pair of routes from Las Vegas; and Allegiant enters new markets from Newark and Oakland.

Alaska Airlines has scheduled a March 16 start for new daily non-stop 737 service linking Portland, Oregon with Orlando – the only non-stops between those two cities. Meanwhile, Alaska also said it will add new service effective April 13 between its Seattle hub and San Luis Obispo, California. That route will be flown for Alaska once a day by SkyWest using a 76-passenger E175 with first class, Preferred Pus and main cabin seating.

American Airlines plans to adjust capacity this fall on the Northeast Corridor shuttle service that it inherited from US Airways. Starting November 4, the carrier will reduce the number of daily shuttle flights between New York LaGuardia and Boston from 16 to 15, and will trim the schedule between LGA and Washington Reagan National from 16 to 13 daily roundtrips. In addition, American will begin to use Embraer 175s operated by Republic Airlines on five daily LGA-Boston flights and on eight LGA-Washington flights; the rest will continue to user larger E190s.

JetBlue will add more Mint flights on transcon routes this fall. (Image: JetBlue)

JetBlue is slowly expanding its premium cabin Mint service to more routes. (Image: JetBlue)

As JetBlue continues the gradual expansion of its Mint premium cabin service to more markets, it has reportedly set a date for the start of Mint flights on the Los Angeles-Ft. Lauderdale route. According to airlineroute.net, JetBlue will introduce Mint service on one of its two daily LAX-FLL flights on March 20, and will offer it on both flights by April 20. The carrier has expanded Mint from its JFK-LAX and JFK-San Francisco routes to San Francisco-Boston, with plans to add LAX-Boston this fall; next year, Mint should appear on select routes from Seattle, San Diego and Las Vegas as well.

Low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines is growing at Las Vegas McCarran, with plans to add new daily service from there to both Nashville and Tampa starting September 6. Using 150-seat A319s. And on October 30, Frontier will begin new daily flights between Colorado Springs and Orlando.

Another low-cost carrier, Allegiant, plans to launch the only non-stop service between Oakland and El Paso, Texas on October 6, offering two flights a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. Meanwhile, Allegiant also plans to move into United’s Newark hub in November after the airport opens up more takeoff and landing slots. Allegiant will fly from Newark to Cincinnati, Savannah (Georgia), Asheville (N.C.) and Knoxville.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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Alaska gives Mileage Plan members a heads-up on AA flights

Alaska Airlines is advising Mileage Plan members of earning changes on AA flights. (Image: Jim Glab)

Alaska Airlines is advising Mileage Plan members of earning changes on AA flights. (Image: Jim Glab)

American Airlines earlier this month reminded its AAdvantage members that the rules of earning miles will change dramatically on August 1, as the program switches over to a spending-based regime. And now Alaska Airlines is advising its Mileage Plan loyalists how those changes at American might affect their program earnings.

The advisory in Alaska Airlines’ blog is especially significant because over the past couple of months, American and Alaska have substantially expanded their code-sharing partnership to scores of additional flights and routes of both airlines.

Alaska said Mileage Plan members should watch for changes when they fly on American, in line with the new AAdvantage rules. Basically, Mileage Plan members’ earning rate will depend on which airline markets the flight (i.e., whose code it is booked under).

“For flights marketed by American, but operated by Alaska, you will earn miles at the new rate,” the airline said in its blog. “For flights marketed by Alaska, but operated by American, you will earn miles based on the distance you fly, as well as any class of service bonuses.”

That “new rate” means Mileage Plan members on American-marketed flights will earn miles based on a combination of a percentage of distance flown and fare class. (Click on the above link to the blog to see a full chart of fare class multipliers.)

Mileage Plan members who fly on Alaska flights will see no changes in their earning system. (“Additionally, Alaska does not currently have any plans to change how miles are earned on Alaska flights,” the company assured members.)

As examples, Alaska said a Mileage Plan member on a 1,660-mile American flight from Seattle to Dallas/Ft. Worth in first class would earn 3,320 Mileage Plan miles after August 1, compared with 2,490 miles before that date; but a member flying O class in economy on the same flight would only earn 415 Mileage Plan miles after August 1 (actually 500 miles, because the program has a 500-mile minimum earning provision), vs. 1,660 miles prior to August 1.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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Routes: JetBlue, Virgin America, Alaska, American, United

JetBlue added a new transcontinental route from San Diego. (Image: Jim Glab)

JetBlue added a new transcontinental route from San Diego. (Image: Jim Glab)

Don’t miss: Unprecedented JetBlue offer for Virgin America flyers

In domestic route news, JetBlue has kicked off a new transcontinental route from San Diego; Virgin America adds another Hawaii flight from the West Coast (but you still can’t surf from it); Alaska adds new routes from San Diego and Anchorage; American plans new service from O’Hare this fall; and United enters a new East Coast market from LaGuardia.

The newest transcontinental route for JetBlue Airways is San Diego to Ft. Lauderdale, which it started flying last week. The daily eastbound segment is a red-eye, departing San Diego at 10:15 p.m. and arriving at 6:19 a.m. It’s the latest step in an ongoing JetBlue expansion at Ft. Lauderdale, where it is already the busiest airline. Last month, JetBlue started service from FLL to Nashville and to Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.

Virgin America has added its fourth Hawaii route from California. (Image: Virgin America)

Virgin America has added its fourth Hawaii route from California. (Image: Virgin America)

Virgin America Airlines has added a fourth route to Hawaii with the launch of new service between Los Angeles and Kahului, Maui. The new daily service departs LAX at 9:35 a.m.; like the airline’s other Hawaii flights, it uses an Airbus A320 equipped with “sharklet” wingtips that create greater fuel efficiency and increase the aircraft’s range. Last month, Virgin started LAX-Honolulu service; it also flies to both Hawaiian destinations from San Francisco. Note: Virgin’s satellite based wi-fi is still not operational on its Hawaii flights from LAX or SFO. A spokesman told TravelSkills that it’s “coming later this year.”

Dont miss: 6 habits of highly annoying infrequent fliers

Alaska Airlines has started new seasonal service between Anchorage and Spokane, Washington, operating once a week (on Saturdays) with a 737 from now through August 27 – the first-ever non-stop service in that city-pair. The airline also announced plans to operate seasonal service this coming winter from San Diego to Hayden/Steamboat Springs, Colorado for the ski season. Those flights, on Wednesday sand Saturdays, will use 76-seat Embraer 175s operated by SkyWest.

Starting October 6, American Airlines will add a pair of spokes from its Chicago O’Hare hub. New American Eagle flights will operate twice a day between O’Hare and Akron/Canton, Ohio; and three times daily between O’Hare and Lansing, Michigan. Both routes will use Embraer 145s.

On the heels of Delta’s announcement to start Raleigh-Durham service from Newark this fall, United now plans to do the same from New York LaGuardia. The United service begins October 30, when it will start operating three flights a day (except Saturdays) between LGA and Raleigh-Durham, using Embraer 170s.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: How to get the BEST summer fare dealsOne airline fee fading fast | Trip Report: Aer Lingus Economy Class | 5 top jobs for frequent travelers  | First class phase out coming soon

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California competition heats up

Alaska is taking on Southwest in a battle for California dominance. (Image: Jim Glab)

Alaska is taking on Southwest in a battle for California dominance. (Image: Jim Glab)

Bay Area travelers have some new airline options this week as carriers add more routes in a growing competition for California customers.

Alaska Airlines has taken on the daunting task of horning in on a pair of Southwest Airlines’ intra-California monopoly routes out of San Jose. Alaska just started up three daily flights between San Jose and Orange County’s John Wayne Airport, as well as three daily roundtrips between San Jose-San Diego. The flights will be operated for Alaska by SkyWest, using 76-seat E175s with first class, Preferred Plus and main cabin seating, as well as Wi-Fi access and free streaming entertainment. They’ll be facing Southwest’s heavy daily schedules of multiple 737 flights in both markets.

At Oakland, meanwhile, Southwest this week launched nine new daily flights, including new intrastate service to Long Beach four times a day, along with three new daily flights to Reno-Tahoe and one to St. Louis. Southwest also boosted its Oakland-Baltimore/Washington schedule from one flight a day to two.

Southwest at Oakland

Southwest Airlines jets at Oakland International Airport (Photo: Port of Oakland)

With the new service from Oakland to Long Beach, “Oakland and Southwest will offer more daily departures by a single airline from a Bay Area airport to Southern California with 43 peak non-stop flights per day,” according to a spokesperson for the airport. With the latest additions, Southwest now has more than 120 flights a day out of OAK – with half of them going to airports in the greater Los Angeles region plus San Diego.

The new routes are just the latest escalation in a growing battle for the California market between Southwest and Alaska, which should get really interesting when Alaska merges with San Francisco-based Virgin America. And more new routes are coming from the two carriers, including Alaska’s plan to begin Sacramento-San Diego and San Jose-Burbank flights next winter, and new Southwest flights from San Jose to Baltimore/Washington and Salt Lake City coming this fall.

Virgin America Hawaii

Cruising over Oahu on Virgin America (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Speaking of Virgin America, that airline is due to add another new Hawaii route next week (June 14), when it kicks off daily service from Los Angeles to Maui’s Kahului Airport. Early last month, Virgin started daily LAX-Honolulu flights. It also flies to both islands from San Francisco.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Popular: Cheaper phone roaming + Delta spat + More at SFO + Quiz + Norwegian Air + United secret

Can you name this business class section? Hint: Look at the big windows! Plus it's included in our fun quiz! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Can you name this business class section? Hint: Look at the big windows! Plus it’s included in our fun quiz! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

1 Must sign up to get it: AT&T follows Verizon, T-Mobile to more roaming

2 Nonstop ribbon cuttings Slew of new flights at SFOWeekend Edition

3 Oh, pulleeaze! Inside Qatar Airways event that sparked Delta tantrum [PHOTOS] (See comments)

Don’t miss the AJC editorial about the Delta-Fox brouhaha which starts out like this: Atlantans were aghast last week when the body of the beloved Fox Theatre was found in a car trunk, bound and gagged, a single shot to the back of the head.

4 Battle begins Alaska, Southwest fight for California with new flights

5 Try it, you’ll like it Are you a business class seat expert? Take our fun quiz! Come on, 2,000+ readers have taken it so far! 

6 Oldie but goodie remains popular TSA explains confusion over PreCheck policies

Premium Economy seats on Norwegian

Premium Economy seats on Norwegian Air (Image: Norwegian Air)

7 New nonstop Oakland-London on Norwegian: Low fares, low frills

Routes: Atlanta, Raleigh-Durham, Chicago, Newark, Honolulu, JFK

9 Check ’em out, then check in 4 brand new hotels in New York City

10 Members only Hilton’s big summer sale

TravelSkills was invited to a big United Airlines event in NYC in early June which requires signing a non-disclosure agreement to get in the door. Regrettably we can make it due to a prior commitment (flying Turkish Airlines to Istanbul!), but we’ll keep an eye out for the news. Rumor has it that United will reveal a new BusinessFirst seat design at the event. But who knows? What do you think it could be? Leave your prognostications below.

United is rolling out a new first class seat for its A319, A320 and some 757 aircraft (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

United revealed this new first class seat for its domestic A319, A320 and some 757 aircraft last year. Will a new BusinessFirst seat be revealed next week? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

Atlanta Airport director Miguel Southwell sacked

Beware Delta’s new middle seat “upgrade”

United offering mystery elite status upgrades. Get one?

Scariest item ever seen by TSA? Gruesome

Summer sale at Kimpton hotels: 25% off + double points

Smarter to use ATL’s international terminal to avoid TSA security lines? Maybe. Maybe not. 

San Francisco’s newest tourist attraction: The Apple Flagship store on Union Sq

Delta CEO Ed Bastian

Delta’s new CEO Ed Bastian in his office at ATL HQ (Image: Airline Guys)

VIDEO: See inside Delta CEO Ed Bastian’s office at Delta HQ in ATL

Delta optimizes ‘SkyMiles Experiences’ website for mobile

Uber tests self-driving car in Pittsburgh

Eight low-cost Asia-Pacific airlines form an alliance

Falling fares will bring a record number of U.S. air travelers this summer

These are the most popular U.S. cities for meetings and conventions

American discontinues in-flight announcements of connecting gate information

(Image: Big Imagination Project)

(Image: Big Imagination Project)

In case you missed Saturday’s post about one of our favorite subjects, the much-loved Boeing 747: The 747 Project

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Alaska, Southwest fight for California with new flights

Alaska Airlines 737 New Livery

Alaska Airlines will begin two new intra-California routes early next year. (Image: Alaska Air)

Both Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines this week announced they will add new routes from California airports. This is likely just the beginning of a battle for the hearts and wallets of California’s frequent flyers as Alaska absorbs Virgin America and takes on Southwest for dominance in the Golden State. For the short term, travelers should benefit with more options and lower fares. 

Alaska set a March 17, 2017 start for new Sacramento-San Diego and San Jose-Burbank service. It will offer three roundtrips a day in both markets, using its new 76-seat E175 jets operated by SkyWest Airlines with first class, premium economy and economy seating. (More on the E175 here.)

Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines will increase its growing presence at Mineta San Jose International Airport by adding nonstops to Baltimore/Washington International and Salt Lake City International, both starting on November 6 of this year.

Southwest will operate one daily roundtrip between SJC-BWI and two a day between SJC and Salt Lake City.

Officials at the airport noted that there is currently no non-stop service between San Jose and the metro Washington D.C. area, which was the second most requested domestic destination in a Silicon Valley corporate survey.

We checked times and prices on the new San Jose-Baltimore nonstop. Here’s what we found for an early November roundtrip:

Southwest San Jose

The new flights will give Southwest 76 weekday departures from SJC to 15 destinations. Plus it will give San Jose another much-needed nonstop connection to the East Coast.

San Jose has made huge gains this year with flights to several long-haul destinations. British Airways just launched new 787 Dreamliner flights to London. On June 16, Air China inaugurates nonstops to Shanghai, followed by Lufthansa nonstops to Frankfurt later this summer.

 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Inside Qatar Airways event that sparked Delta tantrum [PHOTOS]

Atlanta's historic Fox Theater is the venue for the latest skirmish between Delta and Qatar Airways. (Image: Fox Theater)

Atlanta’s historic Fox Theater is the venue for the latest skirmish between Delta and Qatar Airways. (Image: Fox Theater)

Big airlines all try to get involved with the communities they serve by sponsoring or contributing to various local venues or events. Delta does that too, but it just made a couple of moves that might have its public relations department wondering what its community relations department was thinking.

The first move was in Atlanta, where Delta has been a sponsor of the city’s landmark Fox Theater for 20 years. But now, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution , Delta plans to end that sponsorship when it expires next year.

Why? Because the theater had the audacity to rent out its space to Qatar Airways for a VIP event plus an exclusive performance by Jennifer Lopez celebrating that airline’s launching of Atlanta-Doha service on June 1.

TravelSkills reader TB send us images from the exclusive Qatar Airways event at the Fox Theater in Atlanta

A TravelSkills reader sent images from the exclusive Qatar Airways event at the Fox Theater in Atlanta (More below)

Delta and the other big U.S. carriers have been in a major feud with the Big Three Middle Eastern airlines – Qatar, Etihad and Emirates – for many months, alleging that they are subsidized by their governments and thus competing unfairly on routes to the U.S. Those carriers have also been adding new U.S. routes at a fast pace, prompting the U.S. carriers to lobby for government intervention that would stop that expansion.

Earlier this year, Delta cancelled its Atlanta-Dubai route, blaming subsidized competition; and last month, a Delta executive blasted Qatar Airways’ plan for Atlanta service, claiming there is no way that carrier could make money on the route. A Qatar executive responded by saying his airline was going to “rub salt in the wounds of Delta” by flying to Atlanta – a remark that prompted Delta to take revenge by canceling its Fox Theater sponsorship, the newspaper reported.

Related: How Emirates welcomes a new plane [PHOTOS]

Meanwhile, Delta has another rival in Seattle – Alaska Airlines, where the two carriers are in a battle for new routes and market share. In that city, Delta has just taken on sponsorship of the annual Seattle Gay Pride Parade for three next three years – but it added one stipulation to its sponsorship agreement: No Alaska Airlines employee can be in the parade if they are wearing T-shirts or other clothing that displays the Alaska Airlines logo or brand.

Come on, Delta. How low can you go?

UPDATE: Scratch that report about the Seattle Gay Pride Parade. Apparently a Seattle Pride leader misunderstood the sponsorship arrangement with Delta, and mistakenly told Seattle media that it barred Alaska Airlines employees from participating in clothing with company logos. They are indeed welcome, and Delta never declared that they weren’t, he said.

Reader thoughts, please! Plus see below for some more images from the Qatar Airways event at the Fox.

Delta Fox Qatar

Quite an opulent affair at the Fox Theater

 

At the Fox Theatre event, Qatar gave away a pair of free roundtrip tickets anywhere it flies

At the Fox Theatre event, Qatar Airways gave away a pair of free roundtrip business class tickets anywhere it flies

 

Thousands of red roses at the Qatar Airways launch event in Atlanta

Thousands of red roses at the Qatar Airways launch event in Atlanta

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Briefs: Alaska/JAL, AA biz seats, BA Wi-Fi, Lufthansa in Silicon Valley

Japan Airlines has a new partnership with Alaska Airlines. (Image: JAL)

Japan Airlines has a new partnership with Alaska Airlines. (Image: JAL)

International carrier news briefs include a new transpacific partnership for Alaska Airlines, a look at American’s new long-haul business class seating, a Wi-Fi decision by British Airways and its siblings, and a move by Lufthansa to fund travel-related start-ups in Silicon Valley.

Starting this summer, members of Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan will be able to earn miles on Japan Airlines, thanks to a new partnership between the two carriers. The code-sharing and frequent flyer cooperation pact will mean seamless connections for travelers between Alaska’s flights and JAL’s transpacific services to Tokyo from San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Vancouver, as well as JAL’s LAX-Osaka service. While mileage-earning on JAL will begin this summer for Mileage Plan members, award travel redemptions on the Japanese carrier “will begin later in 2016,” Alaska said. Strategically, the tie-up with JAL is a logical step for Alaska; its merger partner Virgin America already has an interline partnership with JAL for connections at SFO and LAX, and Alaska recently started a big expansion of code-sharing with American Airlines, which has joint venture and Oneworld global alliance partnerships with the Japanese carrier.

Japan Airlines and Alaska will link up at four West Coast gateways. (Image: JAL)

Japan Airlines and Alaska will link up at four West Coast gateways. (Image: JAL)

American Airlines will turn to a next-generation “Super Diamond” business class seating configuration for its next-generation long-haul international aircraft, according to a report in Forbes. The new seats will all recline fully flat, will be enclosed in a kind of personal shell, and will offer aisle access from every seat. They’ll go into the new 787 Dreamliners and Airbus A350s that will be coming to American in the next few years, and will also be retrofitted onto some 777-200s. American recently broke off its ties to French-based seat manufacturer Zodiac and is turning to B/E Aerospace for the new business class seats.

American Airlines' new international business class seat. (Image: American)

American Airlines’ new international business class seat. (Image: American)

International Airlines Group, (IAG), the parent of British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus, has signed a deal with Wi-Fi vendor Gogo for installation of that firm’s next-generation 2Ku satellite-based Wi-Fi technology. Passengers should start to see the technology appearing on aircraft next year, and by 2019, IAG said, it should be on 90 percent of the airlines’ long-haul fleets. “In addition to providing faster access to web-based services, passengers will enjoy more entertainment options throughout their entire journey. In the future, inflight Wi-Fi will also transform the duty free experience, allowing travelers to order from their phones and tablets and arrange for items purchased on board to be delivered to their homes,” the company said. It will be installed in BA’s 747s, 777s, 787s and A380s as well as Iberia A330s and A340s and some Aer Lingus 757s.

Gogo will greatly increase broadband satellite Wi-Fi capacity in 2017. (Image: SES/Airbus Defence & Space)

Gogo will greatly increase broadband satellite Wi-Fi capacity in 2017. (Image: SES/Airbus Defence & Space)

Earlier this year, JetBlue announced the formation of a subsidiary that will invest in travel-related technology start-ups in Silicon Valley – and now Lufthansa is doing  the same. The airline said its Lufthansa Innovation Hub unit will team up with Plus and Play, a venture capital group in Silicon Valley. “The objective is to identify and promote innovative technologies and digital business ideas along the entire travel chain,” Lufthansa said. “Over the course of a twelve-week mentoring program, 20 to 30 selected start-ups will receive support for the further development of their business models. They will also make contact with companies in order to talk about partnerships and joint projects as well as investment.” The airline is backing up its interest in Silicon Valley with new San Jose-Frankfurt non-stops due to start July 1.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Routes: AA, Alaska, United, Delta, Frontier, OneJet, JetSmarter

Alaska Airlines and American are launching a big code-sharing expansion. (Image: Jim Glab)

Alaska Airlines and American are launching a big code-sharing expansion. (Image: Jim Glab)

In domestic route news, American and Alaska expand code-sharing, and AA adds a Washington D.C. route; United sets a pair of new San Francisco routes and seasonal service out of Newark; Delta ends a year-round Alaska option; Frontier starts a big expansion at Atlanta and Chicago; a small carrier begins two new Pittsburgh routes; and a private jet charter service begins Atlanta-area operations.

With Delta keeping the pressure on Alaska Airlines at the latter’s Seattle hub, Alaska and American Airlines are planning a significant expansion of their code-sharing partnership. Effective April 28, American will put its AA code on Alaska flights from Seattle to Atlanta, Charleston (S.C.), Nashville, New York JFK, Raleigh, Sun Valley and Washington Reagan National, as well as Alaska flights from Los Angeles to Baltimore/Washington, Monterey, Salt Lake City and Washington Reagan National. Then on May 15, Alaska’s code will show up on 14 AA routes out of Charlotte, nine out of Chicago O’Hare, 27 out of Dallas/Ft. Worth, and scores of additional AA routes out of Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Washington Reagan National. In other developments, American plans a July 5 start for new daily service between Washington Reagan National and Lansing, Michigan, using a two-class, 76-seat American Eagle regional jet.

On September 8, United Airlines plans to add a new spoke from its San Francisco hub by launching daily service to Omaha, Nebraska with a 76-seat Embraer E175. United already flies to Omaha from its Denver, Chicago, Houston and Newark hubs. In another SFO schedule enhancement, United will operate seasonal daily service to Aspen, Colorado from June 9 through August 15. Meanwhile, United also plans to add seasonal service from its Newark hub to Bangor, Maine from July 1 through October 29 using a 50-seat regional jet.

Turkish Airlines inaugural flight with San Francisco mural arrives at SFO (Chris McGinnis)

Turkish Airlines landing at San Francisco International Airport (Chris McGinnis)

Delta has suspended its seasonal New York – Istanbul flights due to security concerns, weak bookings and cancellations. However, Turkish Airlines’ daily ATL-Istanbul flights are set to begin on May 16. Last fall, Delta decided to operate its Seattle-Juneau, Alaska route on a year-round basis, but now the airline has changed its mind. Delta now plans to end SEA-Juneau flights on August 31, with a resumption of seasonal service in 2017.

Low-cost Frontier Airlines has kicked off a big wave of new routes. At Atlanta, Frontier this month started flying to Houston, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Raleigh-Durham, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, St. Louis and Memphis, and resumed seasonal service to Austin, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Indianapolis and Trenton. At Chicago O’Hare, Frontier started flying to Charlotte, Kansas City, Nashville, Portland, St. Augustine (Fla.), Seattle and Minneapolis-St. Paul, and revived seasonal flights to Austin, Philadelphia, Washington Dulles, Raleigh-Durham and Trenton. Frontier also added new service from Cleveland to Portland (Ore.), Los Angeles, San Francisco and Philadelphia. Many of the new flights operate just a few days a week.

JetSmarter

A new private jet option for Atlanta’s northside (Image: JetSmarter)

The private jet company JetSmarter plans to begin Atlanta-area operations on May 3, offering twice-weekly flights to and from Westchester County, N.Y. and weekly roundtrips to Ft. Lauderdale. The flights operate out of DeKalb-Peachtree Airport (PDK), using Falcon 2000 jets that seat up to 10 passengers. The company uses app-based reservations; it charges a $3,500 initiation fee and an annual membership fee of $9,675, but imposes no other cost for its flights.

OneJet, which specializes in serving small to medium-sized markets with small jets, will expand at Pittsburgh in June, launching twice-daily roundtrips to Hartford on June 8 and two daily roundtrips to Milwaukee beginning June 14. The company will also double its Pittsburgh-Indianapolis schedule from two flights a day to four as of June 14. OneJet promises its customers TSA PreCheck access, expedited boarding and high-speed in-fight Wi-Fi.

 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Alaska adds premium economy seats to more jets

Alaska's Horizon Air subsidiary has ordered new three-class E175s. (Image: Alaska Airlines)

Alaska’s Horizon Air subsidiary has ordered new three-class E175s. (Image: Alaska Airlines)

In December, Alaska Airlines announced plans to install new premium economy of seating to its fleet, and now it is extending that promise with a new regional jet order for its Horizon Air affiliate.

Alaska said Horizon Air (operated as a subsidiary) has placed its largest order ever for new aircraft to fly Alaska’s regional routes. It will take on 30 new Embraer 175s, and they’ll come with something Alaska’s regional operation doesn’t offer now: a three-class configuration. That will make the new planes consistent with the new three-class layout that Alaska is bringing to its mainline 737-800s, 737-900s and 737-900ERs starting late this year, with the addition of a Premium Class in between first and regular economy. (It will not go into Alaska’s 737-400s and -700s, however.)

The new Horizon planes, to be delivered starting next year, will feature 12 first class seats, 16 in “premium class” and 48 in the main cabin. The premium class seats will have a 34-inch pitch, vs. 36 to 38 inches in first and 31 inches in the main cabin. The planes will also have Wi-Fi, power outlets throughout, and free streaming entertainment. The new premium seating coming to the mainline fleet will have 35-inch pitch.

Virgin's premium economy is called Main Cabin Select & offers six extra inches of space (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Virgin’s premium economy is called Main Cabin Select & offers six extra inches of space (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Alaska’s premium class seating (which basically offers 3-4 inches of extra legroom) is a different bird from Virgin’s over-priced “main cabin select” (which offers exit row, bulkhead seats, free food & booze, early boarding and dedicated overhead bin space). So it’s going to be interesting to see how this product in particular ends up in the merger.

Alaska said the new E175s will gradually replace 15 of Horizon’s leased Q400 turboprops, although it noted that “Horizon Air will fly both the E175 and the Q400 for the foreseeable future.” Alaska’s regional network already includes some E175s operated by SkyWest, and those aircraft are also expected to be reconfigured to a three-class configuration.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Reactions to Alaska Virgin merger vary widely

Alaska's big buy stimulated plenty of reaction. (Image: Jim Glab)

Alaska’s big buy stimulated plenty of reaction. (Image: Jim Glab)

This week’s big news of Alaska Airlines’ pending acquisition of Virgin America Airlines spurred plenty of commentary from all sides. Here’s a roundup of reactions from various media and other sources.

First, there’s this: Late yesterday JetBlue, the failed suitor in the deal, responded with its own new promotion, offering “JetBlue virgins” — i.e., those who have never flown the airline – a chance to win one of 500 free roundtrip flights in exchange for their contact information.

_____

Sit back, relax. It’s going to take a while.

Stuart Dinnis, VP of Loyalty at Virgin America in an email to Elevate members:

“There will likely be no significant changes to your flying experience for as many as 18 months or more …Until the transaction is officially approved – typically a process that can take upwards of six months – both airlines will continue to operate independently and there will be no changes to our flight schedules, the Virgin America product and guest experience, Elevate Status levels or your ability to earn and redeem points… there will be no disruption to your earnings or redemptions. Your Points balance and Status level will be honored in Alaska Airline’s Mileage Plan, which has been rankedthe #1 airline rewards program by U.S. News and World Report for the past two years. In addition, you will be able to use your Status levels and earned Points across a significantly expanded network.”

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Virgin's Richard Branson

Virgin’s Richard Branson

He might be baaack! 

Sir Richard Branson told Conde Nast Traveler he’s determined the Virgin America name will live on:

“Virgin America will never disappear from the United States,” the Virgin Group founder told us yesterday… The billionaire added that he will back a new airline to carry on the Virgin name, if it comes to that. “People love Virgin with a passion that hasn’t existed since the early days of aviation, and I am certainly not going to let it go to waste, even if it means starting all over again” as a new domestic airline. At least for now, Branson said he is hopeful that Alaska will preserve the Virgin name—and reputation… “Ideally, Alaska will treat Virgin “as a small independent company within a bigger company,” he said.

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Does that hipster look like an Alaska Airlines customer? (Image: SFO)

Does that hipster look like an Alaska Airlines customer? (Image: SFO)

Alaska Air needs to get hip to the cool California kids

Fortune magazine said Alaska needs to upgrade in absorbing Virgin:

With new entrants threatening to destabilize Alaska’s dominance in the Pacific Northwest, it was high time that the airline did something to diversify its route network beyond its core market. But if the airline wants to hold on to Virgin America’s customers and effectively compete against the other mainline carriers on a national level, it not only needs to up its game in terms of on-board service and amenities, it also needs to rethink its marketing to appeal to a younger and more urbane customer. Simply put, Alaska’s wintry and nature-focused image, bare bones service, and confusing regional name isn’t going to cut it in the big leagues.

______

JetBlue better watch out

The New York Times sees a big challenger to JetBlue:

Alaska Air must now be careful in how it integrates a brand beloved by its cadre of customers who adore its cheeky image, onboard Wi-Fi and soothing onboard purple lighting. For Alaska Air, buying Virgin America was in some ways a natural consequence of the successive mergers that have already concentrated domestic air travel in four primary airlines: American, Delta, United and Southwest…Putting together Alaska and Virgin America will not create a new airline that can stand toe-to-toe with those bigger companies. But it will create a tougher competitor for JetBlue, with which Alaska competed fiercely to win over the smaller airline, and which it will displace as the country’s fifth-biggest airline.

_______

American Airlines A321T now flying SFO-JFK (Photo: AA)

American Airlines A321T now flying SFO-JFK (Photo: AA)

American Airlines likes it

Seeking Alpha sees American Airlines as a beneficiary of the deal:

American Airlines and Alaska Airlines have an extensive partnership in place that allows the two airlines to transfer passengers onto each others network and gives members of American Airlines that have status the equivalent on Alaska Airlines and vice versa. It gives American Airlines access to Alaska Airlines extensive network on the West Coast of the United States/Canada and in Alaska, both areas American Airlines is much weaker. A deal between Virgin America and Alaska Airlines will expand the Alaska network substantially, especially in San Francisco and give American Airlines indirectly also a much larger network.

______

Risky business

Business Insider cites three reasons why Virgin is a smart buy for Alaska:

At first glance, forking out $4 billion for some terminal space, landing rights, and a few jets makes little sense, but a deeper analysis shows that Alaska’s move, though risky, may be a smart buy for three key reasons. First, the acquisition of the San Francisco-based airline keeps Virgin America and its sizable West Coast presence out of JetBlue’s control… Second, Alaska’s acquisition of Virgin America makes it an instant powerhouse airline that’s a viable competitor to juggernaut Southwest…Alaska, the seventh-largest airline in the US, now has additional resources to scale up operations in key markets around the country, such as Dallas and New York… Third, Alaska Airlines is a major brand and big-time player in the western US. But it remains relatively unknown to a lot of travelers on the East Coast and abroad. The acquisition of an airline tied to a world-renowned brand allows Alaska to make a big splash outside its traditional market.

So what about YOU? What’s your reaction to the merger of Virgin America and Alaska Airlines? Please leave your comments below.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights

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Alaska Airlines + Virgin America: What you need to know now

Alaska Airlines & Virgin America to merge (Image: Alaska Airlines)

Alaska Airlines & Virgin America to merge (Image: Alaska Airlines)

Well I guess we all saw this coming. At least as of last week. But before that, it seemed unfathomable that San Francisco would lose its hometown carrier to another airline.

But here we are. Today Alaska Airlines and Virgin announced at the crack of dawn that they would merge later this year, following government approvals (which likely won’t be much of a problem). It could take up to two years for full integration.

What remains to be seen is what will happen to JetBlue, which was reportedly also in the running for Virgin. Will it combine with another carrer? Will Alaska buy it, too? Or will it continue to operate without change…hmmm. We’ll keep an eye on that!

Anyway, for Bay Area flyers, this the merger brings together two of the country’s most loved airlines– Virgin is known for its fun, funky and almost luxurious service and Alaska Airlines is know for its solid product, good on time performance and profitability. Virgin America is known as “hip.” Alaska Airlines is know as “friendly.” It will be interesting to watch these two cultures and reputations meld.

Here are some key points to keep in mind right off the bat. We will of course be following this very closely at TravelSkills so stay tuned!

Fares could increase from SFO. Why? As a young upstart, Virgin America kept a lid on fares to the cities it served. For example, when Virgin landed in Denver last month, fares plummeted to as low as $118 round trip! When it took off for Hawaii last December, a fare war ensued, with fares dropping to as low as $318 round trip to Oahu and Maui. With Alaska Airlines in charge, I think much of that fare discounting will go away.

Virgin’s Elevate program will fold into Alaska’s Mileage Plan. Alaska’s statement says: “Virgin America Elevate loyalty program members into its Mileage Plan, ranked #1 by U.S. News and World Report. With Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, members are able to redeem award miles for travel to more than 900 destinations worldwide, rivaling global alliances.”

Watch Chris talk about the merger on this CBS-KPIX video:

Virgin America flyers in the Bay Area (with big investments in Virgin’s Elevate program) will soon see a lot more opportunities to earn/burn miles– that’s because Alaska Airlines serves all three Bay Area airports– Virgin America only served SFO. From the Bay Area (SFO, Oakland and San Jose) Alaska Airlines currently has about 45 daily departures. Combined with Virgin, the new Alaska Airlines will serve 114 destinations.

Virgin’s Elevate and Alaska’s Mileage Plus programs will operate separately until the merger closes – which could take a while- so no need for members to make and immediate changes.

From SFO, Alaska now flies nonstop to: Seattle, Portland, Palm Springs, Salt Lake City, Cabo and Puerto Vallarta.  From Oakland? There are nonstops to: Portland, Seattle plus Lihue, Honolulu, Maui and Kona in Hawaii. From San Jose, it has nonstops to four cities in Hawaii, plus Seattle, Portland, Eugene, Boise, Reno, Orange County, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Cabo and Guadalajara. From Santa Rosa (near Wine Country) it flies to several cities in the Pacific Northwest and Southern California via its Horizon Air subsidiary.

Here’s a link to the combined airlines’ route map.

It appears that the vaunted Virgin brand will disappear with the merger. Alaska’s statement says: “Alaska will maintain its new, refreshed brand and will work closely with Virgin America to learn more about the award-winning Virgin America brand and customer experience.” Which means that we will hopefully see an end to things like Virgin’s once fun, now irritating pre-flight safety video.

Hopefully Alaska Airlines will adopt Virgin’s dedication to technology by installing seatback video and wi-fi connections on 100% of its aircraft very soon. Like Virgin, Alaska uses Gogo for inflight wi-fi. Here’s a link to Alaska’s inflight entertainment and wi-fi options.

It will be interesting to see if Alaska Airlines adopts Virgin’s popular RED seatback entertainment system that allows passengers to order food from a menu and have it delivered by flight attendants. Alaska Airlines offers hot meals (for sale) on all flights over 2.5 hours. It serves Starbucks coffee.

Alaska Airline's mod new look. What do you think? (Image: Alaska Air)

Alaska Airline’s mod new look. What do you think? (Image: Alaska Air)

Alaska recently updated its “look” which Bay Areans will soon see a lot more of. And it’s no slouch when it comes to inflight comfort and tech. For example, it has all-leather recaro seats and oversized overhead luggage bins on its newest Boeing 737-800 and 737-900 aircraft. It has seatback power (standard and USB) on nearly all its planes now. It offers “preferred plus” economy seating with more legroom and a free cocktails.

While Virgin America was showy and fun, it always struggled— only recently showing profits as the cost of fuel declined. Combining with Alaska Air should help shore up Virgin, but could lead to the loss of some money-losing routes.

Alaska is buying Virgin for $2.6 billion. The combined airline will be the fifth largest in the US, with 1,200 daily departures with 280 planes with an average age of 8.5 years. The airline will have hubs in Seattle, San Francisco, Anchorage, Portland and Los Angeles.

The future of Virgin America’s employees in the Bay Area is uncertain at the moment, but the good news is that both carriers are considered great place to work-both rank among Forbes “best places to work.”

At SFO, Alaska Airlines is temporarily operating  out of the International Terminal while Terminal 1 is under construction. It remains to be seen how or if Alaska’s flights will integrate with Virgin’s in Terminal 2. Alaska does not currently operate a Board Room at SFO– members instead use Cathay Pacific’s lounge on the A side of the international terminal.

The combined airline will be based in Seattle-– too bad because Virgin America was always very proud to boast that it was “the only California-based airline.”

Why did Virgin agree to be acquired in the first place? One its website it says, “Today, just four airlines control more than 80% of the U.S. market.  By combining with Alaska – an airline that, like us, has a strong position on the West Coast, a history of operational excellence, and a guest- and employee-focused culture – we are not only creating the best airline in North America, but one with the size and market share necessary to compete in this consolidated environment.”

Read a blog post from Brad Tilden, Alaska Airlines’s CEO on the merger here. Also, here’s the press release announcing the merger.

Stay tuned to TravelSkills for more as this whole deal comes to light. In the meantime, let us know what you think about the merger in the comments below. For me, I’m a bit sad at the loss of my hometown carrier. It’s been a joy chronicling the scrappy, funky and fun carrier’s journey over the last eight years. Check out this video to see what I mean…

–Chris McGinnis

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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Most popular: Qantas 747 + Alaska-Virgin? + AA 24-hr rule + Tesla + Nightmare room

Virgin America's newest A320's have sharklets on the wings. Seen em? (Photo: Virgin America)

Virgin America: What’s going to happen to this popular airline? Photo: Virgin America)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

1 Jump on board with me! Trip Report: QANTAS 747-400 business class San Francisco – Sydney (Photos)

2 Big news My thoughts about Alaska Airlines getting Virgin America. Yours?

Routes: San Francisco, JFK, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Toronto

4 Pretty in pink? Or not… Is this Hilton room a dream or nightmare?Weekend Edition

5 It depends… Worst summer ever for European trips? Or the best?

Munich Airport: Big new terminal, new US route, new hotel

Interview: 5 things Marriott CEO said about Starwood deal

San Francisco snags new UK nonstop

A look inside Delta’s newest jet (photos)

10 AA wants another big China route

Qantas just announced that it is collaborating with Tesla to offer special benefits to fliers– check this out… a Tesla vs a jet

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

American dropping its flier friendly 24-hour hold on reservations- moves to refund instead

Southwest adds nonstops between Long Beach and Oakland

Delta is new sponsor of Washington Nationals

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

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

Passenger wins nearly $1 million at Las Vegas airport slot machine

Conditions ripe for Zika outbreak in southeastern US states

American Airlines poised to be largest transpac carrier from LAX

Even the White House gets Atlanta airport name wrong

Alaska Airlines tests electronic baggage tags

Will your passport move onto your smartphone?

Get used to long TSA lines unless you’re in PreCheck

Hilton and Uber integrate their apps

Southwest Airlines offers Rapid Rewards bonus to Lyft riders

Avis adds Land Rovers to its fleet

Hertz brings special-edition Ford Mustang Shelby GT-H  models to some airport locations

Japan Airlines starts online meal reservation option

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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Breaking: Alaska Airlines reportedly wins Virgin America

Alaska Airlines is adding an international mileage and code-share partner. (Image: Jim Glab)

Alaska Airlines is reportedly going to get Virgin America (Image: Jim Glab)

Alaska Airlines has reportedly clinched a deal to purchase Virgin America, snatching the opportunity away from JetBlue.

The Wall Street Journal reports that “people familiar with the situation” say that there’s no guarantee that Alaska will get Virgin, but if it does, Alaska Air is expected to pay around $2 billion for the Burlingame-based carrier– a price inflated by all the recent speculation that Virgin was actually up for grabs. (Prior to the kerfuffle about the sale, Virgin America was valued at around $1.5 billion.)

If Virgin and Alaska Air combined, it would create the nation’s fifth largest carrer– a title currently held by JetBlue.

I’m writing this post having just returned from the sunny slopes of Northstar at Lake Tahoe and my mind is of course bursting with speculation and possibilities…. here’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to know what YOU are thinking, too, so read on and leave your comments below.

Related : Travel industry mergers that make sense!

-If Alaska Airlines buys Virgin America, which name would survive? If Alaska Airlines wants to be a national carrier, it will likely need to shed its regional name, right? But would Alaska be willing to pay whatever fee Richard Branson wants for it to carry the Virgin name? And speaking of regional-sounding names, Southwest Airlines sounds regional, but it has succeeded in becoming a national carrier, so who knows?

-What’s going to happen to Virgin’s hub at the fab Terminal 2 in San Francisco? It’s currently bursting at the seams so I’m not sure if Alaska’s operations are going to fit in there. But since there’s now the behind-security passageway between Terminal 1 C (Delta) and Terminal 2, Alaska could squeeze in there? Combined, the two carriers would become SFO’s second largest carrier, with 15% of all flights. (United will remain firmly in #1 position.)

-What’s going to happen with JetBlue? Will it just walk away from the deal… or will it come back with a higher bid (just like what’s been happening with Starwood/Marriott/Anbang). Who knows? But if the deal is done, the WSJ says that we could hear about it as soon as Monday. Wouldn’t it be interesting if Alaska Air bought BOTH Virgin and JetBlue? It could happen! Or…maybe Delta could swoop in at the last minute with a sweeter offer? And speaking of Delta, what’s going to happen with Delta’s relationship with Virgin Atlantic and Richard Branson if Alaska Air butts in?

"Flights with Benefits" is the racy name for one of Virgin America's new A320 ETOPS jets (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

“Flights with Benefits” is the racy name for one of Virgin America’s new A320 ETOPS jets (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

-Frequent Flyer programs. Alaska Airlines has resisted following the pack of major airlines down the path of devaluation. As a matter of fact, it remains the largest airline with an intact mileage-based program versus the new-fangled spend-based programs of the majors. Virgin America’s spending-based Elevate program has never been a huge draw, so maybe integration with Alaska’s more popular and lucrative Mileage Plan would be a good idea.

Hawaii flights could become more expensive. Alaska and Virgin have been competing heavily on fares to the islands ever since Virgin launched Hawaii nonstops last December. One less carrier in the market could mean higher fares.

Related: Trip Report- Virgin America to Honolulu

-How will the two carriers integrate their fleets? Alaska Airlines is all Boeing. Virgin is all Airbus. While other airlines have both types in their fleet, it service issues could become more unwieldy/complicated.

-What’s going to happen the the hip fun culture that Virgin America has created? Will it be washed away in a take over? Alaska Airlines runs a great operation, and has similarly built up a loyal following with very good service, new planes and good on-time performance. Which culture will come out on top?

Okay. That’s it from me now. Time for some apres-ski time in sunny Truckee. Please share your speculations and comments below! We’ll regroup on Monday!

–Chris McGinnis

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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Briefs: Best United clubs, Alaska PreCheck, Delta videos, Air Canada Wi-Fi

United's big bright new Club at London Heathrow Terminal 2. CLICK ON PHOTO FOR SLIDESHOW

United’s big bright Club at London Heathrow Terminal 2. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

In airline news this week, United’s customers rate the airline’s best airport lounges; Alaska Mileage Plan members can buy into PreCheck with miles; Delta is bringing new content from Bloomberg into its Delta Studio streaming in-flight entertainment; and Air Canada plans a big expansion of in-flight Wi-Fi.

Which United Clubs do the airline’s passengers like best? According to the Chicago Business Journal, data collected from passengers’ post-flight surveys indicate that they considered the best domestic United Clubs at the airline’s hubs to be at Houston Bush Intercontinental and Denver International. The United Club at Washington Dulles was rated “most improved,” and the best international clubs were at London Heathrow and Mexico City’s Benito Juarez Airport. What’s your favorite United Club? 

Delta is teaming up with Bloomberg to bring new 30-minute videos on business-related topics to the airline’s Delta Studio in-flight entertainment selections. The programming will include three different series of 30-minute videos licensed to Delta: With All Due Respect, about the business of politics; Studio 1.0, about women executives in the tech industry; and Good Fortunes, covering the business of philanthropy. Delta Studio content can be viewed for free on seatback screens or streamed to passengers’ devices.

Breaking: Will Delta buy Virgin America? JetBlue?

PreCheck at Honolulu International (Photo: Hawaiian Airlines / Flickr)

PreCheck at Honolulu International (Photo: Hawaiian Airlines / Flickr)

Through the end of April, Alaska Airlines is letting members of its Mileage Plan program redeem 10,000 miles to pay for the TSA PreCheck program’s application fee. The $85 fee covers a five-year membership in the program, which gives participants access to expedited security screening procedures. To take advantage of the offer, e-mail y0ur name and Mileage Plan number to TSAredemption@alaskaair.com by April 30. The airline will deduct the miles from your account and e-mail you an authorization code to use when applying for PreCheck.

Air Canada, which already offers in-flight Wi-Fi on all its North American single-aisle aircraft, said this week it plans to expand the amenity to its international flights. The company said it has signed a deal with Gogo to install that provider’s new 2Ku satellite-based Wi-Fi service on its international wide-bodies starting this fall. The airline’s 777s will be the first to add the new Wi-Fi.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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Airline alters flight for better solar eclipse views

Alaska Airlines shifts flight for better eclipse viewing (Image: Alaska Airlines)

Alaska Airlines shifts flight for better eclipse viewing (Image: Alaska Airlines)

As an avowed window-seat flyer, this item from Alaska Airlines really grabbed my attention this morning:

When the sun and the moon and the Earth align this week, an Alaska Airlines jet is planning to arrive in the right place at the right time to catch the total solar eclipse.

Tuesday’s rendezvous over the Pacific Ocean is not luck, but a precisely planned equation. The calculations began a year ago. The only variable was the plane.

In window seat 32F, Joe Rao will be one of the dozen astronomers and veteran “eclipse chasers” among the 163 passengers onboard, gazing out oval windows as the moon blocks the sun for nearly two minutes.

He’s an associate astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium(where astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is director). About a year ago, Rao discovered that Alaska Airlines Flight 870 from Anchorage to Honolulu would intersect the “path of totality” – the darkest shadow of the moon as it passes over the Earth.

But the flight’s normally scheduled departure time would be 25 minutes too early, missing the grand spectacle.

Rather than attempt to move the sun or the moon or the Earth, Rao called Alaska Airlines.

Alaska decided to move the plane.

To read the full post about this unusual flight on the Alaska Airlines blog, click here.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever seen looking out a plane window? Are you a window or aisle seat flyer? Please leave your comments below. 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble 

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Routes: Alaska, United, Southwest, AA, Virgin + more

United plans to fly 757-300s from Washington Reagan National to San Francisco and Denver. (Image: BriYYZ/Wikimedia Commons)

United plans to fly 757-300s from Washington Reagan National to San Francisco and Denver. (Image: BriYYZ/Wikimedia Commons)

In U.S. route news, Alaska Airlines plans to expand at Mineta San Jose Airport with new intra-California service, and it is also growing at Portland; United trims its Cleveland schedule and puts larger aircraft on two Washington Reagan National routes; Virgin America makes a seasonal SFO route year-round; Southwest plans to fly to another Los Angeles-area airport; American adds a new spoke from LaGuardia; and a small niche carrier targets Pittsburgh for expansion.

Alaska Airline's mod new look. What do you think? (Image: Alaska Air)

Alaska Airline’s mod new look. (Image: Alaska Air)

Alaska Airlines announced an expansion in the Bay Area, with plans to add service from Mineta San Jose Airport starting June 5 to both San Diego and Orange County/Santa Ana, Calif. The carrier will operate three daily flights in each market, using 76-seat Embraer 175s from SkyWest Airlines. The planes have 12 seats in first class, 12 in preferred class and 52 in the main cabin, and are equipped with Wi-Fi and free streaming entertainment. Meanwhile, February 18 is the launch date for three new Alaska Airlines routes out of Portland International. The carrier will begin once-daily service from Portland to Kansas City, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Omaha.

Effective May 4, United Airlines plans to drop two routes from Cleveland Hopkins Airport, ending its service to Las Vegas and to St. Louis. That brings United’s presence at Cleveland down to 15 destinations, from 58 two years ago. Meanwhile, United also plans to expand capacity on a pair of routes out of Washington Reagan National by switching to 213-seat 757-300s from smaller aircraft. The 757s will replace 737-800s starting March 23 on the San Francisco-DCA route, and A320s and 737-800s on the Denver-DCA route beginning March 3. In other developments, United plans to discontinue service April 4 from Chicago O’Hare to Elmira/Corning, N.Y., and to operate Saturday/Sunday seasonal service from O’Hare to Great Falls, Montana from June 11 through August 14.

Southwest Airlines, seeking to expand its network to “five for five in Greater L.A.,” has applied for takeoff and landing slots at Long Beach Airport. The airline already flies out of Los Angeles International, Burbank, Orange County Airport and Ontario. Southwest didn’t say where it wants to fly from Long Beach, but California and Nevada media are speculating that it might have its sights on the Bay Area and/or Las Vegas. The airline said it hopes to start service at Long Beach later this year.

According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, American Airlines plans to start daily non-stop service from that Kentucky city to New York LaGuardia effective June 2. It said American will operate one daily roundtrip with a 50-seat regional jet.

A red carpet welcome under wintry skies at Palm Springs International

Virgin America’s inaugural flight to Palm Springs got the red carpet treatment (Chris McGinnis)

Virgin America Airlines said that its seasonal service between San Francisco and Palm Springs will be operated year-round from now on. The airline said it will fly the route four times a week through the fall. Virgin’s Palm Springs-New York JFK flights will remain seasonal, continuing through May.

OneJet, a small but fast-growing niche airline that operates seven-passenger Hawker 400 jets on routes in the Midwest, said it plans to make Pittsburgh its next focus city. The little airline, which already flies from Pittsburgh to Milwaukee and Indianapolis, plans to start twice-daily Pittsburgh-Hartford flights on May 9, and then to add four more destinations from Pittsburgh in the second quarter, although it didn’t day which ones.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Boeing 747 nearing its end? + “Targeted” for an upgrade? + 5 newest biz class hotels in New York + TSA PreCheck is exploding + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 

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Most popular: United’s longest + Fewer big seats + Concorde + Soul food + more

Seen QANTAS clever new inflight safety video? See link below (Image: QANTAS)

Seen QANTAS’ clever new inflight safety video? See link below (Image: QANTAS)

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order):

1 16 hours, 20 minutes United Airlines reveals its newest, longest flight

2 Fewer big seats at the pointy end United’s first class phase-out

3 Most readers approve New look for Alaska Airlines Weekend Edition

Routes: LAX-China, Nashville, Toronto, Germany, India, Brazil

5 Second in our supersonic series Trip Report: British Airways Concorde experience LHR-JFK

6 Give and take New JetBlue seats: Less space, more tech

8 fun facts about inflight wi-fi

8 First in the series Trip Report: New York-London on Concorde! (PHOTOS)

9 Might not feel that way but… Mounting evidence that fares really ARE cheaper

10 Fried chicken on the plane? United’s got soul food (and free snacks)

Note the button on lower right

Note the button on lower right- from a room phone at the Baccarat hotel NYC (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

We’ve completed our series of New York’s five newest business class hotels. Did you see all of ’em? If not, here ya go:

 1 Hotel Central Park (Midtown)

The Baccarat (Midtown)

New York EDITION (Flatiron/Madison Sq Park)

The EVEN Hotel (Near Penn Station/Garment district)

The Knickerbocker (Times Square)

Precheck logo TM

Remember our post and poll about your recent PreCheck experiences? So far, 330+ readers have participated and results are overwhelmingly positive– see below and if you’ve not voted yet, now’s the time! Do you agree with the findings?

Please vote and post comments below.

How would you rate your recent PreCheck experiences?

View Results

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Please click the clear-looking or “vote” button

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

Could you sit in this business class seat for over 18 hours? (Photo from Global Business Travel trade show floor by Chris McGinnis)

Links to stories from other sources that we thought you’d like to read:

And the newest, longest flight in the world (18 hours) is…

American Airlines unveils new amenity kits

CLEAR’s special offer for Super Bowl attendees (or anyone else) $50 for 6 months

No LAX to Hong Kong nonstops on American after all

We’ve reached saturation with cute airline safety videos, but QANTAS has a good one

Back story on new Eastern Airlines

New York’s free public wi-fi is crazy fast

Uber billed executive $640 for a 30-minute ride to the airport.

SkyTeam offers discount on its around-the-world fares.

TripAdvisor invites user reviews of airlines.

Passport expiring? State Dept. says you shouldn’t delay in renewing it.

Starwood is the latest hotel company to participate in TripAdvisor’s Instant Booking feature.

Brussels wants you back! And they’ve made a video to convince you it’s safe.

Are you signed up for the TravelSkills.com blog? Why not? Do it right now and don’t miss out. 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  Boeing 747 nearing its end? + “Targeted” for an upgrade? + 5 newest biz class hotels in New York + TSA PreCheck is exploding + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 

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Alaska Air’s new partner + United trims Mideast + Lufthansa Denver + London

Emirates Dubai Business Class Lounge

Alaska’s elites will get access to Emirates’ business class lounge at Dubai. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

In international route news, Alaska Air takes on a new code-sharing partner; United will drop flights to Kuwait and Bahrain; Lufthansa adds a Denver route; British Airways will revive service to Gatwick and changes planes to Miami; and Austrian Airlines adds a U.S. route. 

  • Alaska Airlines and Emirates have had a frequent flyer program partnership since 2012, with reciprocal mileage-earning and spending, but now they’re getting even closer. Subject to government approval, they plan to begin code-sharing that will enable travelers from 49 Alaska cities to connect seamlessly to Emirates’ twice-daily flights from Seattle to Dubai. The deal will put Emirates’ code onto as many as 300 Alaska flights a day (although the announcement says nothing about Alaska’s code going onto the Emirates flights). In addition, Alaska’s MVP Gold and MVP Gold 75 elites will be able to use Emirates business class lounges at Dubai, and will get priority boarding and check-in at Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Dubai; and Emirates elites will be able to use Alaska’s Board Room lounges at four airports.
  • United Airlines is no longer taking reservations for travel on its very-long-haul flight from Washington Dulles to Kuwait and Bahrain after January 13, according to airlineroute.net. And it may not be a matter of insufficient traffic on the route. According to one popular blogger, United’s route termination may have been ordered by the Kuwaitis due to anger over U.S. anti-discrimination laws that will not allow airlines serving the U.S. to deny boarding to Israeli passport holders — something Kuwait Airlines reportedly did on a London-New York flight.
  • In addition to its existing daily service from Denver to Frankfurt, Lufthansa says it will begin flying from Denver to Munich five times a week effective May 11, 2016. The German carrier will use an A330-300 with first class, business class, premium economy and economy seating.
Gatwick Airport is about 30 mins south of Victoria Station (Image: Visit London)

Gatwick Airport is about 30 mins south of Victoria Station (Image: Visit London)

  • British Airways and joint venture partner American have plenty of flights in the New York-London Heathrow market, but next spring BA plans to add a flight from New York JFK to London Gatwick as well, according to airlinerotue.net. Effective May 16, British Airways will use a 777-200ER to operate daily service on the JFK-LGW route, which it last served in 2009. In other news, British Airways has just started flying a big Airbus A380 super-jumbo on its London Heathrow-Miami route. The 469-passenger A380, with four classes of seating, will initially operate one of BA’s two daily Miami flights; the other will still use a 747.
  • Speaking of Miami, Austrian Airlines — a member of the Lufthansa Group — has added the Florida city as its newest U.S. gateway. The new Miami-Vienna flights, using a two-class 777, operate five days a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday).

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Global Entry gets more global + New York’s lowest ranked hotels +Best/worst hotel programs for awards + More flat seats

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Delta-Alaska Airlines ‘partnership’ getting colder

Alaska and Delta are battling for the Seattle market. (Image: Jim Glab)

Alaska and Delta are battling for the Seattle market. (Image: Jim Glab)

Although Alaska Airlines and Delta are engaged in a battle for passengers and market share at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, they still remain partners on one level. But that partnership seems to be getting increasingly frayed as Delta adds more routes at Alaska’s SEA hub.

In the latest development, members of Alaska’s Board Room airport lounge program will no longer have access to Delta Sky Clubs after the first of the year, according to information on Alaska’s website. (When we looked at Delta’s website, it still showed Alaska Board Room locations as being available to Sky Club members with no cutoff date. But we have to believe this change is reciprocal. Maybe Delta just hasn’t had time to update its website yet.)

Alaska’s members may not need Delta’s lounges any more anyway; in August, Alaska started a reciprocal lounge-use relationship with American’s Admirals Clubs, and it just announced an expansion of its partnership with United, giving Alaska Board Room members access to United Clubs in Philadelphia and Minneapolis-St. Paul as well as Phoenix effective December 1.

Delta is busy constructing one of the largest Sky Clubs in its network in the main terminal at SeaTac, which is expected to open next year. But Board Room members won’t get reciprocal access to it.

alaskaweb

Speaking of Alaska Airlines Board Rooms, the carrier announced it will open a new one November 7 in Sea-Tac’s North Satellite terminal. It will offer work stations, free Wi-Fi, and big-screen TVs, along with free snacks, beverages and cocktails. On the same date, it will offer expanded hours at Board Rooms in the Seattle, Los Angeles, Portland and Anchorage airports.

Related: Alaska Air now using stunning Cathay Pacific lounge at SFO

Alaska and Delta do still maintain a frequent flyer program partnership — for now, at least.

On the route competition front, Delta just announced it will begin four daily flights between Seattle and Orange County, California on May 1 — a market currently dominated by Alaska and Southwest. Delta noted that with this latest addition, it plans to add new service to 10 destinations from SEA between November 2015 and May 2016. The other markets, previously announced, include Billings, Boston, Cancun, Edmonton, Kona, Missoula, Orlando, Pasco (Wash.) and Victoria, B.C.

Alaska keeps growing at SEA as well. It just started new service to Raleigh-Durham, N.C. this month; last month, it added new flights to Nashville and New York JFK.  

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Uber gaining on taxis + Spectacular Hong Kong hotels + World’s longest flight + On-time stats useless? + #1 Dreamliner hub in US

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Will fingerprints replace boarding passes?

Alaska Airlines is working with CLEAR to replace boarding passes with biometrics. (Image: CLEAR)

Alaska Airlines is working with CLEAR to replace boarding passes with biometrics. (Image: CLEAR)

Alaska Airlines has quietly started a test program at California’s Mineta San Jose Airport in cooperation with CLEAR — the security line expeditors — that could lead to the demise of the relatively new digital boarding pass.

The airline has signed up some 200 regular customers at San Jose for an experiment that lets them use biometrics— iris scans and/or fingerprint scans — instead of photo IDs and boarding passes to verify their identity as they go through the airport experience, from checking bags to security to boarding the aircraft.

The airline is working with CLEAR because that company has become quite sophisticated in using biometric identifiers in its airport program, which lets members bypass the security waiting lines and go straight to the checkpoint. In fact, CLEAR’s biometric scanners are so reliable that the company recently eliminated the use of CLEAR ID cards that members formerly had to use. CLEAR currently operates at a dozen major airports, and membership costs $179 a year.

Now, subscribers scan their fingers or irises rather than produce credentials. They’re still required to show boarding passes, but people in the pilot program don’t need them. And when program participants board an Alaska Airlines plane out of San Jose, they swipe their fingers on a tablet rather than show boarding passes. -San Jose Mercury News

Participants in the Alaska Airlines pilot project were personally invited by airline staff at the airport, or by email.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, the test program has had occasional glitches with the scanners, and some security experts claim it is still possible to fool the devices by putting a copy of someone else’s fingerprint over your fingertip, but these are seen as solvable problems.

It’s only been a couple of years since airlines introduced the digital boarding passes that are now widely used, but in these days of high-speed technological innovation, their days could already be numbered.

See Alaska Airlines’ blog post about this.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Avoiding long customs & immigration lines  + Fingerprint as boarding pass? + Hotel rate shocker  + More!


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Alaska Airlines invades The South. Watch out, Delta

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all three of today’s TravelSkills posts about: Eastern Airlines back in the sky & New Ritz-Carlton in Chicago (kinda) & Admirals Clubs!

Delta & Alaska Air battle for Seattle (Photo: Jim Glab)

Delta & Alaska Air battle for Seattle…and The South(Photo: Jim Glab)

Alaska Airlines announced new non-stop service from its Seattle hub to Charleston, South Carolina, Nashville, Tennessee and Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina beginning fall 2015.

Flights to Charleston will connect Boeing employees with one of their largest manufacturing plants outside the Pacific Northwest. Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner is assembled at a plant in North Charleston.

Alaska says that country music capital Nashville is the largest market from Seattle not currently served by Alaska.

Raleigh/Durham service will connect two of the country’s main biotechnology hubs.

On March 31, Air India picked up its 20th Boeing 787 Dreamliner from the plant in Charleston (Boeing)

On March 31, Air India picked up this plane, its 20th Boeing 787 Dreamliner, from the plant in Charleston (Boeing)

Introductory roundtrips are $280 between SEA and Charleston or Nashville and $358 on SEA-Raleigh/Durham- on sale today at www.alaskaair.com. Tickets must be purchased by May 4 and travel completed by Nov. 18 for Nashville and Raleigh/Durham, and by Dec. 19 for Charleston.

Alaska says it will use new fuel-efficient Next Generation 737 aircraft in the routes.

New: United’s sweet 50,000-mile bonus is back

“Our loyal customers tell us they want new and exciting non-stop destinations, and we are listening,” said John Kirby, the airline’s vice president of capacity planning. “We’re pleased to be adding new non-stop service to three highly-requested business and leisure destinations not currently served nonstop from Seattle. Nonstop flights equate to shorter travel times and more convenience for our customers.”

By this fall, Alaska will serve 83 destinations from Seattle with 290 peak daily flights, “two-and-a half times that of Alaska’s nearest competitor” boasts Alaska in a jab against Delta in its press release about these new flights. 

–Chris McGinnis

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all three of today’s TravelSkills posts about: Eastern Airlines back in the sky & New Ritz-Carlton in Chicago (kinda) & Admirals Clubs!

 


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Alaska adds new premium economy seats

Alaska Airlines will market premium coach seats. (Photo: Jim Glab)

Alaska Airlines will market premium coach seats. (Photo: Jim Glab)

Alaska adds premium seats. In the middle of May, Alaska Airlines will reportedly start marketing extra-legroom coach seats — i.e., those in bulkhead and exit rows — as a premium economy product.

Besides the 7 to 8 inches of extra legroom, passengers in these “preferred seating” rows will also get free drinks and priority boarding. (It sounds a lot like Virgin America’s Main Cabin Select product to us- without the free food.)

Mileage Plan elites will get first crack at reserving the seats for no fee; seats still available at check-in will be sold to anyone for a fee that varies by distance, said to range from $15 to $50.

Although the plan requires no reconfiguration of the cabin, officials said the concept could be expanded if it tests well.

What do you think? Would you pay more for a regular coach seat with more legroom, early boarding and cocktails? How much? 

ALSO…American taking over Alaska routes to Mexico:  The Transportation Department has approved a request from American Airlines to take over Alaska Airlines’ Los Angeles-Mexico City route rights, which it will do effective June 4. Alaska will code-share on the American flights. American plans to offer two daily roundtrips vs. Alaska’s one …

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6 must-see spring travel flash sales

How will Hawaii be affected by the drastic drop in foreign currencies? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

How will Hawaii be affected by the drastic drop in foreign currencies? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Now that we are approaching the slower shoulder season, which runs from roughly Easter to Memorial Day, I’m starting to see some nice last minute deals pop up– quite good bargains for those flexy enough to travel in April or May.

Take a look and please note that these rates are subject to rapid change in price and availability:

Hawaii. The plunge in the value of world currencies compared to the US dollar has Hawaii nervous that it will get fewer visitors from abroad, and that its American base might be more interested in a flight to Europe instead of down to the islands. So fares are dropping for spring trips. For example, Hawaiian Air has nonstops between San Jose and Honolulu for as little as $358 round trip. Fly from Oakland or San Jose to Maui for just $388. To me, any West Coast-Hawaii roundtrip fare for less than $400 is a good deal. Hawaiian Air Deals Alaska Airlines is offering similar deals from San Jose or Oakland to Hawaii. Plus it has Los Angeles to Anchorage for just $320 round trip. Alaska Airlines deals

Emirates amazing 2-4-1 deal for economy class seats like these on a new A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Emirates amazing 2-4-1 deal for economy class seats like these on a new A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Dirt cheap to Dubai: Book two round-trip tickets to Dubai on Emirates for just $1,299 in economy (all in). This means just $650 per person, roundtrip from the US to Dubai. Yes, you read that right, only $650 round trip from any of Emirates nine US gateways: New York (JFK), Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Washington DC (IAD), Houston (IAH), Seattle (SEA), Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO) and Dallas Ft. Worth (DFW) to Dubai (DXB). Travel must take place between March 24 and December 10, 2015. And you must book the trip by midnight March 12 PDT. I’ve never seen fares that low from the US to Dubai. Must have something to do with this! Emirates 2-4-1 special 

The SWISS flower power A340 appeared in San Francisco in 2010. I miss it! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The SWISS flower power A340 appeared in San Francisco in 2010. I miss it! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Europe! The euro continues to plunge against the US dollar, hitting a new low today of $1.07. Some observers think that we could see parity by this spring or summer (1 dollar = 1 euro), down from about $1.40 per euro last May. This means that Americans will find Europe a relative bargain bonanza when it comes to hotels, meals, local transport, gifts, etc. While airfare has remained stubbornly high, I’m now seeing some cracks, such as a flash sale (book by March 11) from SWISS with April/May round trips as low at $789 between Boston and Switzerland or Germany. New York and Budapest just $757.Roundtrips to Istanbul from San Francisco or Los Angeles are in the $1,100 range. SWISS sale fares.
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Delta ekes out some good SkyMiles news
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Virgin America & JetBlue launched a two day sale (book by March 11) with fares as low as $128 round trip. Some nice examples from JetBlue: Roundtrip New York to Charleston to watch the flowers bloom for just $128. Long Beach to Oakland or Las Vegas roundtrips for just $99. Seattle or San Diego-Boston for just $188 roundtrip is dirt cheap for a transcon.  JetBlue sale site. Virgin America’s sale is good through March 12 for travel April 7-June 10– with blackout dates and only good on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Some examples: Dallas-Washington DC is a super low at just $108 round trip. SFO-LAX roundtrips at $140; SFO-Vegas, Seattle & San Diego roundtrips $189. SFO-Palm Springs $199 roundtripVirgin America deals.

Alaska Airlines today announced a new nonstop between Seattle and New York JFK with fares as low as $298 round trip PLUS double miles if you purchase your ticket by March 16 and complete your trip by Nov. 18, 2015. Alaska Air to JFK

Why you should change the credit cards you carry

The view over the Venetian from my room at the Palazzo in Las Vegas (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The view over the Venetian from my room at the Palazzo in Las Vegas (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Las Vegas: Now here’s an interesting deal for folks who have a lot of IHG Rewards points. For today only, you can book the nice Venetian or the The Palazzo, in Las Vegas just 25,000 IHG Rewards Club points. That’s a big 50% discount on points required AND the deal is good for stays all the way through December 28. Must book today or tomorrow (March 11) by noon.
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Please note that these rates are subject to rapid change in price and availability:
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–Chris McGinnis

In Case You Missed it…

>Which cities worldwide have the best (and worst) quality of life?

>United renovates airport clubs, boosts food quality.

>Virgin Atlantic will boost San Francisco schedule with a 787.

>Hilton finally jumps on the free Wi-Fi

 

Did you missed TravelSkills Weekend editions? No probs! Here they are:

Don’t buy Gogo onboard + Virgin to Hawaii? + Clever Delta ad + LaGuardia slots

$64,000 roundtrip + Bevy of new flights + Southwest bag fee + Lufthansa update + Kimpton nightcap

 


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Delta ekes out some good SkyMiles news

Flying the Delta California Shuttle from SFO to LAX (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Flying the Delta California Shuttle from SFO to LAX (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

It seems that every time Delta has announced updates to its SkyMiles program recently, we all braced for bad news. 

But today, Delta rolled out come changes for the good…for a change. Here’s what’s in store:

  • New one-way award tickets for 10,000 miles plus taxes and fees, available through Dec. 31, 2015 for travel in select U.S., Mexican and Caribbean markets– these appear to be only short-haul markets like Atlanta-Florida, Los Angeles-Las Vegas, or San Francisco-Los Angeles. Catch: there’s a 21-day minimum advance purchase for most of these awards. But still this is good news since the previous minimum was 12,500 miles– too much for a short flight.
  • Delta is now offering MQDs, regardless of ticketing carrier, for travel on most of its airline partners. And it’s making the MQD offer retroactive back to January 1 of this year. Delta says that MQD earning varies based on carrier, percentage of distance flown as determined by Delta and fare class paid.

 

Here’s how Delta detailed and expanded upon its press release on FlyerTalk today:

Increased award availability
When we announced the SkyMiles 2015 program we committed to making more award seats available at the lowest prices and since the start of 2015 we have expanded award availability at the lowest prices by greater than 50%. We are seeing a double digit increase in award redemptions since January and other customer-positive award redemption trends in terms of the average number of miles redeemed, partner awards, and one-way award usage.

New (lower) One Way Award
In 2015 we will be offering One Way Award tickets beginning as low as 10,000 miles (plus taxes and fees) in select markets in the contiguous 48 United States and between the 48 contiguous United States and select Mexico/Caribbean destinations. Travel will be valid through December 31, 2015 with a 21 day advance purchase.

Bloodbath for airlines a boon for travelers

Award shopping calendar additions
We are pleased to confirm that we have added four new airline partners to our award shopping engine over the past few weeks following a quiet soft launch. You can now book awards online with China Airlines, China Southern, China Eastern and Gol. We will be adding more partners in the coming weeks and even more by summer of 2015.

Mobile award shopping
In January, we added the ability to book Awards from your smartphone. You can shop for our new One Way Awards, our new partners and other Award Tickets using the Fly Delta mobile app. We are seeing great usage of this new and easy to use feature right out of the gate.

Restrictions on free-flowing airport booze?

Earn MQDs on most partner-ticketed flights, exception fares
New for 2015 when you travel on flights ticketed by most of our airline partners you will now earn MQDs, which will help you qualify for Medallion status faster. This change will be retroactive to January 1, 2015 to include your travel from this Medallion year. Flights marketed and ticketed by partners may earn MQDs based on a percentage of distance flown as determined by the fare class paid. You can visit www.delta.com/partnerairlines for details by carrier. It’s going to take us a little bit of time to process retroactive credit for past flight activity, but they should post to your accounts between now and March 20. You can also earn MQDs on most exception fares, such as bulk, consolidator and group tickets. Learn more by visiting www.delta.com/exceptionfares. In addition to the MQD changes we’ve also made minor changes to the way you earn Medallion status on Alaska Airlines flights, effective April 1.

Diamond Medallions now board first
Many of you have caught on to this already, but as part of our branded products experience that launched on March 1, we are pleased to confirm that Diamond Medallion members are now invited to board the aircraft with customers in Delta One or First Class as part of our Premium boarding zone.

So what do you think? Does any of this make you feel better about SkyMiles?

–Chris McGinnis

Why you should change the credit cards you carry

In Case You Missed it…

>Which cities worldwide have the best (and worst) quality of life?

>United renovates airport clubs, boosts food quality.

>Virgin Atlantic will boost San Francisco schedule with a 787.

>Hilton finally jumps on the free Wi-Fi

 

Did you missed TravelSkills Weekend editions? No probs! Here they are:

Don’t buy Gogo onboard + Virgin to Hawaii? + Clever Delta ad + LaGuardia slots

$64,000 roundtrip + Bevy of new flights + Southwest bag fee + Lufthansa update + Kimpton nightcap

 


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$64,000 roundtrip + Bevy of new flights + Southwest bag fee + Lufthansa update + Kimpton nightcap

The big bed in Etihad's 3-room Residence aboard its A380 flying to New York in December (Photo: Etihad)

The big bed in Etihad’s 3-room Residence aboard its A380 flying to New York in December (Photo: Etihad)

The $64,000 question. Etihad Airways said it will put an Airbus A380 onto its New York JFK-Abu Dhabi route starting December 1, giving ultra-affluent air travelers a chance to try out the carrier’s posh cabins that it calls “The Residence by Etihad.” The 125-square-foot cabins have a living room, en-suite shower and a bedroom with a double bed, and come with white-gloved, Savoy-trained butler services. The roundtrip fare for the Residence between New York and Abu Dhabi? A mere $64,000. Which begs the question: Who in the world would pay that? Well, somebody out there already has! Etihad issued a press release on the day after the product announcement stating that it sold the Residence on the inaugural flight “within hours.”  What’s it like onboard? Check out Etihad’s video below. 

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 9.19.27 AM

Clever comment of the week. Last week’s TravelSkills post US airlines vs Emirates, Etihad & Qatar sure struck a chord with readers, with the majority sounding off against US airline whining (see above).

Routes: American, Alaska et al. American Airlines last week kicked off new daily service between Miami and Austin … Alaska Airlines has started flying between San Diego and Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island three times a week … Air China will boost frequencies between Los Angeles and Beijing on May 2 when it adds a third flight four days a week, increasing to three daily roundtrips July 1; also on July 1, Air China will move from Terminal 2 at LAX to the Tom Bradley International Terminal … Lufthansa has put a new 364-seat 747-8 Intercontinental into service between Newark and Frankfurt.

 Southwest reassures on bag fees. Southwest Airlines is still under lots of pressure from Wall Street to start charging fees for checked bags — especially since JetBlue caved on that policy recently and will soon issue a new fare structure that eliminates a free checked bag for the lowest prices. But Southwest’s CFO told an aviation conference last week that the airline still has no plans to change its policy, which currently allows passengers two free checked bags.

Southwest heads south. This week, Southwest launched new nonstops to international destinations south of the border: San Jose, Costa Rica (from Baltimore) and Aruba (from Houston). Each of the new routes is longer than 2,000 miles each-way. San Jose service marks a milestone for the carrier by establishing a presence in a new country (not preceded by AirTran) and by connecting Central America to the Southwest network.

Inflight wi-fi fee hits a new high

All doors open during a behind-the-scenes tour of Lufthansa's hangar in Frankfurt (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

All doors open during a behind-the-scenes tour of Lufthansa’s hangar in Frankfurt (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Lufthansa updates in-flight experience, fares. Now that Lufthansa has almost finished refitting all its long-haul cabins with new seats –a job that should end by the third quarter, including expansion of premium economy seating from the current 30 planes to all 106 long-haul aircraft — the carrier plans to roll out some service enhancements. That includes “Business Class Restaurant Service” on long-haul flights starting this summer, with tables set individually, meals served from the galley instead of a cart, and more flight attendants in the business cabin; and the expansion of its FlyNet in-flight Wi-Fi service to all intercontinental flights. Lufthansa will also introduce new economy fares on intra-European flights next fall, with three levels: Light (no checked bags, rebooking or refunds), Classic (one bag, advance seat selection and rebooking for a fee) and Flex, with the most options included. Have you flown Lufthansa recently? What did you think? 

Food critic Elliott Mackle is back! Anyone who has lived in Atlanta for a while probably remembers food critic Elliott Mackle’s zingers in the AJC or Creative Loafing when it came to the Atlanta food scene. He’s a long-time TravelSkills reader and provides us with his take on Delta’s business class cuisine onboard a recent roundtrip between Atlanta and Buenos Aires. Here’s his Reader Report.

AmEx adds Gold Card benefits. Holders of American Express’ Premier Rewards Gold Card will see some additional benefits starting June 1, the company said, including double Membership Rewards points for purchases at U.S. restaurants, a $100 credit for incidental airline fees like checked bag charges, elimination of foreign transaction fees on trips abroad, and a personalized travel service. Oh, one more thing: The annual fee for the card will go up from $175 to $195 on the same date.

Don’t buy Gogo onboard + Virgin to Hawaii? + Clever Delta ad + LaGuardia slots

HOTELS

Kimpton’s free booze. The latest perk for guests at Kimpton Hotels — now a division of InterContinental Hotels Group — is the “Nightcap Program.” Guests at 17 Kimptons will get a free “small pour of a nighttime libation” and a paired snack each evening — things like scotch and shortbread, port and blue cheese, etc. It’s available at 17 Kimptons now, with more to be added through the year. Add this to the long list of “little things” that Kimpton always gets right– it’s one of my favorite hotel chains.

Mock up of the brand new Loews Chicago hotel

Mock up of the brand new Loews Chicago hotel

Openings, rebrandings: Chicago, Philadelphia, etc. Just weeks after announcing it was taking over San Francisco’s Mandarin Oriental, Loews Hotels has cut the ribbon on the 400-room Loews Chicago Hotel, two blocks east of Michigan Avenue just north of the Chicago River. It’s in the lower 14 stories of a 52-story tower … The former Hyatt Regency Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing is now the 348-room Hilton Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing … InterContinental Hotel Group’s new Kimpton Hotels subsidiary has taken over management of the Shorebreak Hotel in Huntington Beach, Calif., close to the city’s famous pier … Melia Hotels this month opens the 369-room Melia Paris La Defense in the district of the same name — the largest four-star hotel to debut in Paris in 10 years … Dubai has its fifth Hyatt-branded hotel with the opening of the Hyatt Regency Dubai Creek Heights; its 464 rooms occupy a pair of 538-foot towers … Got business in Haiti? Marriott opened the doors of its newly-built Marriott Port-au-Prince … Starwood has added a new Luxury Collection property in Mexico City: Las Alcobas, a gorgeous 35-room boutique-style property in the upscale Polanco district.

Why you should change the credit cards you carry

In Case You Missed it…

>Which cities worldwide have the best (and worst) quality of life?

>United renovates airport clubs, boosts food quality.

>Virgin Atlantic will boost San Francisco schedule with a 787.

>Hilton finally jumps on the free Wi-Fi

Weekend Edition

Did you missed yesterday’s issue of TravelSkills Weekend edition? No probs! Here ’tis:

Don’t buy Gogo onboard + Virgin to Hawaii? + Clever Delta ad + LaGuardia slots


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Southwest Big Love + Hidden Delta rules + Remarkable Atlanta deal + SFO Centurion chef

AFLaPremieresuite

Air France’s swank new first class suite arrives in the US. See below for details (Photo: Air France)

Southwest sets next round of Love expansion. Southwest Airlines last week revealed details of a big schedule expansion at Dallas Love Field, with plans to add non-stop service to 10 cities starting April 8. New destinations to be served from DAL include Charleston (S.C.), Columbus, Indianapolis, Memphis, Milwaukee, Panama City Beach, Portland (Ore.), Sacramento, San Jose and Seattle/Tacoma. (Charleston service will start April 11 and will operate only on Saturdays; Panama City Beach flights will begin with once-a-week service, increasing to daily May 8, but will be seasonal.) Also on April 8, Southwest will boost frequencies on routes from DAL to Ft. Lauderdale, OaWeekendEditionkland and Santa Ana/Orange County. The airline will also add other new service at Santa Ana/Orange County June 28, including non-stops Chicago Midway, Seattle and Austin.

Southwest woos Atlanta flyers. Pulling out its biggest marketing guns to date, Southwest Airlines this week launched a new promotion in the Atlanta market only, offering Rapid Rewards members a pass good for free companion travel through the end of the year. To get it, members must register online at www.southwest.com/atlanta and complete at least three roundtrips out of Atlanta from now through May 17.  The only other way to get coveted companion pass status on Southwest is to amass 110,000 Rapid Rewards points. This is quite a remarkable deal, especially if you are the type of traveler who likes to mix business with pleasure and bring along the spouse or significant other from time too time. T&Cs state that you must be an Atlanta resident living in one of these zip codes to get the deal.  Delta loyalists….will you bite? 

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 5.34.36 PM

Talk about being in the right place at the right time! A rare Etihad sighting along with Air Force One at SFO. (Photo credit: Touch n Go Aviation Photography)

Etihad jet at SFO? We did a double-take when we saw the image of this Etihad jet at SFO floating by on Twitter this week. We thought maybe our post Etihad vs Jetihad had forced positive change 🙂 In the end, we learned from an airport spokesperson that Etihad substituted one of its own aircraft for the normal Jet Airways 777 on the route due to “operational issues.” It’s nice to see that beautiful bird at SFO…and even nicer to see it on the same day that President Obama was in town— see his 747 in the background? What a shot!

Delta said to tighten award rules. First, Delta angered SkyMiles members by taking down the awards chart from its website. And now — according to the Crankyflier blog– the airline has taken another step backwards with its loyalty program by quietly introducing new advance-purchase rules for low-level domestic award travel. Cranky says that SkyMiles now requires members to book those award trips at least three weeks in advance, but it didn’t bother to announce the change. And SkyMilers now have to go through the award booking process online before they can find the true mileage cost of a trip. (So…about that offer from Southwest mentioned above…)

Predicting spring-summer airfares

Air France brings new luxury to JFK flights. The first U.S. flights to introduce Air France’s new La Premiere first class suites are AF 010/011 between New York JFK and Paris CDG. The 32-square-foot suites have a seat that transforms into a bed that’s six and a half feet long and 30 inches wide, along with a 24-inch table and an ottoman that can serve as a guest seat. And four (count em!) windows– see top.

SFO Centurion Lounge loses chef. Michelin-starred chef Christopher Kostow (from Meadowoods in Napa) only lasted three months in a gig where he oversaw the kitchen at American Express’s popular new Centurion Lounge at SFO’s Terminal 3. According to EaterSF, which broke this news, “Kostow declined to comment on the reason for the severed ties, but some industry types assume that the differing desires of a Michelin-starred chef and an airport food service provider have something to do with it.” Too bad because the spread Kostow prepared for the opening night was deeelicious, and TravelSkills was there with a full report!

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The DOT’s official announcement regarding the United ticketing scam

Smart traveler or fraudster? The TravelSkills post (Should United pay for its mistakes) this week about the folks who snapped up supercheap fares by misrepresenting themselves received a TON of great comments. Check em out here. In a related story….remember the Skiplagged site, where a college kid exposed the longstanding practice of “hidden city ticketing” – a similar practice of the traveler misrepresenting where he or she is actually flying in order to get a cheaper fare? Both United and Orbitz filed a lawsuit against the kid, and this week, Orbitz reached a settlement, but United’s case is still active. Full story from USA Today

Alaska adding preferred seats. The next carrier to add a paid preferred seating option will be Alaska Airlines, which will reportedly start selling extra-legroom bulkhead and exit row seats sometime later this year. The airline is said to be eyeing preferred seating fees ranging from $15 to $50 depending on the length of the flight. Buyers will also get a free drink and priority boarding.

JetBlue will take Apple Pay. JetBlue Airways said its flight attendants will soon start accepting Apple Pay for in-flight purchases of food and beverage items, extra-legroom seats and other amenities. The new Apple Pay technology is offered with Apple’s iPhone 6 and 6s models. The carrier plans to give iPad minis and NFC-enabled cases to flight attendants so they can handle the Apple Pay transactions. The devices will also have a new iOS app that provides flight data and other information, and will let flight attendants “easily identify TrueBlue and Mosaic loyalty members by name,” JetBlue said.

Best new credit card bonuses for frequent flyers

icelandairaurora

Icelandair offers “aurora” flights. For passengers who don’t get to see the real aurora borealis, Icelandair is trying to offer the next best thing. It has painted the exterior of one of its 757s in a Northern Lights simulation, and even brought the same feeling to the cabin interior with a special mood lighting display. The plane is on a varied international schedule. Watch this gorgeous plane take shape in this excellent VIDEO

In Case You Missed It…

>American sets schedules for first 787 Dreamliners.

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

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

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

Planespotting 101: Boeing 737 vs Airbus A320

Planespotting 101: MD-80/90 & Boeing 717

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

Delta 717

Delta’s new Boeing 717s used to belong to AirTran (Photo: Delta)

AIRLINES

Delta eyes 717s for LAX-SFO. Delta will put larger Boeing 717s onto eight daily Los Angeles-San Francisco “California Shuttle” flights starting June 4, retaining Embraer 175s on the other seven of its 15 daily flights, according to the website Airlineroute, which tracks planned service changes across the industry. Delta obtained scores of former AirTran 717s from Southwest and has been phasing them into service; last fall, it replaced some of the 76-seat E175s on its LaGuardia-Boston shuttle with 110-seat, two-class 717s. And Delta plans to put 717s onto its LAX-Portland and LAX-Las Vegas routes in June as well. Been on a Delta 717? What did you think?

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Storm warning. Yet another big winter storm (this time named “Linus”) is expected to hit a wide swath of the northern US and could affecting flying this week. Details. Plan accordingly.

United on the move at ATL. United is moving its Atlanta operations from distant Concourse D to close-in Concourse T at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson. The T-gates are located alongside the main terminal building, which means that passengers can walk from the curb to the plane without having to descend into the giant airport’s bowels for a ride on the “Plane Train.” A United spokesperson told TravelSkills that the United Club on Concourse D closes this weekend and that it is “in the process of evaluating potential opportunities to build a new United Club in the T Concourse.” From ATL, United flies to Newark, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington Dulles and Houston.

United bows out in Dallas Love battle. Southwest Airlines has nabbed two more highly contested gates at Dallas Love Field, giving it 18 of the small airport’s 20 gates. It subleased the gates from United, which will move out of Love to concentrate its operations at Dallas Ft Worth. (United used the Love gates for a handful of regional jet flights to Houston.) Delta currently has temporary authority to serve Love Field with five daily nonstops to Atlanta, but only until July 6. Southwest plans to use the new gates to add nonstops to Memphis, Milwaukee and Seattle and beef up frequencies to cities it already serves.

The noodle chef at Cathay Pacific's business class lounge at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The noodle chef at Cathay Pacific’s business class lounge at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Cathay biz class sale. Cathay Pacific is offering some decent discounts for business class flights from the US to several cities across the Pacific. Examples: West coast US to Australia in biz class is running about $8,000 round trip. From the US to most cities in Asia, business class is running around $5,200. Worth a look if you or your company can spring for biz class. The catch: You must book 90 days in advance.

Must see reader comments on this TravelSkills post! My two favorite airlines. Yours?

Fares to Europe are not as high as we expected, but probably won't stay this low for long

Fares to Europe are not as high as we expected, but probably won’t stay this low for long

Europe fares for Summer. We keep hearing about how expensive it’s going to be to fly to Europe this summer due to high demand from Americans with fists full of strong US dollars. BUT, we’ve seen some very good deals for summer trips if you book now. Using the new FLYR site we found these examples: Aer Lingus nonstops between New York and Dublin were running at just $762 for June roundtrips this week, and just $1050 in the peak month of July. From San Francisco Bay Area, SAS or Norwegian Air are currently the cheapest way to get to Europe this summer– Norwegian out of Oakland is pressuring all carriers to discount fares, and we are seeing some roundtrips to Europe running as low as $1,000 to $1,200 during peak summer months. Considering Europe this summer? Might want to check fares now because US-Europe roundtrips during peak summer could easily exceed $2,000 in coming months.

In Hong Kong, coffee is mixed with tea to make yuanyang (Photo: Calvin / Flickr)

In Hong Kong, coffee is mixed with tea to make yuanyang

Drink coffee like a local, or seek out Starbucks when overseas? Tell us! 

Alaska extends free entertainment. Passengers on many Alaska Airlines flights will continue to get free premium movies and TV shows streamed via their personal electronic devices for another two months — i.e., through the end of March. (That’s in addition to the usual no-fee list of some 100 titles.) More than half of the airline’s fleet is currently equipped with streaming technology, and all aircraft should have it by April, Alaska said. And on its long-haul flights, the company has started renting Microsoft In-flight Entertainment tablets (available free to first class flyers and MVP Gold 75Ks) with a selection of films, games, magazines, music and Internet access. The fee is $8-$10.

From Delta regarding international wifi progress

Here’s the latest on Delta’s rollout of inflight wifi on its international fleet, which is progressing more slowly than expected. Among US carriers, Delta has about 37% of its international fleet outfitted with wi-fi—  primarily on its 747s and A330s but coverage is sparse on its much larger fleet of 777s and 767s.

In-flight innovations: Southwest, Virgin Atlantic. Airlines have been known to host band performances at the airport — JetBlue does this regularly at its JFK terminal — but in the air? Southwest is carrying the band Imagine Dragons on a four-city tour, and as part of the hoopla, the group will perform an in-flight concert later this month aboard a flight from Las Vegas to Atlanta. If your in-flight preferences are more cerebral, Virgin America this month started offering in-flight audio and video academic lectures on a variety of subjects, provided by The Great Courses. The curriculum covers everything from cosmology to cooking, history to music. Readers: What’s your in-flight preference? Rock concerts or learning enhancement?

Qantas Samsung VRheadset

New fangled inflight entertainment aboard Qantas.

Qantas tests VR headsets. Virtual reality (VR) is primed to be the next big thing in entertainment technology, providing an immersive, 3D experience. Qantas is getting a jump on the trend by offering Samsung VR headsets to first class passengers on some of its Los Angeles flights starting in March, and at its first class lounges in Melbourne and Sydney.

BA revamps mileage plan. British Airways is coming out with a big overhaul of its Executive Club loyalty program effective April 28. Among the changes: The number of Avios earned (that’s Executive Club’s “currency”) will basically be increased for passengers in business and first class — especially in the higher fare classes — and decreased for those flying on the lowest economy fares. The cost of reward travel is also being restructured with the introduction of peak and off-peak pricing. You can see all the details on the airline’s website

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Mileage switch begins + Etihad mess + Marriott’s Mi-Fi blocking policy + Free Wi-Fi at NYC airports

Delta Connection flight for mileage item (Photo: Jim Glab)

Delta’s big SkyMiles changes now in effect (Photo: Jim Glab)

AIRLINES

Big mileage switch starts. On January 1, Delta became the first of the Big Three U.S. legacy airlines to transform the basis of earnings in its loyalty plan from distance flown to money spent. Under the new regime, non-elite SkyMiles members will get five miles per dollar spent on air fare, Silver Medallions earn seven miles per dollar, Golds get eight, Platinums nine and Diamonds 11. Delta has an online comparison calculator so you can figure how much a given flight would earn in the old vs. new structures. United will put the same spending-based structure in place for MileagePlus members starting March 1. (American/US Airways for now is sticking with the traditional mileage scheme, although during 2015 it has new mileage bonuses based on fare class, elite status and distance flown.) Some observers say the change to spending-based programs is a logical development following the hotel industry’s lead, but others see it as the latest step in a class warfare where airlines disproportionately cater to big spenders at the expense everyone else. Readers: Have you run any numbers to see if you’ll be better off under the new criteria vs. the old? What did you find?

Etihad mess. Etihad, which launched San Francisco-Abu Dhabi nonstops using Jet Airways B777s in November, took a big hit over the weekend when fog struck in Abu Dhabi. SFO-bound flight 183 had started its taxi toward take off when the flight was halted due to foggy conditions. Passengers ended up stuck on the tarmac for about 12 hours with no opportunities to get off the plane– and lots of bickering between passengers and flight crews according to various reports. After that ordeal, passengers endured the 16-hour flight to SFO. Luckily, the only damage from this incident is frayed nerves on the part of travelers and a big black eye for an airline just getting started in SFO. Regrettably, an elderly passenger on a Dusseldorf-bound flight facing a similar delay died. Since US rules (or fines and compensation) for such delays do not apply foreign airlines operating overseas, it will be up to Eithad to determine how it will compensate passengers and repair its image. Stay tuned….

WeekendEdition

Alaska lifts bag fee temporarily. All members of Alaska Airlines’ Mileage Plan who fly on the carrier during January will get a break from the carrier’s $25 fee for a first checked bag during that month. If you booked a January flight at an earlier date and your Mileage Plan number is in the reservation, the fee waiver will kick in automatically during check-in. What’s the purpose of the month-long fee waiver? “To encourage new and existing members to experience the benefits of Alaska’s award-winning frequent flier program,” the company said. For details, go to www.alaskaair.com/FirstBagFree.

Routes: Virgin, American, Spirit. Virgin America Airlines has kicked off new seasonal daily flights between New York JFK and Ft. Lauderdale … American reportedly plans to revive American Eagle service between Cleveland and New York LaGuardia on March 29, with three ERJ-140 flights a day — the same day United plans to trim its CLE-LGA schedule from eight daily roundtrips to six … Spirit Airlines is growing in southern California; it will launch daily San Diego-Denver service January 6, Los Angeles-Cleveland flights April 16 and a daily LAX-Denver roundtrip on the same date.