Month #3: A TravelSkills update from Chris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks again for your support!

Sincerely,

Chris McGinnis, Editor and publisher

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

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3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

How to get on earlier flight without paying fee

Trip Report: ANA’s 787 Dreamliner to Tokyo

20 different biz class seats in 1 room- PHOTOS

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

Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

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

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Southwest pads schedules + New airline for SFO + Chris at GBTA + Salt Lake makeover +

Turkish Airlines's exotic business class lounge at IST (Photo: Turkish Airlines)

Turkish Airlines’s exotic business class lounge at IST– soon to connect nonstop to SFO (Photo: Turkish Airlines)

AIRLINES

Southwest’s on-time strategy. Southwest Airlines has seen its on-time performance suffer in recent months, dropping from 83 percent to 70. So it will turn to a favorite airline strategy for dealing with the problem: Starting next month, it will revise its schedules to allow for longer travel times—i.e. it will “pad its schedule.”

Turkish comes to SFO. Rapidly expanding Turkish Airlines will start San Francisco-Istanbul non-stops on April 13, 2015. Introductory fares for the 16-hour flight are already on sale for $699 in economy. Business class is running $4,000-$6,000. Turkish Flight 80 will depart SFO at  6:10PM and arrive in Istanbul at 5:05PM the next day. Flight 79 departs IST at 1:15 PM and arrives SFO at 4:25 PM on the same day. Turkish will use a Boeing 777-300ER on the 13-hour flight with business class in a 2-3-2 configuration and coach in a 3-3-3 configuration and no first class. Turkish Airlines is a member of the Star Alliance. Do you think of Turkish Airlines as “exotic?” I do and that’s how I described it on SFgate last week- but many readers felt that description was wrong. What do you think? Leave your comments below! 

JetBlue weighs a bag fee. JetBlue and Southwest are the only two major airlines that don’t charge a fee for a passenger’s first checked bag (Southwest allows two checked bags free).  But JetBlue officials, concerned about all that lost revenue,  are hinting that they might reconsider their policy and start charging for that first bag. If they do, can Southwest holdout on its own?

US Airways shuffles partnerships. US Airways has started code-sharing with Finnair, a member of sister company American Airlines’ transatlantic joint venture. US Airways’ code goes onto Finnair flights to Helsinki and beyond, from JFK and Toronto, and members of the two carriers’ frequent flyer programs now have mutual benefits. Meanwhile, Dividend Miles will end its partnerships with Singapore Airlines and Turkish Airlines effective August 1. They were holdovers from US Airways’ former Star Alliance membership.

Briefs: Like British Airways, Swiss has started charging fees for advance seat reservations; on long-haul flights, fees are $32 for a “standard seat,” $54 for a “preferred-zone” seat, and $109 for an extra-legroom seat. Unreserved seats can be selected for free within 23 hours of departure … Virgin Australia will end its Los Angeles-Melbourne service in late October, but will boost LAX-Brisbane from four flights a week to daily (and in SF we still waiting for Virgin Australia to link with Virgin America and bring some much need competition on SFO-Australia routes)… Qantas will replace the 747 on its Dallas/Ft. Worth-Sydney route with an A380 in September.

GBTA CONVENTION:

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis is attending the big Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) convention in Los Angeles this week. The giant expo attracts about 7,000 travel industry professionals for educational sessions, speeches and panels with the likes of United’s Jeff Smisek or Delta’s Richard Anderson. It also offers an outstanding exposition where travel suppliers display and boast their latest, greatest products and services for business travelers– to me, the coolest part is the ability to check out about 20 business and first class seats in one place! Stay tuned to my Twitter feed to see what I’m seeing and hearing. Find me say HEY if you are there, too!

AIRPORTS

A mock up of the new terminal at Salt Lake City International

A mock up of SLC’s brand new terminal provided by Salt Lake City International

Salt Lake City starts massive reconstruction. Work started last week on a $1.8 billion, years-long overhaul of Salt Lake City International Airport that will replace its existing three terminals with a single extra-large one. One level of the three-story facility will be reserved for international travel and Customs. The existing airport opened 50 years ago — well before Delta started using it as a hub. The first half of the new SLC airport is due to open in 2019 and the second in 2022. Delta announced this week that it will add SLC-Amsterdam nonstops using a B767 starting next May.

CBP boosts staffing at five airports. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it has forged partnerships with five major airports that will mean increased CBP staffing for processing international arrivals, leading to reduced waiting time. The new pacts are with SFO, LAX, MCO, LAS and DEN. The agency said similar arrangements that it has in place with DFW, IAH and MIA — combined with the new Automated Passport Control kiosks — have reduced line time at those airports by 30 percent. Have you noticed?

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Atlanta Airport gets another PreCheck center. The TSA has opened a second PreCheck application center at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson, located pre-security in the main terminal so the general public can access it without having a boarding pass. The new TSA facility is in Terminal South near Delta’s ticket counters. (The earlier facility is at Gate A19.)

Possible LAX mess. This item appeared on TravelSkills two weeks ago, but it bears repeating: This weekend, July 25-28 in Los Angeles, is being dubbed the “Century Crunch”, when Century Blvd. — a main road into LAX, used by one-third of all passengers — will close for demolition of an old railroad bridge. Officials advise everyone to avoid the area. 

sfo cab

(photo: Alfonso Jimenez)

Taxi app starts airport bookings. An app called Flywheel — which lets users hail a cab electronically, track its position, and pay with a smartphone — has started taking advance bookings for taxi rides to San Francisco-area airports, including SFO, OAK and SJC. By the end of this month, the company said, the app will provide the same service in Seattle and Los Angeles, with more locations to be added “in the coming weeks.” Interesting to watch cab companies add technology to help them compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft (which by the way are two ride-sharing companies we’ve heard are feeling the urge to merge. Stay tuned to TravelSkills for more on that as we investigate!) Don’t forget that you get $30 off your first ride if you sign up for Uber via TravelSkills links. Just do it! 

TSA seeks queue tips. The TSA is shifting so many passengers to PreCheck lanes that it is getting concerned about how fast the lines move. So the agency has turned to Innocentive.com, a “global innovation marketplace,” to offer $15,000 in prizes to persons who can come up with the best ways to overhaul TSA’s airport lines. “The concept will be used to develop a model to be applied in decision analysis and to take in considerations of site specific requirements, peak and non-peak hours, flight schedules and TSA staffing schedules,” TSA said.

In Case You Missed It…

>Delta is building a new Sky Club at San Francisco International.

>New studies determine the best and worst airports and hotels for Wi-Fi.

>”I cringe when I hear people talk about the so-called golden age of travel.” Check this InsideFlyer Q&A with Chris about his career and the travel biz. A good read!

>A leading business hotel in London will join the Hilton family in September

>New report shows where business travelers spend money. Would you believe Chick-fil-a? (Check out the controversy this post elicited in the comments!)

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis


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

Check out these popular recent TravelSkills posts:

Frequent travelers love Chick-fil-a

Kicked off flight for a tweet? Southwest responds

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Should I renew my CLEAR card?

New global carrier for SFO with an Indian twist

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 9.15.58 AM

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

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

This month CNN invited me out to the airport to talk about how travelers can best deal with delays and cancellations. Please take a watch for my tips and advice! How do YOU handle (or avoid) delays? Please leave your comments below! 

–Chris McGinnis

Chris in Clark Howard's new book!

clark howard book

Clark’s new book is a real page turner!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Top 10 happiest cities in the world

(Photo: Visions Photographiques / Flickr)

(Photo: Visions Photographiques / Flickr)

How often do you get to take a happy  trip to one of the top 10 happiest cities in the world?  The infographic below is based on a perception survey by GFK Custom Research, as well as factors like number of outdoor attractions, shopping centers, and cultural locations. 

Lucky for BATs…we live in the ONLY city in the US to make this list. Why leave? ;)

Which city do you feel should have made this list, but didn’t? Leave your comments below.

find-a-happy-place_5107f6cf94ac7

Have YOU signed up for TravelSkills– the Bay Area Traveler blog? Get crackin’! Enter your email in the field on the upper right side! 

5 key ways to upgrade holiday trips

My mom’s famous marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole– a holiday staple! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The next big item on every frequent traveler’s calendar is Thanksgiving– and it’s early this year – just a week away on November 22.

Since an increasing number of Americans are now taking the whole week off, expect big crowds, and long, slow-moving security lines at the airport this starting this Friday, over the weekend and of course, next week. (Might be time to consider line-busting options like CLEAR or PreCheck!)

If you are hitting the roads or the skies next week or next month, here are five ways improve your chances of having a happy holiday trip:

1-Book nonstop flights

While the lower price of a one-stop flight might be tempting, you increase your chances of a delay or cancellation by 100% when you take two flights instead of one to get to your destination. Why take that chance, especially if you are headed home for just a few days, and a delayed or canceled flight could spoil the entire trip?

In many cases nonstop flights cost the same, or only $50 to $100 more. I think of that extra cost as an insurance policy against a hassle-filled trip. (If you don’t know the difference between a nonstop, direct or connecting flight, please read this!)

Another tip to ensure a delay-free trip: Book early morning flights, which are frequently parked at the airport overnight and not reliant on arriving from another airport.

(Are YOU signed up to get TravelSkills via email? Hop to it! Click here or enter your email in the pink form to the right, please!) 

2-Make high airfares pay you back.

Flying during the holidays means paying a premium of anywhere from 30% to 70% compared to other times of year—especially on long haul flights, according to FareCompare.com. Christmas/New Year’s holiday period airfares are running at an average $454 this year, up 5% from the same period last year when they were $434 according to Expedia.com. Average fares during the peak Thanksgiving period are only slightly less, averaging $442, which is also up 5% compared to last year.

So let’s face it, you’ll be breaking out the credit card—a lot—when traveling during the peak holiday season. You might as well be using a card that’s going to pay you back in points and other benefits. For example, I just signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which is currently offering a 40,000-point sign up bonus if I spend at least $3,000 in the first three months.

Since this is the holidays…and I have four trips booked between now and the end of the year… I’ll likely hit that threshold with ease. Which means I’ll end up with at least 50,000 points (bonus plus two points per dollar spent on travel) and that is enough for two no-blackout-date airline tickets, which I’ll likely use NEXT year to avoid paying through the nose to fly home for during the peak holiday season. (See below)

Right now, most major credit cards are offering similarly fat points and mileage bonuses to frequent travelers with good credit, so if you’ve been sitting on the fence about getting a new card, doing so during the heavy-spending holidays is smart strategic move.

3-Postpone peak season trips

If pricey holiday airfares will keep you grounded this year, celebrate with your family during “dead weeks” instead.  Dead weeks are travel industry lingo for the annual low points in travel demand, which ironically come in the middle of the peak holiday travel season. And when demand plummets, so do prices.

The catch is that you have to travel when everyone else is staying at home. Dead weeks typically occur right after the big Thanksgiving rush, and again right after the Christmas/New Years rush in early January. The good news this year is that with an early Thanksgiving (Nov 22) we have one extra dead week—the last week of November—and the deals are plentiful.

Here’s an extreme example: A transcontinental flight between San Francisco and Cleveland during the Thanksgiving or Christmas peak is currently a painful $1,460 (seriously!) round trip.

But when checking on dead week deals on Orbitz this week, I found that United is offering an astoundingly low fare of just $208 round trip on that route over the weekend of Nov 30-Dec 3. Now that’s dirt-cheap!

Dead week deals are not only a great opportunity for flexible travelers to save, but an easy way for frequent travelers to top off their mileage balances in order to keep or bump up their cherished elite level status. (That SFO>CLE round trip nets a whopping 4,300 elite qualifying miles.) If you are a Delta SkyMiles junkie, I found roundtrips between SFO and Atlanta for just $220 during dead weeks. Amazing!

Expedia has a helpful tool to find similar low fares.

(Are YOU signed up to get TravelSkills via email? Hop to it! Click here or enter your email in the pink form to the right, please!) 

4-Stay at a hotel

Why burden the in-laws with the hassle of houseguests during the already stressful holidays? Instead of bunking on that lumpy sofa bed or stuffy guest room, book a nearby hotel.

Due to lack of demand from business travelers, most hotels are dirt-cheap during the holidays, and offer the chance experience a five-star hotel at a two or three star price.

Example: I frequently travel back to Atlanta, my hometown, for the holidays. I’ve found rooms at the five star InterContinental Buckhead hotel for just $139 per night during Thanksgiving or Christmas, while at other times of year they go for $400+.

Rooms at comfortable suburban hotels like Best Western that may be closer to your relatives are likely starving for business during the holidays—so call the hotel directly to see if you can negotiate a great deal.

Or show off your travel-tech-savvy by pulling out your fancy new iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S3 and using last minute hotel-deal apps like HotelTonight to score some amazing rates.

Like what you are reading? Then please tell 3 friends to SIGN UP for TravelSkills today! They will appreciate the heads up! Send them this link and a little encouragement: www.travelskills.com 

5-Splurge a little

While you can always pay a lot more to sit in first class, you can now pay a little bit more, and get a more comfortable coach seat. During the busy, crowded holidays, that’s money well spent.

While getting a few extra inches of room always helps, the real benefit of paying for a better economy seat is that you are usually allowed to board early—with elite level flyers. Early boarding means you get early access to scarce overhead bin space, and since these seats are located near the front of the plane, you’ll be among the first to exit when the plane lands.

These premium economy seats cost from $20 to $200 more, depending on the duration of the flight. For example, for a trip home for the holidays, you could pay Delta $70 extra for one of its Economy Comfort seats for the 4-5 hour nonstop between San Francisco and Atlanta. A cheaper option would be Southwest’s EarlyBird check in fee of just  $10 each way—which gets you to the front of the line for boarding.

Have a great trip and a very happy holiday!

–Chris McGinnis

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

Disclosure: Some of the companies mentioned in this post have been or are current clients of my company, Travel Skills Group, Inc.

 


Gogo to upgrade inflight wi-fi capacity

 

Are you gaga for Gogo inflight wi-fi?

To me, Gogo’s introduction of in-flight wi-fi in 2008 was the greatest thing to happen to business travel since the invention of the jet engine. It has so transformed the flying experience that I now choose my airline based on whether or not it offers wi-fi on board—especially if the flight is longer than two hours.

But recently it seems that the more popular in-flight wi-fi gets, the more difficult is to get a good signal, especially on those long transcontinental flights when the service is most valuable. For example, on two out of three recent transcontinental flights, the signal was so weak or inconsistent that I complained to Gogo, which offered me two $18 credits for use on future flights.

Obviously, Gogo does not want to keep handing out freebies like that, so they’ve fattened the pipes to the plane with the introduction of a new higher capacity system called ATG 4, which is rolling out now on Delta, Virgin America and US Airways jets.

Gogo says the next generation system is capable of delivering a peak speed of 9.8 Mbps, which is three times faster than current standard of 3.1 on the first generation ATG. (ATG is short for “Air to ground.) Gogo is able to do this with the addition of three extra antennae (vs. only one before) and another modem plus a software upgrade.

Gogo’s inflight internet lab (See slideshow for a look inside)

Earlier this week, Gogo invited me and a few travel and tech writers to its headquarters in Itasca, Il to check out the new ATG 4 system aboard its “jet-propelled internet lab” — a Challenger 600 jet flying out of the Aurora Municipal Airport near Chicago.

Onboard the plush 9-seater, the back half of which was full or racks of equipment and cabling, I heard lots of techno babble about latency, megahertz, simulations, Rev A and Rev B, HSPA Mbps, ping tests and page loading. All way over my head.

All I cared about was whether or not I got a good signal—and on this flight I did—good enough to stream a two-minute YouTube video with only a few bumps for buffering, even though Gogo now discourages or even blocks access bandwidth hogging sites like Hulu or Netflix. But there were only nine passengers on board flying over the western suburbs of Chicago.

It remains to be seen what kind of signal I’ll get using ATG 4 the next time I’m flying over Colorado when half the plane is logged on.

Right now, there are only 25 jets that have the new ATG 4 system—out of a total of 1680 jets flying with Gogo onboard.  Gogo is not making a big deal about the upgrade on the plane– the only way you know you are on an upgraded one is by taking a good look at the plane parked at the gate—look for two fins on the underbelly (vs. just one on the bottom before) , and two directional antennae (bicycle helmet sized humps) on either side if the aircraft fuselage. (See slideshow above for a look at these fins)

Currently, installation of ATG 4 is ongoing on Delta, Virgin America and US Airways. Gogo expects to add it to United’s PS fleet and on American Airlines starting next year.

Here are a few extra newsy nuggets I picked up on my visit to Gogo HQ and the test flight:

>There are currently 173 ground-based Gogo transmitters mounted on celluar towers in the continental US and southern Alaska that beam up a signal within a 250 mile radius.

>Gogo is adding and upgrading its transmitters fastest in the Midwest—which is where most complaints about weak signal occur.

>A Gogo system onboard a plane consists of two large toaster-sized black metal boxes mounted in the belly, two or three routers (about the size of the one you may have in your house) that are placed in the ceiling of the aircraft to evenly distribute the wi-fi signal among passengers, and lots of cabling. Total added weight is about 150 lbs.

>The new ATG 4 system can handle about 65 passengers logged on simultaneously—the current max is about half that. This means that overload problems are more likely on larger planes flying on longer routes– for example, both of my poor connection experiences occurred on 250-seat Delta 767s.

>Remember when Google sponsored free inflight during the holidays in 2009? So many users logged on that systems crashed and complaints soared. Gogo says that after that, freebie promos have been (and will continue to be) limited to short 15 minute test periods only.

>While overall in-flight wi-fi usage stats sound low (at around 5%), Virgin America says that usage runs as high as 40% on transcontinental flights, especially those between San Francisco and New York (natch).

What’s been your experience with in-flight wi-fi? Are you a heavy user like me? Have you experienced connectivity issues? Would you rather spend your time on board reading or gazing out the window? Please leave your comments below.

Is your flight “nonstop” or “direct?”

(Contrails over Amsterdam. Photo: Keempoo / Flickr)

Given a choice between a nonstop or a direct flight between SFO and New York, which one would you take? What if an option for a connecting flight was thrown into the mix?

Your choice could have a big impact on the price, length and comfort of your journey.

I’m frequently amazed at how many travel agents, airline employees, frequent business travelers and even fellow travel writers tend to think that direct and nonstop are interchangeable terms when referring to flights. They are not.

If you are wondering which type of flight is best for you, consider these definitions:

Nonstop:

A nonstop flight is just what it says: a single flight between two airports with no stops. Business travelers favor nonstop flights because they are the fastest, but they are frequently the most expensive.

Direct:

While a direct flight might sound like a nonstop flight, it’s not. A direct flight makes at least one intermediate stop along the way to its final destination, but has only one flight number.

For example, if you choose a direct flight between SFO and New York you’d fly on one plane the whole way to New York. But that plane would make a stop in, say, Chicago or Milwaukee or Atlanta, where it would drop off and pick up more passengers, like a bus. Due to these stops, direct flights can add an hour or more to your total travel time.

I recently flew Southwest Airlines flight #1618 from Oakland to Phoenix for a meeting. My flight from Oakland to Phoenix was a nonstop. However, the plane continued on to St Louis. The passengers who stayed on the plane in Phoenix and continued flying to St Louis on the second leg of flight #1618 were on a direct flight.

Often, direct flights are less expensive than nonstop flights, but not always. If you have a choice between a direct or a nonstop and the price is the same, take the nonstop!

Connecting:

A connecting flight means it will take at least two different planes with two different flight numbers to reach your final destination. For example, a connecting flight from San Francisco to New York on United Airlines would mean flying from San Francisco to Denver, or Chicago, where you would then disembark and board another plane for another flight to New York.

Connecting flights are almost always less expensive than nonstop flights, but they are not always the best option for travelers who place a premium on time.

Why? First, you’ll have to schlep hand luggage on and off the plane multiple times in each direction. Connections often mean landing in one concourse, then having to take a train or a long walk to another concourse. When you take off and land, you double your chances of encountering delays due to weather or air traffic control. Connecting flights can also take significantly longer than direct or nonstop flights due to long layovers. For these reasons, connecting flights are always the least desirable in terms of convenience… but the most desirable in terms of price.

Were you aware of the difference between direct and nonstop flights? What type of flight will you be taking next time? Be sure you know before you book!

— by Chris McGinnis

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For a limited period, San Francisco passengers will have the opportunity to experience spacious luxury onboard the world’s largest commercial aircraft, the Airbus A380 on flights to Asia.  Between December 28, 2012 and March 24, 2013, Singapore Airlines will pop into town with daily “Pop-Up” A380 flights between San Francisco and Singapore via Hong Kong.  Flip through this slideshow to see its famous Suites and the widest Business Class seats in the sky.

SQ1 departs SFO at 10:50 pm and arrives in Hong Kong at 5:50 am two days later. Flight time is about 13 hours to Hong Kong, and with another 3.5 hours to Singapore, you’ll have plenty of time to soak up the luxury and explore the 1000+ onboard entertainment options.  SQ2 arrives daily in SFO at 7:45 pm on the same day it departs from Singapore and Hong Kong.

What the new iPhone will do for travelers

Have you had a chance to check out what Apple has in store with its new iOS 6 operating system… the one that will be in the new iPhone when makes its debut this month? It’s got all sorts of new gadgets and gizmos that will appeal to frequent travelers– especially this one:

Travelers will also see changes in all-important, newly designed, non-Google Maps, a (hopefully) smarter and more international Siri, easier photo sharing on Facebook, instant text replies to calls you can’t take, helpful do-not-disturb functions, FaceTime that works over cellular OR wi-fi networks, a new and improved “Lost Mode” for when that little devil slips away…

CNET surmises that all of this is eventually going to morph into an entire, recently patented, Apple travel ecosystem called iTravel.

All very exciting. I’m currently an Android/HTC user, but am about 99% along in my decision to finally switch to the new iPhone when it’s comes out… What about you?? Will you be making a switch to a new smart phone this fall? Which one? Why? Please leave your comments below… 

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Bay Area gets its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight

All Nippon Airways (ANA) today announced the new nonstop service between Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) and Narita International Airport (NRT) in Tokyo will start January 11, 2013.  (ANA announced in 2011 that the flight was coming, but did not commit to a firm start date until now.) The inaugural flight will bring the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft to the Bay Area. Good news: ANA is a partner in the Star Alliance, so United MileagePlus members will be able to earn and burn miles on the route.

The new flight will depart San Jose at 11:45 a.m. and arrive in Tokyo at 4:10 p.m the next day.  The return flight will leave Tokyo at 5:35 p.m. and arrive at SJC at 10:10 that  morning.  The service is expected to start with five flights per week, excluding Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The afternoon arrival in Tokyo is timed to allow connections to destinations throughout Asia, including Beijing, Hong Kong,Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei, Delhi, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Bangkok, and Manila.  The new route will be available for booking August 30.

ANA will use its new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft on the Tokyo Narita-San Jose route.  Built mainly from carbon fiber composite material, the 787 features increased fuel efficiency and passenger comfort– with larger windows, better cabin pressure and larger overhead bins. ANA was the launch customer of the 787, ordering 55 of the aircraft in 2004 and taking delivery of the inaugural aircraft this year.

American Airlines operated a Tokyo-San Jose route from 1990 to 2006.

Would you use SJC instead of SFO for your flights to Tokyo? Is a chance to fly the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner enough to get you to switch? Please leave your comments below!

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United revamps popular PS flights to New York

The new United PS business class seat will be identical to Continental BusinessFirst seat pictured here. (Photo: United Airlines)

United’s super-popular “Premium Service” (PS) flights on the business-travel-heavy route between SFO and New York-JFK (as well as LAX-JFK) are about to undergo a radical re-do. To me this is great news because the current PS interiors have been tatty and worn out for a while…

Last week United revealed details of the new PS to TravelSkills, so here’s what you need to know:

>Reconfiguration of all 13 United Boeing 757s offering PS service will begin this October and should be complete by summer of 2013. All seats, walls, floors, bins, lavatories and galleys will be replaced, so they will feel like brand new planes. (No word yet on when you will actually be able to book a new PS flight.)

>The reconfigured aircraft will have business class, Economy Plus (EP) and standard economy seats.

>There will be no first class seatson the new PS aircraft. (Currently, there are 12.)

United’s current PS business class seat. (Photo: United Airlines)

>Reconfigured aircraft will have 28 true-lie-flat business class seats, up from the current 26 cradle-style seats. The new business class PS seat will be the same as Continental’s flatbed BusinessFirst seat on its internationally configured 757s. (See photo above) United says it will call this class of service United BusinessFirst.”

>Each business class seat will have an individual 16-inch video monitor connected to and audio-video on-demand (AVOD) system, a three prong universal 110v electrical outlet and USB port. (No more Dig-E-Players!)

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>In-flight service in business class will be the same—you’ll still get pre-flight cocktails, warm nuts, and two hot towels. (There will still be the peachy Bellinis and other featured cocktails served.)

>There will be 48 Economy Plus seats on the new PS flights, down from 72 in the old version. The downside is that there are fewer EP seats, but the upside is that EP seat pitch on the new PS flights will be 36 inches. (Current PS flights have 34 inches between each coach seat. And as we all know, two inches can make a big difference!)

>There will be 66 standard economy seats on the new PS flights with 31-32 inches of pitch—current PS flights offer EP only.

>Both EP and standard economy seats will have individual 9-inch seatback video screens with access to the AVOD system. (No more fuzzy overhead screens!)

>All PS flights will be getting an upgraded Gogo in-flight wi-fi system that a spokesman said should be faster (9.8 Mbps, up from the current 3.1) and better able to meet the high demand on these flights.

Mock up of American’s “Transcontinental Series” business class seat. (Photo: American Airlines)

>On the competitive front, American has announced that starting in late 2013 it will dump its current 767’s flying between SFO and JFK and replace them with much smaller, but specially outfitted, stretch versions of the Airbus A321 with first, business, Main cabin Extra and standard coach seats. Delta and Virgin America offer the same first class Recaro seat on the route, and have not made or announced any recent changes. (Here’s our post and video about a recent Delta Business Elite flight to JFK.)

How do YOU like to fly to New York? Are you pleased with the changes coming to United’s PS flights? Are these changes a net gain or loss for BATs – Bay Area Travelers? Please leave your comments below.

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Deal ALERT: Late summer/fall fares sales start early

If peak season fares will keep you grounded this summer, here’s some great news: This morning,  Southwest.com and AirTran.com kicked off a decent late summer/early fall fare sale, but you’ve got to act fast. That’s because the sale only lasts 72-hours and only a handful of seats on each plane are selling at the discounted prices. Here are the specifics:

>Travel dates: Travel must take place between Monday, August 13 and Wednesday, November 14.

>Roundtrip fares range from $100 to $280 roundtrip (all in), based on flight length. For travel up to 500 miles, fares are $100 round trip. For travel 501 to 1,300 miles, fares are $200 round trip. For travel 1,301 or more miles, fares are $280 round trip. (Fares are available one-way.)

>This is a 72-hour sale, so tickets must be purchased online at Southwest.com or AirTran.com between today and midnight Thursday, June 14.

>Sale fares are NOT available on Fridays or Sundays.  Blackout dates: Aug. 18, Aug. 30, Sept. 3, and Sept. 4, 2012.

>I expect United, Delta and other carriers to match most of these fares by later today, so shop around if you don’t find the fare you want.

>Based on what we’ve seen fare-wise this summer, these are some great deals. Sample roundtrip Southwest or AirTran fares from SFO/OAK/SJC include:

$100: Burbank, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Ontario, Orange County, Reno,  San Diego

$200: Albuquerque, Denver, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle

$280: Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Houston

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The 8 best beds on a Boeing 777 (Video)

Last week I had the chance to ride on one of Cathay Pacific’s brand new Boeing 777-300ERs from the factory in Seattle to Hong Kong.

This was a “delivery flight” from Boeing to Cathay Pacific, so there were only about 80 passengers on a jumbo jet that can carry about 350. While the seats and service were fine, I was curious to see the large crew rest area on this plane.

Since long-range aircraft like the Boeing 777 can fly nonstop for 16-18 hours, airlines are required to offer rest areas for inflight crews who work on shifts. On this plane, the rest area is located above the economy class section at the rear of the plane. It’s accessed via a non-descript door in the galley area. There’s another rest area (which I did not see) for pilots at the front of the plane.

Come on along and have a look– it might be the only time you’ll ever see a crew rest area since visits by passengers on regularly scheduled flights are forbidden.

The 8 best beds on a Boeing 777 (Video)

Last week I had the chance to ride on one of Cathay Pacific’s brand new Boeing 777-300ERs from the factory in Seattle to Hong Kong.

This was a “delivery flight” from Boeing to Cathay Pacific, so there were only about 80 passengers on a jumbo jet that can carry about 350. While the seats and service were fine, I was curious to see the large crew rest area on this plane.

Since long-range aircraft like the Boeing 777 can fly nonstop for 16-18 hours, airlines are required to offer rest areas for inflight crews who work on shifts. On this plane, the rest area is located above the economy class section at the rear of the plane. It’s accessed via a non-descript door in the galley area. There’s another rest area (which I did not see) for pilots at the front of the plane.

Come on along and have a look– it might be the only time you’ll ever see a crew rest area since visits by passengers on regularly scheduled flights are forbidden.

(Chris McGinnis publishes TravelSkills and The TICKET blogs for frequent travelers.  Do you have comments or questions about this post? Email Chris.)

SFO gets new nonstops to Washington DC Reagan National Airport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two stunning new airline lounges at SFO (Photos)

Gorgeous white marble and backlit Fabbian glass tiles make for a dramatic entrance at Cathay Pacific's new SFO lounge.

International business and first class travelers departing for Hong Kong, Dubai or beyond can now cool their heels while awaiting flights at two gorgeous new lounges at SFO. These perches are so plush that passengers may want to get to the airport early just to enjoy the surroundings and get a great pre-flight meal.

In December, Cathay Pacific and Emirates opened new lounges at SFO’s international terminal. Both invited me out last month for a look around, and allowed me to take photos to share with readers.

The gorgeous 5,500 sq ft Cathay Pacific lounge is located up an escalator just beyond the security screening area near most other airline lounges on south (A) side of the International Terminal. Prior to the opening of this lounge, Cathay Pacific passengers used facilities offered by Oneworld partner British Airways. Now they have a lounge all to themselves. The lounge’s minimalist design is based on Cathay’s flagship lounges at Hong Kong International– materials such as white italian marble, bamboo paneling and Fabbian crystal are the same. Another similarity: the chef-staffed noodle bar!

The Emirates lounge is located about halfway down SFO’s south side international terminal corridor on the left hand side. First, business and Skywards elite passengers enter and check in, then descend into the enormous 9,500 sq. ft. lounge  located one floor down– with direct access to the waiting B777– there is no need to exit the lounge to board the plane. Again, the design of this club should be familiar to Emirates flyers– the rich contemporary look (wood, leather, brass, earth tones, sprays of fresh flowers and plants) is nearly identical to Emirates’ 25 lounges in Dubai and around the world. Similar to the carrier’s main hub lounges in Dubai, passengers are tempted by a visually stunning, seemingly limitless smorgasbord of dining options designed to appeal to western, Indian, Asian and Arab palates. There’s even a Muslim prayer room– with it’s own foot-washing station.

Let’s go take a look! Cathay first:

The big, bright Cathay lounge is open from 7:45 am until 11:50 am, and then again from 8:05 pm until midnight.

The unique and popular Cathay Solus Chair is a specially built unit offering a private space to eat, work and relax.

Cathay's signature fresh noodle bar turns out the perfect pre-flight comfort food-- made to order. There is also a wide variety of hot and cold Western and Asian dishes at the self-service counter

Plenty of space to spread out and work or chill, bathed in natural light

There are three unusually large shower suites, sheathed in marble and other unusual finishes like this white river stone tile.

A large carrera marble communal table in the dining area.

Cathay offers two flights per day from SFO to Hong Kong-- noon and midnight. SFO-HKG nonstops last about 14 hours.

Now, let’s walk on down to the Emirates lounge….

Emirates passengers check in here, then descend to the lounge. It opens at noon and closes once all passengers have boarded for the 3:45 pm departure to Dubai (15.5 hours away!)

The enormous, light-filled lounge is filled with cozy seating nooks like this. Floor to ceiling windows look out onto the ramp and the waiting Emirates B777.

There are several of Emirates signature Rolex wall clocks throughout the lounge.

A private prayer room.

This is the foot washing station adjacent to the prayer room.

Passengers get restaurant-style service at the largest private dining room at SFO.

Foodies will delight in the array of gorgeous hot and cold options-- all labeled.

Vegetarian options abound to appeal many travelers who travel through Dubai to get to India.

Passengers can even get a steak! There's also a full bar, a fine wine selection, including champagne.

Nice touch: Free wi-fi throughout the lounge. There is also a business center with several internet connected PCs.

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