Deal Alert: Transcon fares plummet in December

Smaller airlines are concerned that they can't gain access to New York's airports. (Image: Jim Glab)

Low fares but high hotel prices in NYC this December (Image: Jim Glab)

Looking for a nice, easy trip during one of the slowest travel periods of the year? Maybe you are taking a mileage run? Then take a look at these fares for transcontinental trips (East, West coasts & Florida) during the first two weeks of December. 

Starting on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (Nov 29) and running up until the Christmas holiday peak, fares are just $267 round trip on all carriers flying between San Francisco and New York City.

Fares are slightly higher at around $285 round trip between Los Angeles LAX and New York City, too. Any time I see a California-New York nonstops drop below $300 I know I’ve got a great deal on my hands.

And it’s not just California– lowest fares are running at about $282 between Seattle and New York, too on Delta, Alaska and JetBlue.

Google flights for trips Dec 5-Dec 12

Google Flights for SFO-JFK trips Dec 5-Dec 12

Caveat: Early December may be a cheap time to fly to NYC, but it’s not a cheap time to stay in a hotel there… those first few weeks of December when the first flurries fall and 5th Avenue gets all decked out in holiday splendor are super expensive at hotels. On early December weekends it’s tough to find a decent hotel for less than $500 per night. But everyone has a friend with a sofa-bed in NYC to stay with, right? 🙂

And for New Yorkers headed west, December is a fabulous and festive time to be in Wine Country. And in LA and SoCal, you can still go to the beach.

Delta SkyClub

Fly California to Atlanta to see Delta’s new Sky Club on Concourse B for less than $300 round trip (Photo: Chris Rank, Rank Studios)

SFO-Atlanta is super cheap in December, too. I’m looking at just $248 round trip on United’s ATL-SFO nonstops. Delta’s are higher, but still a bargain at about $313. If you are willing to chance it with Frontier on ATL-SFO, you can go for $197 roundtrip, but you’ll pay dearly for extras like checked bags.

And hold on… are you ready for it? You can fly nonstop between LAX and Atlanta during December for just $192 roundtrip on American! Delta is slightly higher at around $260 round trip.

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-4-07-59-pm

Super low fares on ATL-LAX in December! Source: Google Flights

From LAX there’s even more! Check Google flights on LAX-Ft Lauderdale or LAX-Orlando and you’ll find roundtrip fares in the $200 (or less!) range. Vamos! 

NOTE: These fares are available on Google Flights Wednesday, Nov 2 and subject to change.

ICYMI, see the 25 most recent TravelSkills posts right here

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

The new Blu2o restaurant at LAX's Terminal 6. (Image: Westfield)

The new Blu2o restaurant with California cuisine at LAX’s Terminal 6. (Image: Westfield)

Following up on a redesign and overhaul of its Terminal 2 earlier this year, Los Angeles International Airport has now finished a similar redevelopment of Terminal 6. T6 is used by Alaska Airlines, American, Copa and Great Lakes Aviation. It is connected to Delta’s Terminal 5 by an underground pedestrian tunnel.

Image: LAWA

Image: LAWA

The $70 million, 20-month project – carried out in partnership with airport concessions and design specialist Westfield — brought 21 new retail and food & beverage concepts to the terminal, officials said, with an overall theme “inspired by L.A.’s iconic Sunset Boulevard.” Besides the shopping and dining options, the project also gave the terminal new bathrooms, floors and ceilings as well as new electrical and IT infrastructure.

T6's new Osteria Italian restaurant is from celebrity chef (Image: Westfield)

T6’s new Osteria Italian restaurant is from celebrity chef Fabio Viviani. (Image: Westfield)

New eating options in T6 include Osteria, an Italian restaurant run by “Top Chef” Fabio Viviani; a multifaceted Marketplace by Wolfgang Puck including The Kitchen, WPizza and The Wine Bar; a restaurant called Blu2o, with “L.A. beach-inspired cuisine;” The Habit Burger Grill; a venue called Earthbar, serving up healthy juices and salads; and a Wahoo’s Fish Taco outlet.

The bar at Wolfgang Puck's Marketplace. (Image: westfield)

The bar at Wolfgang Puck’s Marketplace. (Image: westfield)

Concessions also include a Peet’s Coffee & Tea; See’s Candies, with 100 kinds of candy and chocolate; a pair of Starbuck’s outlets; and Point the Way Café, specializing in craft beers. Retail shopping outlets include a Tumi luggage store; Belkin electronics accessories; M. Fredric  apparel; a MAC Cosmetics store; and several newsstands/sundries locations.

Healthy grab-and-go items at T6's new Earthbar. (Image: Westfield)

Healthy grab-and-go items at T6’s new Earthbar. (Image: Westfield)

“The new terminal experience is organized by interconnected neighborhoods that guide travelers on their journey,” Los Angeles World Airports said. “After passing through the TSA checkpoint, travelers initially encounter a Downtown L.A. vibe. This neighborhood feels like an urban street, complete with concrete walls and metal finishes.  The new ribbon ceiling and terrazzo floor guide travelers into Sunset Plaza, which has inviting, open spaces to eat, drink and people watch. Travelers then flow into the Sunset Strip and Garden Terrace zones, where high-end retail and local dining burst with the energy of West Hollywood.”

WPizza is part of Wolfgang Puck's Marketplace. (Image: Westfield)

WPizza is part of Wolfgang Puck’s Marketplace. (Image: Westfield)

 

LAX's Terminal 6 has a new Tumi store. (Image: Westfield)

LAX’s Terminal 6 has a new Tumi store. (Image: Westfield)

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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Deal: Australia on sale! $914 round trip

Sydney Bondi Beach

Take off for Sydney this winter for less than $1,000 round trip on Air New Zealand- Bondi Beach pictured (Chris McGinnis)

Air New Zealand is offering fantastic fares for travelers hoping to go to Australia in 2017. This is a great opportunity to explore the country as these fares are good for travel to seven different Australian destinations: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Cairns, Adelaide, Perth, and Gold Coast.

Roundtrip travel from SFO or LAX to any of these 7 cities starts at just $995 but you have to book by October 24 to get the discounted fare. This deal is good for travel between January 26 and May 31 (mid summer to fall down under!) so there’s plenty of time to get ready for your adventure. The only catch: You must make a stop in Auckland, New Zealand to get there.

Anytime you see fares drop below $1,000 to Australia, you know you’ve got a good deal on your hands.

Google flights showing SFO-Perth for just $914 in March and April

Google flights showing SFO-Perth for just $914 in March and April

When we checked fares on Google Flights, we were able to book sub $1,000 fares starting in February. The closer to May you get, the more likely you are to find the really low fares. We were even able to find fares as low as $914 round trip from LAX or SFO for flights (in March) as far away as Perth! (High on my bucket list!)

You can book online through www.airnewzealand.com. Looking for loyalty points? When you book this deal you can accrue points toward your Air New Zealand Airpoints or United Airlines MileagePlus account.

Summer in Australia doesn’t end until March so snag one of these deals if you’re looking for a sunny getaway during our cold and hopefully wet winter.

–Chris McGinnis

*Fare(s) available at time of publication and subject to change.

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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Popular: Dogs on planes | SkyClubs | Marriott’s big move | 100,000 points | Mis-pronounced foods

Suzie Dog Labrador Retriever

My dog Suzie wonders why everyone’s so upset about dogs on planes! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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

1 Don’t miss comments from both sides of this hot issue: Kicking “support animals” off the plane

2 It’s a bad news-good news story: Marriott Starwood: Higher prices, better rewardsWeekend Edition

Routes: Finnair to SFO, Delta, Virgin Australia, Austrian, AA, SAS + more

It’s go time for huge Marriott-Starwood merger

5 Private passageway for the posh: British Airways’ new “millionaire’s door” at Heathrow

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

7 What the future holds: An amazing upgrade for LAX- in pictures

8 Bedazzling, story-telling maps: Eye-catching maps explain the state of the world

9 Got THE card yet? The 100,000 points question

10 How does yours rank? 5 airports with best/worst cell phone reception

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

Crystal Cruises plans to have a B777 like this to whisk its top customers to the ship (Photo: Crystal Cruises)

Crystal Cruises plans to have a B777 with interiors like this to whisk its top customers to the ship (Photo: Crystal Cruises)

Crystal Cruises pimps out a B777 like you’ve never seen before

Alaska-Virgin deal hits snag, delays ensue

Virgin America’s new app has landed! 

Hawaiian Air nonstops to London? On an A380? 

Basking in SFO’s $5.7 billion to-do list

Alaska Air not expected to decide on fate of Virgin brand until late this year 

Earn Delta EQMs with new Hilton promo (registration required)

BRUSCHETTA (broo-SKEH-tah)

16 foods you are probably mispronouncing

JetBlue considering adding wide-bodies to its fleet?

Virgin America flight attendants angry as merger approaches

Virgin Atlantic’s A330s will all have speedy satellite Wi-Fi by year’s end

The Fairmont Claremont (Image: Fairmont)

The Fairmont Claremont (Image: Fairmont)

Bay Area’s historic Claremont Hotel becomes a Fairmont after an overhaul

Carlson Rezidor Hotels offers its loyalty members direct booking discounts

Dubious honor for Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta Airport

Southwest exec discusses carrier’s international growth plans

World’s airlines score $40 billion in fees for 2015; United leads the pack

New app handles same-day bookings at independent luxury hotels

Screenshot from Trump Washington website

Screenshot from Trump Washington website

Trump’s new D.C. hotel: Korans and $59 salads

Carlson Rezidor Hotels offers its loyalty members direct booking discounts

Dubious honor for Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta Airport

Southwest exec discusses carrier’s international growth plans

World’s airlines score $40 billion in fees for 2015; United leads the pack

Delta’s new safety video debuts in October. Thoughts? 

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts! Kicking support animals off planesShocked 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! )

DONT MISS! The 100,000 points question!

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You scrolled all the way down here? Then here’s your reward! A fun video 🙂


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An amazing upgrade for LAX- in pictures

DONT MISS! The 100,000 points question!

 

The planned east intermodal facility at LAX will connect an automatic people mover with a new light rail link. (Image: Los Angeles World Airports)

The planned east intermodal facility at LAX will connect an automatic people mover with a new light rail link. (Image: Los Angeles World Airports)

Departing passengers coming into Los Angeles International Airport too often ride into a traffic nightmare as they try to get to their terminals. Los Angeles World Airports – the agency that operates LAX – has big plans to make that better, and it just came out with some renderings of what the “new” LAX might look like after it implements its years-long overhaul of intra-airport transportation.

“Today, regardless of transportation mode, passengers, employees and visitors face uncertain travel times, congestion and overcrowding to and from LAX. Approximately 63 percent of all departing air passengers used private vehicles, taxis, limousines, or Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) such as Uber or Lyft to get to LAX in 2015; this percentage is even greater for those departing passengers who are residents. During peak periods, over 6,000 vehicles enter the airport on an hourly basis,” the agency said in its new Draft Environmental Impact Report for LAX’s Landside Access Modernization Program.

New walkways woll link people-mover stips with the adjacent passenger terminals. (Image: Los Angeles World Airports)

New walkways will link people-mover stops with the adjacent passenger terminals. (Image: Los Angeles World Airports)

You can see the full report here, as a .pdf file – but keep in mind it is really long. Basically, LAWA’s plan aims to bring more people to the airport via mass transportation, and get them to their terminals on a new Automated People Mover (APM) system that will run up through the middle of the central terminal area, with the APM stops linked to the terminals on either side by new pedestrian passageways.

Here's a map of the people-mover route through the central terminal area. (Image: Los Angeles World Airports)

Here’s a map of the people-mover route through the central terminal area. Dark yellow lines are new pedestrian walkways linking the people mover stops to terminals. (Image: Los Angeles World Airports)

The APM line will originate on the east side of the airport at a new consolidated car rental center – which will also take the many rental car shuttles off airport roadways. It will be linked to an intermodal transportation facility on the east side of the airport for passengers connecting to or from a new light rail line that will be part of the city’s mass transit system; and another one closer to the terminals for bus connections.

Don’t get too excited yet; all of this construction will take several years. But the airport is well into the planning stages for improving passenger access to LAX terminals, many of which are getting their own massive upgrades. Keep scrolling down to see more renderings:

An automated people-mover station with LAX's iconic theme building in the background. (Image: Los Angeles World Airports)

An automated people-mover station with LAX’s iconic theme building in the background. (Image: Los Angeles World Airports)

DONT MISS! The 100,000 points question!

The plan calls for terminals to get new facades as well. (Image: Los Angeles World Airports)

The plan calls for terminals to get new facades as well. (Image: Los Angeles World Airports)

 

The west intermodal facility will let passengers connect with bus lines. (Image: Los Angeles World Airports)

The west intermodal facility will let passengers connect with bus lines. (Image: Los Angeles World Airports)

 

This map of the east side of LAX shows the planned consolidated rental car center, intermodal station, light rail line running top to bottom and peole mover running right to left. (Image: Los Angeles World Airports)

This map of the east side of LAX shows the planned consolidated rental car center (CONRAC), intermodal facility (ITF East), light rail line running top to bottom and people mover running right to left. (Image: Los Angeles World Airports)

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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Inside look at Virgin Australia’s refurbed B777 (Photos, Streetview)

Virgin Australia

Media scramble up the red carpet leading to a Virgin Australia B777 parked at LAX (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

When we wrote about Virgin Australia’s fabulously re-furbed B777 in May, only one of five planes had undergone the transformation. The carrier put off the “official” launch until this week, hosting a big to-do in Los Angeles to which TravelSkills was invited.

As of this month, three of Virgin’s five B777s are re-done and the two remaining will be finished by September, said CEO John Borghetti at a press conference onboard one of the big birds parked out by the beach on the western edge of LAX. Virgin flies its B777s between Sydney, Brisbane and LAX and also on Sydney-Abu Dhabi.

What’s really nice about this refurb that Delta customers can earn and burn SkyMiles on when flying on this gorgeous bird. Rates can be freakishly high (or non-existent) when redeeming SkyMiles for Virgin Australia business class. Economy class roundtrips on Virgin go for around 90,000 SkyMiles. Virgin America Elevate members can also earn and burn points when flying Virgin Australia. Roundtrips go for 40K in economy, 60K in premium economy and 80K for business class.

Fares: Checking September roundtrips today, business class flights between LAX and Sydney (or Brisbane) are running around $5,300, premium economy is $2,100 and economy is $973.

Read: Virgin Australia’s “new” B777

Virgin Australia

The large mirrored emblem on the bulkhead is one of many visually striking features on Virgin Australia’s B777 (Chris McGinnis)

What I found most interesting about this look-see was the emphasis Virgin Australia puts on making a good visual impression— something that you see across nearly all Virgin brands.

At the onboard press conference, Borghetti described how Virgin’s design team strives to make a striking visual impact as soon as the passenger boards. He said that if the plane is pleasing to the eye right off the bat, and that there’s a certain “wow factor” when boarding, it puts the passenger in a positive “head space” which is likely to carry through the rest of the experience. See what he means when you see the Google Streetview below.

Take an interactive spin through the new cabin right here:

While we included most of the key details of the B777 in our previous post, this event provided the opportunity to get up close and personal with what Virgin says is now best in class among carriers serving the U.S.-Australia market.

Virgin was happy to spout plenty of superlatives about its new business class. For example, they said the seat is the widest (28 inches) and among the longest (80 inches), and its video screens are the biggest (18 inches).

Every seat offers aisle access. Regrettably, these planes won’t have onboard wi-fi until mid 2017.

Virgin Australia

New “The Business” section configured 1-2-1 on Virgin Australia’s B777 transpac flights (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

In addition, we noticed plenty of easily accessible nooks and crannies for in-seat storage and a large flat workspace. An unusual electronic touch screen controls recline. Flight attendants provide memory foam mattress covers and turn down service while passengers change into pajamas in the lavs. Plus there’s a Nespresso coffee maker in the galley. Even better- there are 37 business class seats in the new configuration. Previously, there were only 34.

Unusual touch screen controls seat recline (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Unusual touch screen controls seat recline (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

In addition to business class, Virgin offers three more seat types:

  • Premium class
  • Space+ economy
  • Regular economy

The new premium cabin offers 24 seats with 41 inches of pitch, two dedicated lavatories, “business class inspired” food and beverages served on china and glass. Seats are configured 2-4-2. This cabin also has its own self service snack bar and refrigerator.

Don't call it premium economy! On Virgin Australia, it's just "Premium" (Chris McGinnis)

Don’t call it premium economy! On Virgin Australia, it’s just “Premium.” 24 seats with 41 inches of pitch configured 2-4-2 (Chris McGinnis)

 

Economy Space+ Virgin Australia

Economy Space+ seats on Virgin Australia in a 3-3-3 configuration offer a few extra inches of knee room in the first five rows of economy section (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin Australia Space+

Here’s a look at the knee space in Virgin’s Space+ Economy section with 36 inches of pitch (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin Australia Economy

Economy class on Virgin Australia configured 3-3-3 with 32 inches of pitch (Chris McGinnis)

Another interesting nugget from this news conference: Virgin’s B777 has more lavatories per passenger that any other plane in the market– a ratio is one lav per 12 passengers, which is important on those 14-hour LAX-SYD slogs. Both business and premium cabins have two each.

This plane also offers a “ladies only” lav, with a smart leather bench that folds down over the toilet where one can sit while changing into or out of the pajamas Virgin supplies to business class passengers. There’s is also a full length mirror in the ladies-only lav.

In business class, there's a ladies-only lav (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

In business class, there’s a ladies-only lav (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin Australia

In the ladies-only lav, a leather bench folds down over the toilet (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

And finally, here’s a look at the layout of the new version of Virgin’s B777-300ER

Virgin Australia 777-illustration

-Chris McGinnis

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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Popular: LAX update + Asia fare sale + New United 3D video + Cheap airports + Alaska Air pondering

Delta, LAX, T5

Delta’s crowded Terminal 5 at LAX on a busy summer day- soon a thing of the past! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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

Delta’s stunning plan for Los Angeles – LAXWeekend Edition

DEAL: Amazin’ Asian discounts (UPDATE: Currently $533 round trip to Hong Kong from East & West Coast cities on United, Cathay Pacific)

Tokyo Haneda daytime rights: The winners are…

Astonishing! A class action that actually paid off for flyers

Delta’s striking new plans for New York – LaGuardia

JetSuite

Slick ceilings inside JetSuite’s Embraer planes where overhead bins are removed (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

6 Routes: Alaska transcons, Jetsuite in California, Southwest, United,American

United gets on TSA’s speedy screening lines bandwagon

Top 10 cheapest airports in U.S.

Travel start-ups: Another one bites the dust

10 Thought-provoking: Business travel burnout is a thing

Take this slick 360 degree tour of United’s Polaris experience- it’s interactive! 

United has created a whole new site devoted to its new Polaris Business Class. Although we won’t see it until December, it’s cool to check out what’s coming soon. For example, the video above is actually a 360 degree tour! Take a look by clicking the arrow above

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

Delta’s new business class lounge at Dublin

Major upgrade planned for Chicago O’Hare

Unlimited Cheez-It Crackers now on JetBlue

American Airlines Slashes Partner Mileage Benefits

Falling fares taking a toll on airline profits

Details of United’s bribery scandal

Emirates A380

Interesting planespotting at SFO: An Emirates A380 with a LA Dodgers livery. Thoughts? (Photo: Jonathan Khoo)

United giving away a billion miles to Chase MileagePlus cardholders

Air New Zealand’s new Safety Video

Delta is no longer Memphis’ largest carrier

Paris Hilton to launch her own hotel brand

Delta hires an outside agency to manage its social media accounts

Curb, a ride-hailing app for taxis, expands to five more cities

A early look at the Upside app

What’s this all about? Earn $$ for booking package deals? Yep. Click for more info

Do you have the freedom to select your own travel suppliers on business trips – and are you flexible when it comes to your airline and hotel arrangements? Would like like an Amazon or Best Buy gift card with your next travel booking? If so, you’re the target for a new travel booking and rewards company. Find out more about Upside here– sign up for the beta and get $150 gift card!

Delta-Southwest feud over Dallas Love Field is nowhere near resolution

Choice Hotels is the latest to offer direct-booking discounts for loyalty members

Air fares by 6-8 percent cheaper this summer

Southwest invites customers to share stories, advice online

Cathay Pacific will introduce a credit card for U.S. travelers

CEO says Alaska Air “spending a lot of time pondering” how to merge w Virgin America 

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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DEAL! US – Australia roundtrips under $900

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Take in a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge for a lot less! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Fares from some US cities to Australia have dropped just in time to book a year end getaway.  Nonstop flights from LAX – Sydney are down to $870 round trip for fall trips! These fares is available on Delta, United, and American so you can enjoy the discount and remain loyal to your alliance. Similar fares are available to Melbourne and Brisbane, too.

The cheapest one-stop round trip we found from SFO – SYD was on Delta: $828 with 1 stop at LAX. Round trip fares from ATL – SYD are also $828 on United with one stop at SFO. (Source: Google Flights)

(Image: Google Flights)

(Image: Google Flights)

Any time we see fares to Australia dip below $1,000, we know we have a really good deal on our hands.

According to Google Flights, all of these cheap fares are available for travel dates starting now through mid-December. Book now to make sure you get these good deals and take a last-minute summer trip or a fall vacation. As temperatures start to cool down in the US, it will be nice to escape to Australian springtime.

NOTE: Fares valid when posted at 1:15pm on Wednesday, July 20.

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

twitter-floowmeDo you follow us on Twitter? It’s a great way to keep up with the latest news!

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A chat with Qantas CEO re LAX, SFO, 787, lounges

Chris's "Caged Bird" on Instagram. CLICK on the pic to follow him!

Qantas 747s parked near the freeway at SFO serve as giant billboards (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Last week I sat down at SFO with Gareth Evans, Qantas’s CEO of  international operations. He was in the U.S. to meet with American Airlines and celebrate that carrier’s launch of new nonstop between Los Angeles and Auckland, a further expansion of its joint venture with Qantas on transpacific flights.

Here are a few bits and pieces from that conversation:

Qantas CEO International Gareth Evans (Photo: Qantas)

Qantas CEO International Gareth Evans (Photo: Qantas)

>If you’ve been flying to LAX much lately, you may have noticed a huge white hangar being built on the airport’s southwest corner. Later this year, that will open as the largest A380 maintenance hangar in the U.S. and house all of Qantas administrative offices. Since Qantas aircraft spend so much time on the ground in LA, the airline does a lot of maintenance work on the big birds there.

>Qantas re-launched its SFO-Sydney nonstops last year, and since then, San Francisco has emerged as the #1 destination for Australian business travelers to the U.S., beating out both New York and Los Angeles. (See our Trip Report: Qantas 747-400 business class SFO-Sydney)

>While business travel is big business for Qantas, Evans said that the recent strengthening of the U.S. dollar has resulted in a lot more leisure traffic with passengers responding well to the carrier’s message that Australia is not as far away as many people may think. The “Eat, watch a movie, have a sleep and wake up in Australia” pitch seems to be working.

Qantas business class

Qantas’ newest business suite seat, currently on its A330s only (Photo: Qantas)

>Qantas still operates 11 747s, and plans to keep the graceful old planes flying “into the beginning of the next decade.” In the meantime, the carrier is focused on rolling out its new fully flat, forward facing “business suite” seats on its A330s and eventually its 787 Dreamliners. Currently it has eight firm Dreamliner orders, and will get the first one in October 2017. Will Qantas eventually replace the 747s with Dreamliners on the SFO-SYD route? Evans said that the potential is there, but it’s too early to say. Plus, Qantas 747s now carry about 360 passengers, vs the 200 passengers a Dreamliner can accommodate.

>The new “mini-suite” seat is currently on Qantas’ A330s only (none of which fly to the U.S.). Evans pointed out that the new seat is allowed to take off in a partially reclined position, which means passengers can relax and get to sleep faster. Business class passengers will be able to request that the seat be made into a bed prior to boarding, too. Because sleep is so important to long-haul business travelers, Evans said that those on an overnight flight departing Sydney could arrive at the airport, eat a meal in the lounge, change into pajamas, board and get to sleep almost immediately. (Check out the Australian Business Traveler review of the business suite seat.)

Don’t miss: Sydney’s newest business class hotels

>The new behind-security connector between American Airlines Terminal 4 and the new Tom Bradley international terminal has made life much easier for passengers transiting between Qantas and American. Within about two weeks, both arriving and departing passengers will have a seamless connection.

>At SFO, it appears that Qantas business class passengers will continue to use the Air France/KLM lounge. Due to overcrowding issues, only a handful of super-elite passengers get access to Oneworld partner Cathay Pacific’s lounge. Evans said that the AF/KLM lounge was recently upgraded, so we reached out to Air France’s Thomas Walsh for details on that. Here’s what he said:

We are still finishing up the renovations but they are almost complete. We’ve replaced the darker, library look with a more bright, modern finishes with approximately 145 seats (previously 108). This week we will complete the addition of over 130 power and usb power outlets. We’ve added a new granite work-top counter all the way around the lounge, where clients can take in the views, while using their laptop, enjoying a snack and sipping a glass of champagne. We will add a smaller footprint reception desk in a few weeks, as well.

More seats and better views from the new marble-topped counter (Photo: Thomas Walsh)

More seats, more plugs and better views from the new marble-topped counter (Photo: Thomas Walsh)

We have yet to decide on artwork for the walls as the paint has barely dried. I would love to find a local artist or organization that we can support by displaying their crafts. We continue to look to refresh the food items, mixing warmer comfort roasted vegetables and soups at night while also trying some passed hors d’oeuvres every hour.
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More: TravelSkills Trip Report: Qantas 747-400 business class SFO-Sydney)
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–Chris McGinnis
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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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Most popular: New routes + Aer Lingus + Trains + new 16 hour nonstop+ Virgin America

Empire State Building New York

Chris flew United to NYC this week and stayed at the Best Western Herald Square, next to the Empire State Building (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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

New routes: LAX, SFO, Seattle, San Diego, Boston, New York, Atlanta

TSA PreCheck faces new strainsWeekend Edition

Trip Report: Aer Lingus, Economy class SFO-Dublin-Edinburgh

7 reasons to take the train instead of the plane

Singapore Airlines adds another nonstop from US

How to shop for summer airfare “deals”

This airline fee is fading fast

Airport briefs: LaGuardia, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Atlanta

Will Alaska preserve Virgin America’s brand?

10 What ‘Do Not Disturb’ really means at hotels

security SFO

Here’s the line at SFO’s busy Terminal 3 at 9 am last Tuesday. PreCheck took 3 minutes. Are TSA security delays overhyped? Leave your comments below.  (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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

Easy 500 Marriott Rewards points: Just follow ’em on Instagram (thru June 21 only)

Lengthy “pardon our dust” period at the world’s busiest airport

New security lanes at ATL 30% more efficient

Harvard Business School: Hidden benefits of business travel

Watergate Hotel

Rendering of “Top of the Gate” a new rooftop bar at the recently revamped Watergate Hotel (Image: Watergate Hotel)

Legendary Watergate hotel reopens in Washington DC

Uber/Lyft competitor Wingz files to serve Miami Airport

Alaska Airlines adds more bonus miles to its Visa card

Inside look at United’s San Francisco hub operation VIDEO (states that 500 Global Services members use SFO daily)

Europe clarifies its rules for airline passengers’ rights

New $4 million art installation debuts at Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson

Hawaiian Airlines introduces bidding system for upgrades

Five years later, United’s flight attendant groups still haven’t merged

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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A celebrity Reader Report: Japan Airlines first class LAX-Tokyo-SFO

Scott Hintz

TripIt co-founder Scott Hintz is a world traveler…and TravelSkills reader!

There aren’t a lot of celebs in the biz travel space, but we found one of them!

Last month I noticed via social media that TripIt co-founder (and longtime TravelSkills reader) Scott Hintz was headed to Tokyo in first class on Japan Airlines using his American AAdvantage award miles. Knowing he has a very discerning eye, I asked if he wouldn’t mind taking some notes and reporting back to TravelSkills about his experience. Luckily, he obliged with an excellent post and a handful of photos. Thanks for this excellent reader report, Scott! 

Some highlights of this report: 

  • Insider advice on finding award seats on AAdvantage partner airlines
  • Some problems getting through security at LAX
  • Review of the spacious and relatively empty Qantas lounge at LAX with 5-star dining
  • No amenity kit or PJs in first class. Wait. What?
  • Champagne, caviar…and Japanese pickles
  • Speedy, cheap wi-fi relieves sleepless long-haul boredom
  • A good, hard look at the first class lavatory
  • Return from Haneda nonstop to SFO- meal service needs upgrade

Scott wrote, “I think the things where JAL is weakest would be pretty easy to fix, so I hope they address those items.  I’d already give them an A- on this trip, but could easily see them becoming an A with a few minor tweaks.”

What worked and what didn’t? Read on!

(XIAN CONTEST! Thanks for all the entries to our contest for 2 United business class tickets to Xian! We are overwhelmed reading through all of them, but should have a winner chosen by the end of today. Stay tuned!)

Booking

Japan Airlines

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

I booked this trip using American AAdvantage miles, which at the time of booking required 62,500 each way (125k roundtrip).  Booking that same award today would be 80,000 each way.  I find that Japan Airlines releases award availability sporadically.  A few months ago, they released a lot of award seats available across a wide variety of dates, but then that ended.  Now, I tend to see them release empty F/J seats mostly within 7 days of departure, if they exist.

Since aa.com doesn’t display award availability for JAL, the best way to search for seats is to use the British Airways website.  Just search for tickets using Avios as the form of payment, and if you find JL award seats via BA, then you can call AA and they should see the same availability and will be able to book it for you.

Seats

Japan Airlines

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

We were on JL 61 from LAX to Narita on the outbound (and were schedule to return on JL 62 from NRT to LAX on the return, but ended up switching to the HND-SFO nonstop, which I’ll explain more later).  This flight is operated by a 777-300ER with 8 seats in first class.  We selected seats 2A and 2D, which were the window and aisle seats adjacent to each other.  We would have preferred two window seats (like 1A and 2A or 1K and 2K), but JAL seems to block seats 1A and 1K for pre-assignment.  I’ve heard that they save those for people with very high status with the airline or VIPs and you can only get them by requesting them at the airport.

Unfortunately for us, both 1A and 1K were taken a few days prior to departure, so we just had to settle for our window and aisle.  I wasn’t thrilled about being in the middle section with a stranger on the other side of the divider from me, but honestly, once on the plane, you had virtually no idea anyone was sitting next to you.  The “suite” is large and the divider gives you plenty of privacy, so it really wasn’t a concern.

Security

This flight left out of the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at LAX, which is a beautiful space with great shopping, restaurants, and lounges.  Unfortunately, the security situation there is terrible.  This is my third time flying out of TBIT as an originating passenger and I’m still amazed how bad the security situation is.  There is no TSA Pre-Check in this terminal, which sort of makes sense since foreign airlines can’t participate in TSA Pre, but if you are flying an AA domestic flight out of this terminal, you technically quality for Pre, so it’s too bad it’s not offered.  There is a special line for first and business class passengers (but not for elites flying coach, as far as I can tell), but in my experience, that line isn’t always open.  I had a 9am flight to MIA recently and there was no line for premium pax, so I had to wait almost an hour to get through security.

On this trip, the first/business class line was open, but it still took us almost 45 minutes to get through security.  There were a lot of people trying to get through, but only 3 scanners operating (I think they have about 8 or 9 scanners in total, so clearly they need to increase staffing and improve throughput).  Once you get to the front of your queue (economy or first/business), a staffer then assigns you to a specific security lane.  I would suggest people try to avoid the first lane, because that’s also where crew, airport employees, and passengers rushing to catch a flight leaving soon will all be allowed to cut to the front of the line.  So that first lane moves a lot more slowly than the others.

It seems that AA operates flights to AUS, ATL, MIA, and other destinations out of this terminal.  I’m really surprised they put the premium MIA route of here and force those passengers, in particular, to endure the sub-par security experience in TBIT.  If I was flying AA out of LAX going forward, even if that flight was departing from TBIT, I think I would go to terminal 4 and use the Pre-Check lane, then use the new connector to walk from Terminal 4 to TBIT (where you won’t have to clear security again).  The other advantage of this approach is that AA has an Admirals Club in T4, but not in TBIT — and you won’t be allowed to use the Oneworld lounges in TBIT unless you are traveling internationally.

Lounge

Japan Airlines

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

In LAX, JL has first class customers use the Qantas First Lounge, which was excellent.  Our flight was departing LAX at 1:20pm and there aren’t many Oneworld international departures at that time, so the lounge was also delightfully empty.  It’s a very large space, so it’s hard to imagine that it would ever be that full, actually.

While the lounge didn’t have a spa with free massages a la VS, BA, EY, etc., nor hip music and lighting with waiters bopping around the lounge like VS, it did the basics very well.  There’s a long, beautiful bar along the entire back of the lounge that serves anything your heart could desire.  The seating is plentiful and comfortable.  The overall design of the lounge is quite nice and just a joy to be in.

But we found the highlight to be the sit-down restaurant with full waiter service.  The menu, service, and food all felt like dining in a true 5-star restaurant in any major city.  Kudos for Qantas for a job very well done.

Boarding

When we got to the lounge, they told us that boarding would begin at 1:00 — which struck us as awfully close to the 1:20 departure time.  Just to be safe, at around 12:55, we started to gather our things and head out of the lounge, and it was only as we exited at 1:00 that they made the first boarding announcement for our flight.  It was probably about a 7-8 minute walk to the gate from the lounge, so that sounds very tight, but it made a little more sense once we got to the gate and saw that JL does a great job of giving F customers an easy boarding experience.  They have clear signage for both F and J passengers, with dedicated jetways for each. 

We breezed right onto the plane and directly into the F cabin.  Since J and Y pax used different doors, we never saw another passenger other than those in the F cabin.  It felt peaceful and relaxing, much different from the typical domestic boarding experience!  A cabin attendant was there waiting to greet us as we boarded the plane and showed us to our seats.

The purser quickly came over and introduced herself, made a real effort of letting us know her name (pronouncing it slowly and pointing to her name tag so we could see it in writing) and letting us know that she was there to help in any way needed.  Her colleagues in the F cabin were very quick to take and hang our jackets, offer us pre-departure beverages, show us a few features of the seats, and offer any help we needed. We felt very welcome and I could tell we were going to have a great crew.

Settling In

Japan Airlines

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

Waiting at our seats were Bose headphones, slippers, a pillow, and a blanket.  The blanket was more like the kind of thing you’d put on your lap while watching TV, not the duvet you were meant to sleep with (which was distributed later after takeoff).  A flight attendant came by and gave us menus — in this case, they just gave us the printed menu directly, while on our return flight, it was inside a large leather portfolio, which also included a pamphlet for duty-free shopping and a landing card for the U.S.

To my surprise, neither an amenity kit nor pajamas were waiting for us on our seats nor were they distributed prior to departure.  I thought maybe it was an oversight, but the same thing happened on our return, so I’m assuming that’s JL’s standard way of doing things.  But I just asked the flight attendant for both and they were happy to oblige immediately.  The pajamas were great — I think my favorites among all the ones I’ve received on other airlines (EY, BA, CX, AA).  I took a large on the first flight and a medium on the return and I think the M was actually a pretty good fit, which surprised me since I’m almost 6′ tall and I figured an Asian airline might run small.  Since returning home, I’ve washed both sets of pajamas and neither shrank very much and they held up very well.

Japan Airlines

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

The amenity kit was also pretty good.  It came in a nice, soft case with a zipper and included eyeshade, earplugs, a moisture mask, lip balm, dental kit, tissue, cologne, and brush.  In addition to that, the flight attendant gave me a separate case of products specifically for a man, which was Shiseido brand — cleanser, moisturizer, and hydrating lotion.  That came in a nice, hard-sided case which I could easily see being used to store sunglasses in the future.  Compared to other airlines I’ve flown in F over the past few years, JL is probably my favorite among amenity kits.

Initial impressions of the seat were fine — nothing great, nothing bad, just right in the middle.  The dark brown leather is pleasing enough, but nothing special.  The 23″ monitor is quite nice and made for good movie watching.  Aside from that, you had the basics of a power outlet, lighting controls, and a handheld controller for operating the entertainment system.  The monitor is actually a touch screen, so you can operate it that way, as well, but it’s so far away that it’s hard to reach the screen.  However, the handheld controller didn’t work very well — it’s so small, it’s hard to touch the tiny buttons on screen and navigate the complicated user interface.  And it didn’t seem very responsive to touch, either.  So I would often unbuckle my seatbelt and just lean way forward to touch the monitor itself.

The Flight

Despite beginning boarding pretty late by my standards, we left pretty much right on time.  Since I couldn’t see back in J or Y, I don’t know how full the flight was, so it’s hard to say how they boarded such a large plane so quickly, but they did it.  Taxi was relatively short and we were in the air quickly after departure.  And the captain turned off the seatbelt sign very quickly — I didn’t time it, but it felt like about a minute after takeoff.  We also noticed that the seatbelt sign stayed off for the entire flight, even though we had light turbulence for at least half the flight.

The flight attendants also began meal service very quickly, coming through the cabin to take orders while we were still climbing in altitude.  I very much appreciated how quick all of this went down, which would have been especially great on a night flight where you want to get to sleep right away (which was the case on our return from HND, which departed at midnight).  The flight attendants spoke good English and were very helpful in discussing the menu, offering suggestions and asking if we wanted to sample something that we weren’t familiar with.

Japan Airlines

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

I loved the Salon champagne that they served, and the flight attendant seemed very proud to be serving such a nice brand.  She presented the bottle to me before pouring my glass, and stood there waiting for me to take my first sip and let her know that I liked it.
Japan Airlines

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

We both had the Japanese menu and enjoyed it.  Neither of us are connoisseurs of Japanese cuisine, so we don’t have a lot to compare it to, but we liked it.  We didn’t really know what some of the smaller appetizer dishes were, and one or two of them seemed a little odd, but that’s probably just because we’re not used to Japanese food beyond sushi.  I had the steamed bass as an entree and it was incredibly good — one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever had on a plane.  Moist, flavorful, and served warm with perfectly cooked rice and Japanese pickles.  Yum.

Japan Airlines

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

While eating the meal, I perused the entertainment selection and was a little underwhelmed.  It was ok, but the selection of movies and TV shows wasn’t as extensive as other airlines I’ve flown.  They did have a lot of Japanese and other Asian content, but western options felt somewhat limited.  I also noticed that the seat wasn’t super comfortable for lounging.  It doesn’t move in a million different directions, as some other airlines’ seats do, and the padding was pretty firm.  I just had a hard time adjusting things to the point where I was really comfortable.

After the meal, flight attendants asked if we wanted to have our beds made, and we said yes.  JL offers aTempur-pedic “mattress” that they put down on your seat, with one side being firm and the other being soft.  I selected soft, went to the lavatory, and returned to find my bed nicely made up.  While it was comfortable, I will say that the bed is where I think JL could improve a fair bit.  As mentioned above, the seat itself is pretty firm, but unfortunately the “soft” side of the mattress didn’t help much.  Also, the mattress is just a thin layer of material — picture something along the lines of a yoga mat — and doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that gets cleaned in any way.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I didn’t see any way to remove the outer cover, so I’m not sure how they would even clean them.  So it felt a little weird laying directly on top of it.  My suggestion would be to lay a thin sheet down on top of the mattress and it would be a lot nicer.  Also, the duvet was large and thick, but the pillow was shockingly small.  It felt more like something they’d hand out in coach, not first.

I wasn’t able to get comfortable, which may have a lot to do with not being able to sleep.  It’s also a challenge on a flight leaving at 1:20pm to fall asleep until the final hours of flight.  Unfortunately, since the entertainment selection was so limited and the few big Hollywood movies they had, I had already seen, I found myself just laying there feeling pretty bored for a few hours.  So I decided to check out the wifi on board, and I’m glad I did.  It’s only $19 for unlimited internet for the entire flight, or $14 for 3 hours (there are other pricing plans, too, but those seemed like the best deals).  I chose the 3 hour plan and was really happy with how fast and stable the connection was.  I was able to do a lot of reading, emailing, checking Facebook, etc.  A great way to the pass the time or get some work done.

There is a mid-flight menu where you can order snacks at any point if you get hungry, so I eventually did order some noodles.  Flight attendants didn’t come through the cabin very often, but if you pressed the call button at your seat, they would show up instantly and were smiling and happy to help.  It took about 10 minutes for the noodles to be ready and they were delicious.

Japan Airlines

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

I should mention that when the flight attendant took my lunch/dinner order after takeoff, she also asked me if I wanted to be woken for a meal prior to landing, and if so, at what time.  I thought that was a nice touch and I told them I’d want to eat 90 minutes before arrival.  Although I never fell asleep, the flight attendant did come by promptly at 90 minutes prior to landing to ask if I’d like to have the meal.  I ordered a few items from the a la carte menu, the highlight of which was the seafood curry, which was warm and comforting.  The beef skewers were forgettable, while the green salad was good (as good as can be for a simple salad).

Also, a few comments on the lavatory.  There are actually two lavs you can use in the F cabin, so with only 8 passengers max, you rarely have to wait (I think one of the lavs might be for crew, but they let F pax use it if the other one is occupied).  Both lavs are pretty modest, fairly small and basic, but perfectly functional.  I was actually surprised that there were no products in the lavs — no face spray, no hand lotion, nothing besides a few dental kits.  This is the first time I can recall ever flying in a J or F cabin and not having at least some hand lotion.  This wouldn’t be so bad if the amenity kit included hand lotion, but it didn’t — it had a facial moisturizer, which of course can be used on hands, but I’m really surprised there was no proper hand cream anywhere on the plane as far as I could see.  Also, the handsoap in the lav is something you pump out of the metal “soap” lever that’s part of the sink.  This also felt very basic, like something you’d expect to find in a public restroom at a baseball stadium; whereas I usually find a nice plastic bottle of some kind of fancy designer soap attached to the top of the basin on other airlines.

While I didn’t use it, the toilet did have the typical Japanese set of controls that seemed to warm the seat and offer a variety of water jets and sprays.  Also, one thing that I really appreciated and don’t think I’ve seen on other carriers were two tables that folded down from the wall.  One descended to floor level and you could step on it once you took off your slippers, so your bare socks wouldn’t have to touch the (presumably dirty) floor as you changed into your pajamas.  The other one was more at waist level and was a convenient place to set your clothing as you changes (avoiding the need to place it in the sink area, where it could be wet).

Finally, although the F cabin is pretty segregated from the rest of the plane, I did manage to peek through the curtain into the business class cabin in the middle of the flight.  My first impression was that it looked nice.  The seats seemed what you’d expect in J, but I really liked the staggered layout that would make it easier to get in and out of a window seat without having to climb over the person next to you.

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

Arrival

As the crew prepared the cabin for arrival, they came around and thanked us for flying them with another round of very warm smiles.  The crew really was fantastic on this flight, one of the best I’ve had flying internationally.

Although we left right on time, we didn’t arrive in Narita early.  It seems that headwinds were stronger than usual, so that extended flying time.  That was a benefit on the return flight, as we left on time, but arrived into SFO over an hour early.

Exiting the plane was quick and easy, followed by a reasonable walk to immigration and customs.  What surprised me, though, was that F passengers didn’t get any kind of special fast-track lane for immigration.  There was one lane with a “priority” sign above it, but I asked an employee if we could use it as F passengers, and they said no.  So I don’t know who gets to use it, but apparently F and J pax stand in the same long lines as everyone else.  And it was a somewhat lengthy wait, around 30 minutes to clear immigration.  The queue was noisy, stuffy, and just generally felt a little chaotic, so I’m really surprised JL hasn’t arranged something special for at least F pax.

Return Flight

Japan Airlines

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

Our return was supposed to be NRT-LAX-SFO, as the nonstop HND-SFO didn’t have award seats available when we originally booked.  But I checked again while in Tokyo and saw that four award seats had opened up, so I called AA to make the change.  That flight leaves HND at midnight, so we enjoyed a full final day in Tokyo before departing the hotel around 9:30pm for HND.  As most people know, HND is a lot closer to central Tokyo than NRT and you can easily take public transport there (a roughly 30 min subway ride from Ginza for about $5 as compared to a two-hour bus or train ride at around $30 from NRT).

We were surprised to find that AA doesn’t consider NRT and HND to be co-terminals, so they do charge a $150 change fee to change airports in Tokyo.  Here’s hoping AA changes its policy on that.

The return flight itself was uneventful, very similar to the inbound flight except for a few minor details.  However, I will say that we were very unimpressed with the JAL First lounge at Haneda.  I’ve read glowing reviews of it online from when this new lounge opened in 2014, so I was surprised at how lackluster it felt in our experience.  It would have been an OK business class lounge (not great, just OK), but definitely did not feel like anything special for first class.  In particular, the food situation was very disappointing.  Not only is there no table service, but the self-service buffet (including trays that felt almost right out of a high school cafeteria) was small and the food unappealing.

There was no bar (and of course, no bartender), but rather just a few self-serve bottles of wine and spirits.  In fact, there wasn’t even any bottled water — there was only a pitcher with the word “water” on it in the refrigerator.  I did see a worker at one point refill that pitcher with a large plastic bottle of Evian, but had I not seen that, I would have assumed it was just tap water.  At one point, I walked over to the business class lounge to check out the food there, and realized it was exactly the same, with one small exception.  The first class side includes a chef who is cooking teppanyaki (think along the lines of a Benihana restaurant) to order.  That sounds nice, and it was ok, but nothing really special.  The beef he cooked could have just as easily been sitting in a warmer on the buffet line and I wouldn’t have known any difference.

Since we were departing at midnight, my original plan was to eat in the lounge and then sleep right away once on board, but clearly that wasn’t going to pan out.  The food selection in the lounge was so lackluster, I barely ate anything and figured I would just have a meal on the plane.  Or so I thought.  I was shocked when we boarded that the menu only included a very limited “late night snack” service with a few measly food options.  I just had some noodles and tried to get some sleep, still feeling hungry.

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

(Photo: Scott Hintz)

Unfortunately, things didn’t improve prior to landing — again, much to my surprise, the meal they serviced prior to arrival was breakfast.  I can’t quite figure out the logic of that, as we were landing in San Francisco at around5pm local time, which should be dinner.  Granted, it would be around 9am in Tokyo, which I suppose could justify breakfast, but shouldn’t it be based more on local time?  Especially since the departure meal was so light, you’d think they’d give you a heavier meal on the other end.  I really think JL should re-consider the meal service on this flight, as it was a big let-down.

Summary

We had a very good experience on JAL.  They do some things great (boarding experience, LAX lounge — although it’s operated by Qantas, attentive and friendly crew, amenity kits/pajamas, great wifi), and there are a few misses (HND lounge, meal service on night flight, entertainment selection).  Overall, a very solid experience and I’d be happy to fly them again.  I also have a feeling their business class product on the 773 is pretty good and I’d be willing to give that a try in the future.

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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LAX: United progress + Delta move + Southwest + American

Rendering of United's new outdoor terrace at LAX (Image: United / YouTube)

Rendering of United’s new outdoor terrace at LAX (Image: United / YouTube)

There’s a lot going on a Los Angeles International Airport these days, such as the ongoing $500+ million upgrade to United’s operations at Terminals 7 and 8, plus a rumor that Delta could be moving across the horseshoe to terminals 2 and 3.

 

(Image: United)

(Image: United)

First, let’s look at what United has going on at LAX Terminal 7.

As with most big construction projects, the likelihood of glitches increases, so be prepared when flying United to or from LAX through the end of next year when it should conclude. This spring, you’ll see a new baggage claim area open as well as an updated economy class check-in space and consolidated security screening area.

In a new video, United promises a bigger, better and brighter terminal with extras like a new 20,000 square foot United Club with an outdoor terrace (pictured above). A United spokesperson told TravelSkills that the new Club is slated to open in September 2016.

Remember that while United uses both Terminals 7 and 8, all check in and security is at Terminal 7.

The view from Delta's recently revamped Sky Club at LAX (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The view from Delta’s recently revamped Sky Club at LAX Terminal 5 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

LAX airport authorities are reportedly now briefing other airlines about the possibility of Delta moving from its recently renovated Terminal 5 across to a new space at Terminals 2 and 3 according to the BrianSumers.com blog. If the deal goes forward, Delta would invest nearly a billion dollars on a terminal renovation or replacement project that could take up to five years to complete.

Delta is now the #2 carrier at LAX after American, and the new space would provide 23 gates, up from its current 13 in Terminal 5. Over the last 6 years, Delta has nearly doubled the number of seats it flies in and out a LAX, so it could use the space. Plus, Sumers reports that Delta may add a behind-security tunnel to the adjacent Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT).

And in case you missed it, Southwest is now operating out of a shiny newly modernized Terminal 1 facility at LAX. Also last month LAX completed a new behind-security corridor connecting American’s Terminal 4 with the TBIT.

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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New hotels: Beverly Hills, LAX, New York, Miami, New Orleans

A guest suite at the Viceroy L'Ermitage in Beverly Hills. (Image: Viceroy Hotels)

A guest suite at the Viceroy L’Ermitage in Beverly Hills. (Image: Viceroy Hotels)

In U.S. hotel news, a Beverly Hills classic gets a makeover and new management; Starwood adds an Aloft near LAX; a Spanish chain opens its first New York property; Hyatt is getting a new presence in Miami Beach; and Ace Hotels opens a New Orleans location.

The former L’Ermitage Beverly Hills has been renovated and rebranded as the Viceroy L’Ermitage Beverly Hills following a 10-month renovation. Viceroy also operates upscale properties in Miami, New York, San Francisco, Santa Monica and Abu Dhabi, along with some resorts. Guest accommodations at the luxury all-suite L’Ermitage start at 650 square feet. Besides redesigning the hotel’s 116 suites, Viceroy made over its meeting rooms and added a French bistro called Avec Nous. Rates in April start at $479.

Guest accommodations at the new Aloft Hotel near Los Angeles International Airport. (Image: Starwood)

Guest accommodations at the new Aloft Hotel near Los Angeles International Airport. (Image: Starwood)

Elsewhere in the Los Angeles area, Starwood Hotels has scheduled an April 12 opening date for a new Aloft hotel in El Segundo, just two miles from Los Angeles International Airport (although the website says it is taking reservations for stays starting May 1). Located at 475 North Sepulveda Boulevard, the Aloft has 246 rooms along with a pool, fitness center, and the brand’s signature W Xyz Bar and Re: fuel by Aloft market. Self-parking will be available for $14 a day. Rates start at $153.

The new RIU near Times Square adds 600 rooms to New York City's inventory. (Image: RIU Hotels)

The new RIU Plaza near Times Square adds 600 rooms to New York City’s inventory. (Image: RIU Hotels)

RIU Hotels & Resorts, a group based in Spain, is known mostly for its Caribbean resorts, but the company has started an urban hotel division, and it just opened a new property in New York City. The Hotel RIU Plaza New York Times Square is at 305 West 46th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. It has 600 rooms on 29 floors, all equipped with mini-fridge, desk, and TV with multimedia connections. The new hotel’s restaurant and bar are still awaiting city licensing approval, but the property is offering “soft opening” rates as low as $109 a night!

The Thompson Miami Beach is joining Hyatt's Unbound Collection. (Image: Thompson Hotels)

The Thompson Miami Beach is joining Hyatt’s Unbound Collection. (Image: Thompson Hotels)

A subsidiary of Hyatt Hotels is buying the 380-room Thompson Miami Beach Hotel. Hyatt said that when the transaction closes later this month, the property will be rebranded as The Confidante, and will become a member of Hyatt’s recently-announced Unbound Collection.  As a member of that group, The Confidante “will maintain its distinct character while providing guests and owners Hyatt’s award-winning customer loyalty program, robust operational and marketing resources and trusted, quality brand,” Hyatt said. (Other members of the new Unbound group include The Driskill in Austin and Hotel du Louvre in Paris.) Rates at the Thompson currently start around $239.

The lobby bar at the new Ace Hotel in New Orleans. (Image: Ace Hotels)

The lobby bar at the new Ace Hotel in New Orleans. (Image: Ace Hotels)

Ace Hotels, which has locations in Portland, Seattle, New York, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh, has opened its newest hotel in New Orleans. The 234-room Ace Hotel is at 600 Carondelet Street, in a 90-year-old repurposed art deco building; it’s part of the South Market development in the city’s Warehouse District. It has a music venue called Three Keys with events happening most nights of the week; a rooftop garden called Alto with dining, cocktails and a pool; an Italian osteria called Josephine Estelle; and a lobby bar. Rooms have free Wi-Fi. Rates start at $169.

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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This new car rental idea will disrupt

Skurt is trying a new app-based model fro car rentals. (Image: Skurt)

Skurt is trying a new app-based model for car rentals. (Image: Skurt)

It’s not new for rental car companies to offer a car delivery or customer pick-up service, but it may involve a trip back to their office to handle the paperwork. Now a new entrant in the business is offering a no-paperwork, app-based service that lets renters go directly from the airport terminal into the driver’s seat with no intermediate stops.

It’s called Skurt (www.skurtapp.com), and the only airport where it’s currently available is Los Angeles International. The company recently secured $1.3 million in venture capital financing, and it is targeting San Francisco International as its next location.

Here’s how it works:  When a customer who has booked a car with the app arrives at his destination airport, a company rep will be waiting in the arrivals area holding up a sign with the renter’s name on it, and will take the customer right to the car nearby and hand him the keys. To return the car, the customer drives to Skurt’s LAX location near the airport entrance to pick up a rep who will ride back to the terminal with them and take the car from there.

The company said customers can use their phone to scan the barcode on the back of their driver’s license, verifying their eligibility to rent; the license information is stored, making it easier to book additional rentals in the future.  The minimum age requirement is 21, and Skurt promises roadside assistance if necessary. The Skurt app is currently available only for iPhones.

Skurt doesn’t own its own fleet. Instead, “We currently partner with independent rental car companies to help maximize overall fleet utilization. Our partners consider it another distribution platform for them which allows them to earn on units sitting without potentially affecting their brand,” said Skurt co-founder John Mangel on the website Producthunt.com, which highlights new and innovative companies.

Would you use an app like this to avoid that pain point of a business trip between your airplane seat and your car seat? Please leave your comments below. 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: New hotel openings + Cathay Pacific’s new lounge + Joining PreCheck gets easier + Air India’s San Francisco plans + New perks from United, Virgin America

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10 most popular: Trip Report + La Guardia + $25 off + Delta upgrade + TravelSkills Vacation

TravelSkills will be in vacation mode during August (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The boys of summer at Ocean Beach in San Francisco (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Quick note: TravelSkills will be in vacation mode during August, with only periodic posts. We’ll be back at full steam in September so stay tuned! And enjoy your summer. –Chris

TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts over the last week (descending order)… plus a few newsy nuggets we missed.

1. Flying cozy: Trip Report: Air Canada B767 lie-flat business class

2. Coming soon: First look at the new $4 billion LaGuardia (photos)

3. What a deal! How to get $25 off your next car rental

4. There’s a difference: Direct or nonstop flight? You tell me!

Weekend Edition5. New routes for American, Alaska, JetBlue, Frontier

6. Don’t be afraid to ask: How to avoid worn out hotel rooms

7. Are you up for it? Delta’s ultimate upgrade: private jets

8. Employers take the heat: Binge drinking, sleeping around on business trips

9. A plane makeover: Delta unveils revamped Airbus

10. Big surprise: Is Kimpton abandoning San Francisco?

(Photo: Jason Tester Guerilla / Flickr)

(Photo: Jason Tester Guerilla / Flickr)

Guess what? No UberX or Lyft at LAX in August after all. Grrr.

A few newsy nuggets from other sources that we missed on TravelSkills this week:

>At LaGuardia: Nice new terminal, but same old delays

>Uber is OK at Oakland International!

>Plan emerges for Uber/Lyft at ATL, but it’s going to be a while

>IHG eyeing Fairmont after Starwood rumors die

>Delta and China Eastern hook up, Delta gets Shanghai

>Atlanta on-airport hotel to break ground in early 2016

>British Airways adopts smaller bag size that other airlines dismissed

>Toronto gets underwater tunnel to airport

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UberX, Lyft cleared for pick-ups at LAX

Uber and Lyft pick-ups at LAX could start soon. (Image: Thomas Hawk/Flickr)

Uber and Lyft pick-ups at LAX could start soon. (Image: Thomas Hawk/Flickr)

Ride-sharing services won a big victory this week when Los Angeles officials agreed to let the UberX and Lyft pick up passengers at Los Angeles International, the largest airport yet to grant such rights. (Until now, only pricey UberBLACK cars were allowed to pick up at LAX.)

But that victory came just a day after a potentially big legal setback for Uber that could see its operating rights suspended in California.

LAX airport commissioners gave a go-ahead to the ride-sharing apps in spite of the usual solid opposition from local taxi, shuttle and limo operators. According to the Los Angeles Times, an UberX ride from LAX to downtown would cost about $30 during times of low demand — although that could rise due to Uber’s dynamic pricing model — vs. about $50 for a traditional taxi.

Before the pickups can start in August, the ride-sharing companies have to connect their apps to a digital service that alerts the airport to Uber and Lyft vehicle arrivals at the airport, because the agreement requires them to pay a $4 fee for each pick-up and drop-off.

A day before the airport’s approval was announced, a judge at California’s Public Utilities Commission recommended that Uber should pay a $7.3 million fine and have its operations suspended in the state.

The commission’s administrative law judge said Uber is in violation of a 2013 law that authorized the ride-sharing companies because it has not submitted data required by the state. The rules require ride-sharing companies to provide lots of information about its business, including zip codes where riders were picked up, fares paid, dates and times of rides and so on.

Uber is expected to appeal the ruling, a process that could take months to sort out. So you’ll still be able to get your ride on… at least for now.

LAX is the third in a string of recent ridesharing victories in California where UberX and Lyft are now able to pick up and drop off at SFO, San Diego as well as LAX.

UPDATE: Sounds like LA officials might be getting cold feet about all this. So be sure to check with your rideshare before you arrive at LAX.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: This guy got 1 million United miles  + More changes to Delta SkyMiles+Airline fees: No end in sight + ATMs are out + More!


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Delta’s LAX facelift

Don’t miss! Baggage brouhaha brewing as one airline opts out

Arriving at Delta's exclusive new T5 lobby (Photo: Delta)

Arriving at Delta’s exclusive new T5 lobby at LAX (Photo: Delta)

Delta unveiled the completion of the three-year, $229 million facelift of its Terminal 5 at Los Angeles International Airport today.

While the entire terminal got a nip and tuck, Delta is making the most noise about the addition of a new private check-in lounge for Delta ONE (first class) customers.

Delta says that customers flying Delta ONE will arrive by car at a “dedicated curbside entrance, leading to a private, modern check-in lounge with personalized luggage check, high-design atmosphere, and a refreshment bar. Customers also access a dedicated security checkpoint directly from the Delta ONE at LAX lounge.” See below for details on who gets in…and who does not.

In addition to the new check in area, renovations are finally complete on Delta’s Sky Club– there are 100 new seats, new showers, renovated bathrooms, an updated food area and all new furnishings and fixtures.

Explainer: What in the world is Delta ONE?

The lounge area of Delta One at LAX. - These images are protected by copyright. Delta has acquired permission from the copyright owner to the use the images for specified purposes and in some cases for a limited time. If you have been authorized by Delta to do so, you may use these images to promote Delta, but only as part of Delta-approved marketing and advertising. Further distribution (including proving these images to third parties), reproduction, display, or other use is strictly prohibited.

The lounge area of Delta One at LAX is where you can chill while ticketing details are worked out. (Photo: Delta)

For anyone who is not a Delta ONE customer or a Sky Club member, Delta says that,”new restaurants and shops in Terminal 5 feature celebrity chefs and retail brand names that reflect the cuisine, culture and lifestyle of Los Angeles…Other Terminal 5 enhancements include new jet bridges; a renovated Sky Priority lobby; an expanded ticketing lobby and four additional security screening checkpoints; and new baggage carousels and international baggage recheck facilities.”

This reminds us of: United’s Global Services check in lounge at SFO

Who gets to use that fancy new private Delta ONE entrance, lounge and dedicated security line? Here’s Delta’s fine print:

Access to and use of Delta ONE at LAX are reserved for customers traveling on a nonstop Delta One ticket to New York-JFK; a nonstop Delta One ticket on a long-haul international flight that is 6.5 or more hours; a domestic Delta ticket in any class connecting to a same-day Delta One ticket on a long-haul international Delta flight that is 6.5 or more hours; or travel in international* First/Business Class on a SkyTeam-operated flight. First and/or Business Class tickets on Delta marketed- and operated-flights are not eligible. Customers must be confirmed in Delta One or SkyTeam premium cabin for the international segment of their itinerary. Only companions in the same reservation are eligible to access the Delta ONE at LAX check-in. International travel includes travel between Los Angeles-LAX and Europe, Asia, southern South America and Africa.

Click to read how Delta used an old DC-9 tail to make a check in desk at LAX T5 (Images: Delta blog)

Click to read how Delta used an old DC-9 tail to make a check in desk at LAX T5 (Images: Delta blog)

The refurbishment of Delta’s T5 is part of LA’s much needed $8 billion overhaul of LAX.

More details and Delta’s new LAXtoLUX.com digital campaign about T5 and LAX.

Anyone who has flow through LAX recently has had to deal with the construction noise, dust, tarps and walls. Whaddya think? Please leave your comments below. 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Big red tail back at SFO + Bumped out of first class by air marshall? + Newest Centurion Lounge + My favorite travel pants

 


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QANTAS big red tail returns to San Francisco

Qantas 747's like this one return to SFO in December (Image: QANTAS)

Qantas 747’s like this one return to SFO in December (Image: QANTAS)

Qantas will bring back non-stop flights between San Francisco and Sydney on December 20, 2015 after a four year hiatus. 

Initially, the flight will operated on peak days (see below) and ramp up to six B747-400 flights a week from January 2016. The new service will cut around four hours of travel time by removing the need to connect through LAX under the existing Qantas/American Airlines arrangements.

Currently, only United flies nonstop between SFO and Sydney and its current round trip economy class fares are in the $1,800 range. Business class is $8,000.

The new services form part of an expanded relationship with American Airlines which, subject to approval from regulators, will also see American launch non-stop flights from Los Angeles to Sydney.

I snapped this image of QANTAS' final SFO flight in 2011 (Chris McGinnis)

I snapped this image of QANTAS’ final SFO flight in 2011 (Chris McGinnis)

Qantas ceased flying to San Francisco in 2011, when it instead started operating from American Airlines’ hub in Dallas/Fort Worth (in addition to its ongoing Honolulu, Los Angeles and New York services). This decision was also made in wake of the Global Financial Crisis, when business travel on the route dropped.

Related: Saying goodbye to QANTAS in 2011

Qantas Group Chief Executive Officer, Alan Joyce, said Qantas had a special relationship with San Francisco.

“San Francisco was Qantas’ very first U.S. destination when we started our services across the Pacific in the 1950s. It remains a hugely popular destination for Australians and we’re thrilled to be going back after a gap of a few years,” said Mr Joyce.

The airlines say that they will shortly apply for regulatory approval for these new arrangements.

^SYD-SFO services will not operate on 23rd, 24th, 25th and 31st December 2015.

QANTAS will have business class seats like this one on it 747-400 flights between SFO & SYD (Image: QANTAS)

QANTAS will have business class seats like this one on it 747-400 flights between SFO & SYD (Image: QANTAS)

Under the expanded Qantas-American Airlines arrangement customers will be able to fly Qantas’ reconfigured B747-400 six times per week on the San Francisco-Sydney route; featuring the same product found on the airline’s A380s, including Marc Newson’s fully-flat Skybed in Business, award winning Economy cabin and large seat-back screens with over 1500 entertainment options. American Airlines will codeshare on these services.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: First class summer fare sale + Bumped out of first class by air marshall? + Newest Centurion Lounge + My favorite travel pants

 

 


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Virgin Atlantic’s playful LAX lounge (more photos)

Virgin

The new lounge is 4,000 square feet, but doesn’t “overlook the Hollywood Hills” as Virgin says. Please. (Image: Virgin Atlantic)

This week Virgin Atlantic revealed more photos of it’s brand new $2.5 million Clubhouse at Los Angeles International Airport Terminal 2.

Here’s a closer look at the fun space that seems to us like a cross between a lounge and a colorful kiddie playroom. What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 9.39.55 AM

Virgin says: “The centerpiece of the lounge is a copper lined bar, showcasing natural Californian produce and plants as well as our famous bar service featuring fabulous cocktails. Working with The Juicery, we’ve created healthy juice options infused with seeds and spices.” (Photo: Virgin Atlantic)

 

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Not sure we can see the Hollywood Hills from here, but it’s a nice view anyway! (Photo: Virgin Atlantic)

Related: Virgin America’s bright spot at LAX’s drab Terminal 3

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 9.40.26 AM

The Clubhouse’s quiet corner (Photo: Virgin Atlantic)

 

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 9.40.07 AM

 

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 9.40.17 AM

Tapas like these are inspired by LA’s popular Hinoki & The Bird restaurant. (Photo: Virgin Atlantic)

Virgin says, “Los Angeles is a key route for us and we’re always thinking about what our customers need when they’re flying transatlantic. The investment in LAX will also include a refreshed check in area as well as the introduction of a meet-and-greet chauffeur drop-off service. Furthermore our brand new 787’s will be on the route from May, and together with the increased connectivity as part of our joint venture with Delta, we’re able to offer our customers the best possible experience when flying between London and Los Angeles.”

Entry into the Clubhouse is complimentary for Upper Class passengers travelling between Los Angeles and London Heathrow. Return Upper Class fares start from $5265.00 per person including tax.

See Virgin’s blog post here. 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: A new type of travel package + Southwest adds Oakland-Atlanta nonstop + More power in your pocket at Marriott + Airline CEO dismissed + Delta’s first class summer sale

 


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UberX okay in LA by summer?

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Star Wars invade DEN + United’s new 50,000 mile bonus + Secret stash of hidden hotel deals + Big new carrier for ATL+ Roomier widebodies on domestic flights! 

(Photo: Jason Tester Guerilla / Flickr)

(Photo: Jason Tester Guerilla / Flickr)

Most Uber- or Lyft- loving frequent travelers know the silly drill when arriving at LAX: You get off the plane hoping to summon an UberX or Lyft ride, and you get a message stating “no cars available.”

At that point, you sigh and decide to pay the premium for UberBlack or SUV. Or pay a taxi $50 for a ride into town vs UberX or Lyft fares of about $30.

Or, like others, you jump on a hotel, rental car or parking lot shuttle, take a ride off airport grounds, and have your UberX pick you up there for your ride into town.

Deal: Get $20 off your first Uber ride!

The practice has become so common that companies providing shuttle services are now asking for proof that you have a reservation and are not freeloading.

All that may be coming to an end soon, though. Thankfully. Here’s what the LA Times is reporting today:

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 8.15.17 AM

Luckily in San Francisco, Portland and many other cities, airport officials have worked out a deal allowing UberX and Lyft to pick up passengers at at the airport. The deals require drivers to pay the airport a fee of around $4 for each pick up.

The hope is that LA can reproduce that- and soon. Let’s hope so!

Deal: Get $20 off your first Uber ride!

–Chris McGinnis

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Star Wars invade DEN + United’s new 50,000 mile bonus + Secret stash of hidden hotel deals + Big new carrier for ATL+ Roomier widebodies on domestic flights! 


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Virgin opens swish LAX Clubhouse

The reception area for Virgin Atlantic's new LAX Clubhouse (Image: Virgin Atlantic)

The reception area for Virgin Atlantic’s new LAX Clubhouse (Image: Virgin Atlantic)

As its schedule between Los Angeles and London Heathrow has grown to three flights a day (in cooperation with joint venture partner Delta), Virgin Atlantic Airways has cut the ribbon on a new Clubhouse in LAX’s Terminal 2 this week. 

The 4,000-square-foot lounge is open to Virgin’s Upper Class and Flying Club Gold members as well as Delta passengers in Upper Class, and SkyMiles Diamond, Platinum and Gold Medallion members traveling on a Virgin-operated flight.

Related: Bright spot at LAX’s drab Terminal 3

Virgin's new LAX Clubhouse has views of the runway and the Hollywood Hills.

Virgin’s new LAX Clubhouse has views of the runway and the Hollywood Hills. (Image: Virgin Atlantic)

The Clubhouse is centered around an “apothecary-inspired bar” that offers cocktails and healthy juice drinks. The space is Wi-Fi enabled, and Virgin teamed up with the hot LA restaurant Hinoki & the Bird to create a full-service food and beverage menu.

Prior to the opening of the new lounge, Virgin Atlantic passengers could use the Air Canada lounge in Terminal 2 or  could walk to Terminal 3 to visit the Virgin America loft lounge.

On May 5, Virgin deploys its new Boeing 787 Dreamliner on one of its three daily flights between LAX and London.

More: From the Virgin Atlantic blog 

 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Nationwide summer fare sale + Eastern Airlines back in the sky + New Ritz-Carlton in Chicago (kinda) +Admirals Clubs Updates!

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

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Runway closure at LAX + New Starwood brand + More passport kiosks + New tier for IHG elites + Fast cars

Runway closure could put a crimp on LA flights (Photo: Phil Whitehouse / Flickr)

Runway closure could put a crimp on LA flights (Photo: Phil Whitehouse / Flickr)

Runway work at LAX. Los Angeles International Airport has started work on an improvement project for all four of its runways that will continue almost uninterrupted for the next two years. The job will require the closure of one runway at a time, and as a result, “passengers may begin experiencing impacts such as delays or a slight increase in wait times aboard aircraft,” the airport authority said. It noted that the biggest impact might be on the operations of Airbus A380s and 747-800s, which can only use two of the airport’s runways. The project includes the addition of so-called “Runway Safety Areas” at the ends of each runway to give pilots a little more leeway if they undershoot or overshoot their landings. A similar project at San Francisco International last year had little impact on flight operations, and actually wrapped up ahead of schedule.

TravelSkills

**TRAVELSKILLS HOUSEKEEPING! We will be updating our format over the next few weeks to make it more easily read on mobile devices. Things could get a little buggy so please bear with us as we make the transition. Thank you, dear readers! We look forward to hearing your feedback when it’s all done.**

International passengers arriving at SFO can now use faster kiosks at customs (Photo: SFO)

International passengers arriving at SFO can now use faster kiosks at customs (Photo: SFO)

Customs kiosks come to SFO, LAS. Those automated passport control (APC) kiosks continue to proliferate at major U.S. airports — a good thing for flyers, since they can cut down the line time for those re-entering the country by up to 40 percent. This week, San Francisco International is hosting a media event to show off the first of 40 new APCs it is installing in its U.S. Customs arrivals facilities. (SFO’s a little late to the show, since more than 30 airports already have them.) Meanwhile, Las Vegas McCarran last week unveiled a number of newly installed APC kiosks in the Customs Arrivals Hall in TerminWeekend Editional 3. And Miami International — one of the first airports to deploy the devices — said it has ordered 44 more APC kiosks, which will give it a total of 80. Passengers use the devices to enter their personal information and scan their passports, receiving a receipt to present to a Customs officer. Important: These kiosks are not Global Entry kiosks.

HOTELS

New elite tier at IHG Rewards. InterContinental Hotels Group said it will add a new top membership level to its IHG Rewards Club in July, for those who earn 75,000 points in a year or stay 75 nights. Those who achieve this new tier will get 100 percent bonus points on qualifying stays, and a choice of 25,000 bonus points or the upgrading of a family member or friend to Platinum level in the program. In addition, “The qualification requirements for all membership levels have been restructured to BestWesternLogomake it easier for members to be rewarded for their loyalty,” IHG said — e.g., 10,000 points or 10 stays will earn a Gold membership, and 40,000 points/40 nights will qualify a Gold member for Platinum.

How to get $50 from Best Western. Best Western’s new spring “Jump Start” promo can help cut the cost of your summer trip, which by most indicators, could be one of the most expensive in recent memory due to high demand. All you have to do is stay at Best Western twice between now and May 25, and you’ll get a $50 gift card to use this summer. Registration required

The Royal Palm South Beach is part of Starwood's new Tribute brand (Image: Royal Palm)

The Royal Palm South Beach is part of Starwood’s new Tribute brand (Image: Royal Palm)

Starwood’s new brand. Marriott has its Autograph Collection, Hilton has Curio, Choice Hotels has the Ascend Collection, and now Starwood has introduced its own new brand of independent but affiliated hotels. It’s called the Tribute Portfolio, and Starwood said its members will be “four star upper-upscale hotels.” The first Tribute property is the Royal Palm South Beach Miami, and others will soon join in Asheville, N.C.; Nashville, Tenn.; Savannah, Ga.; and Charleston, S.C., the company said. Tribute properties will retain their independent names and designs, but will take advantage of Starwood’s booking channels and will be a part of the Starwood Preferred Guest loyalty program. Starwood said it expects to have 100 members in the Tribute Portfolio in five years.

Like to drive fast cars and stay at fancy hotels? (Image: Hilton)

Like to drive fast cars and stay at fancy hotels? (Image: Hilton)

Hot cars at Waldorf-Astorias. Like to drive really hot cars that you would never dream of buying yourself? Hilton’s Waldorf Astoria brand has just introduced a new program called Waldorf Astoria Driving Experiences at 12 of its properties in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. Participants can book a package that includes a hotel stay and a “premier supercar driving experience” that puts them behind the wheel of a Ferrari 458 Italia, McLaren MP4-12C, Porsche GT3, Lamborghini Huracan, or Lamborghini Gallardo. They’ll also get driving tips from racing pros and suggested local touring routes to follow.

Oldie but goodie: Don’t make these 8 mistakes when visiting San Francisco!

 

Recent: Turkish Airlines pings Silicon Valley

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Uber NYC + Feds watching you + New LAX lounge + Best airport + Airport parking

(Photo: Jason Tester Guerilla / Flickr)

(Photo: Jason Tester Guerilla / Flickr)

NYC taxis losing the Uber battle. The New York Post reports that ride-finding service Uber has reached a critical milestone in New York City, no doubt the biggest market in the nation for hired cars: There are now more Uber vehicles than licensed taxicabs in the Big Apple. The paper said that Uber now has 14,088 “black and luxury cars” available for hire in New York, vs. 13,587 medallion taxis — although total trips by taxi still vastly outnumber Uber rides. Uber drivers reportedly like the more flexible hours and the higher earnings compared with traditional yellow cabs. Meanwhile, Uber continues to face plenty of legal troubles around the world, most recently in France, Germany and South Korea — including a new ban of its lower-priced car service in Germany. Weekend EditionHave your Uber habits shifted over the course of the last six months? Please leave your comments below. And if you can’t comment because you’ve yet to give Uber a try, sign up here and get $20 off your first ride. 

Feds eye facial recognition. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has quietly started testing new facial recognition technology on U.S. citizens re-entering the country at Washington’s Dulles International Airport. According to the tech news website Motherboard, the program is intended to help Customs officers catch individuals who may be using a passport that isn’t their own — although some observers question what CBP plans to do with the passenger photos it accumulates. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union last week sued the Transportation Security Administration, demanding to see documents related to its “Screening Passengers by Observation” (SPOT) project. That’s the program that trains TSA officers to watch for passengers exhibiting suspicious behaviors or appearing stressed or frightened, and subjecting them to extra inspections. The ACLU alleged that separate studies have found there is no evidence that the program works at all; an ACLU attorney said the program “wastes taxpayer money, leads to racial profiling, and should be scrapped.”

FAA: Keep out of the seat back pocket

Our famous photo of the updated men's room with a view at Singapore Changi Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Our famous photo of the updated men’s room with a view at Singapore Changi Airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Changi tops airport list — again. For the third year in a row, Singapore’s Changi Airport has ranked as the world’s best in the annual passenger survey conducted by Skytrax. And once again, no U.S. airports managed to make it into the Top 10 Best list. London-based Skytrax is unique in its survey sample size: It claims more than 13 million travelers from 112 countries voted in its annual online poll, which covered 550 airports worldwide. Rounding out the Top 10 after Changi are, in order: Korea’s Incheon, Munich, Hong Kong, Tokyo Haneda, Zurich, Central Japan, London Heathrow, Amsterdam Schiphol and Beijing Capital International. Rated the best North American airport for the fifth consecutive year was Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky. Readers, do you agree? In your experience, what is the world’s best airport?

Looking over the duty-free area at LAX from the terrace of the new Emirates lounge (Photo: Emirates)

Looking over the duty-free area at LAX from the terrace of the new Emirates lounge (Photo: Emirates)

Emirates lounge at LAX. Emirates officials have cut the ribbon on a new $6.2 million Emirates Lounge at Los Angeles International Airport. Located in the Tom Bradley International Terminal, it’s open to first and business class passengers as well as Platinum and Gold members of the airline’s Skywards loyalty program. Seating 157, it offers a buffet food service, business center, free Wi-Fi, shower facilities, TV and reading areas and a prayer room.

Parking at Atlanta. Atlanta-area travelers worried about finding a parking space at the busy Hartsfield-Jackson Airport have a new option: online parking reservations. The airport said that for a $5 booking fee, customers can now reserve a space in the domestic Park Ride Reserve lot, which costs $12 a day; or in the international hourly parking deck for $16-$24 a day (the fee varies based on demand; the online rate is a significant discount from the regular $32 a day). Reservations must be made at least 24 hours n advance. The airport’s new parking reservations page is here.

Why you should change the credit cards you carry

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Faster Virgin Wi-Fi + Hertz status for SkyMiles + Kimpton purchase + Free Internet at Starwood

VirginAmericaWiFiservice

Virgin America Wi-Fi service (Photo: Virgin America)

 AIRLINES

Virgin speeds up in-flight Wi-Fi. Flyers on Virgin America who use in-flight Wi-Fi should notice an improvement in download speeds now that the airline has completed the deployment of Gogo’s ATG-4 Wi-Fi service on all 53 of its Airbus A320s. With speeds topping out at 9.8 Mbps, the ATG-4 service is more than three times faster than the first generation of in-flight Internet. To promote the enhancement, Virgin and Gogo are offering a chance to win roundtrip flights, a new iPad or free Wi-Fi service for a year to persons who “share their best ‘office in the sky’ moment on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #OfficeInTheSky.” Readers, what’s your experience with in-flight Wi-Fi? Too slow? Too expensive? Or just right? Post comments below.

Gogo Wi-Fi Tip: Did you know that you can buy Gogo day passes online before your flight for just $16 vs the $35+ fee you’ll pay for connecting on the plane? This saves the most money for longer transcon flights. Get your passes ahead of time here: Gogo $16 day pass

SkyMiles offers Hertz status. Delta has bolstered its partnership with Hertz by offering SkyMiles Medallion members elite status in the car rental company’s Gold Plus Rewards program, which will give them expedited service and car upgrade eligibility. Gold Medallions can join Hertz’s Five Star Program, while Platinums and Diamonds are eligible for the Gold Plus Rewards President’s Circle. Delta set up a web page with a link to the registration process for Hertz status enrollment. Medallions can also scan Hertz’s summary of benefits for the Gold Plus Rewards status levels.

Alaska debuts new in-flight perks. Streaming in-flight entertainment to personal electronic devices is just one of the perks Alaska Airlines is rolling out as part of its new “Alaska Beyond” in-flight improvements. The company said entertainment streaming — currently available on 50 of its 737s, and coming on the rest by April — will be free through January 31; after that, movies and TV shows start at $1.99. The improvements also include new Recaro leather seats with power outlets and USB ports at every seat (currently on 95 percent of its aircraft) and new in-flight service that offers “locally-sourced, artisan food and beverage from iconic Northwest brands.” Later in 2015, Alaska is due to begin installing new overhead bins that provide 48 percent more storage space.

WeekendEdition

Routes: Southwest, JetBlue, AA. Southwest will add new service next year on several routes: On June 7, it will begin twice-daily Los Angeles-Portland, Ore. flights as well as new daily service between LAX-Indianapolis, Oakland-Nashville and Oakland-New Orleans. On June 28, it will add twice-daily Indianapolis-Boston flights and daily service between Austin-St. Louis and Austin-Orange County, Calif. … JetBlue last week inaugurated three new Florida routes from Washington Reagan National, including twice-daily service to Jacksonville and daily flights to Ft. Myers and West Palm Beach … American Airlines has filed for government approval to start code-sharing with Mexican carrier Interjet, with plans to put the AA code onto Interjet flights from Mexico City to Huatulco, Villahermosa, Merida, Tuxla Gutierrez and Oaxaca.

China connections: United, Virgin. United Airlines plans to boost seasonal capacity from San Francisco to China in 2015. The carrier said that from May 6 to October 24, it will double its SFO-Shanghai service to two flights a day, and from June 4 to September 1 it will increase SFO-Chengdu frequencies from three a week to daily. Meanwhile, Virgin America said that starting in 2015, it will offer members of its Elevate program reciprocal benefits with China Eastern, so they can earn and burn miles on the Chinese carrier’s flights. Virgin will also add the Shanghai-based airline’s code to a number of its U.S. routes. 

AIRPORTS

qantasloungelax

Qantas First lounge at LAX (Photo: Qantas)

New Qantas First lounge at LAX. Qantas has cut the ribbon on a new Qantas First lounge at Los Angeles International Airport that’s more than three times the size of its predecessor. The new Qantas First facility — open to first class customers, Qantas Platinum and Platinum One frequent flyers, and Oneworld Emerald and international first class flyers — can seat more than 200 guests. It has a 74-seat restaurant with cuisine from Australian celebrity chef Neil Perry, as well as enhanced services like faster Wi-Fi, wireless printing, cable TV, a pair of private work suites and seven shower suites. Meanwhile, Qantas last week increased service on it s LAX-Melbourne route from seven flights a week to 10.

HOTELS

Guest room at Kimpton's Hotel Monaco Philadelphia (Photo: Kimpton)

Guest room at Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco Philadelphia (Photo: Kimpton)

InterContinental to acquire Kimpton Hotels. The popular and fast-growing boutique chain Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants, with 62 U.S. properties and 16 more in the works, is being acquired by InterContinental Hotels Group for $430 million. Noting that the boutique hotel business is “the fastest growing segment in the industry,” IHG said that Kimpton, with its distinctive designs and decors, will be “highly complementary with IHG’s Hotel Indigo and EVEN Hotels brands.” The purchaser said it would speed up the growth of Kimpton in the U.S. and introduce the brand in foreign destinations, citing a “significant opportunity” for expansion in Europe and Asia. There will be no immediate impact on customers; Kimpton told members of its Karma Rewards plan in an email that its program and the IHG Rewards Club “will continue to run as separate loyalty programs” for the time being.

Starwood expands free Wi-Fi. On the heels of a similar announcement by Marriott two months ago, Starwood Hotels & Resorts said that effective February 2, 2015, members of its Starwood Preferred Guest program who book their rooms directly through a Starwood digital channel including websites and mobile apps will get free standard in-room Wi-Fi access at all the company’s brands. Starwood already offers free Internet at its Aloft, Element, and Four Points by Sheraton brands in North America, and to SPG Platinum members. Starwood’s other brands include St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, W, Westin, Le Meridien and Sheraton.

Hilton digital check-in goes live. Hilton Worldwide announced last week that guests who use its Hilton HHonors app can now check in digitally at more than 4,100 of its properties worldwide in 11 brands, using their own smartphones, tablets or desktops. They can also use the app to select a specific room for their stay. Next year, Hilton said, it will expand the app’s functionality so guests can unlock their room doors with their smartphones, starting with its Conrad, Hilton, Waldorf Astoria and Canopy by Hilton brands. Have you tried digital check-in with any hotels yet? Any problems?

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Delta bumps bennies + BART-Oakland sets date + LAX airlines move + Hilton HHonors hacked + W in Beijing

Delta has expanded its popular Porsche pick up service to three more airports (Photo: Delta)

AIRLINES

Delta expands Porsche transfers, expedites at Heathrow. Delta continues to lead the way when it comes to adding new services for its best customers. For example, last week it announced an expansion of its Porsche tarmac transfer program to three more airports — New York LaGuardia, Seattle-Tacoma and Detroit Metro. The program offers gate-to-gate rides in Porsche vehicles for select SkyMiles Diamond Medallion members who have tight connecting times. It’s already offered at Atlanta, New York JFK, Los Angeles and Minneapolis-St. Paul. (Here’s a video showing how it works.) At London Heathrow’s Terminal 3, meanwhile, Delta BusinessElite passengers arriving by private car service can now take advantage of an expedited greeting service in which Virgin Atlantic concierge staffers will meet them curbside with boarding passes, take their luggage, and speed them through security to the Virgin Clubhouse. Delta says, “On arrival at London Heathrow Terminal 3, Delta Air Lines BusinessElite customers can now enjoy a seamless and stress-free transfer from car to lounge in less than 10 minutes via the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class Wing.” Keep in mind that many of Delta’s flights at Heathrow (including those to/from Detroit and Minneapolis) use Terminal 4 where this service is not available. Delta’s Atlanta-London flights switched to Terminal 3 from Terminal 4 on October 26.

The AirBART station is located at the front door of Oakland International

The AirBART station is located at the front door of Oakland International

BART-Oakland Airport sets date. Bay Area Rapid Transit officials have finally announced an opening date for the new BART rail link to Oakland International Airport. On Saturday, November 22 the new automated trains will transport riders from BART’s Coliseum station to the new Oakland Airport station every five minutes during peak hours; the ride takes eight minutes. The ride from the Coliseum station to/from downtown SF takes about 25 minutes. BART fares between the new Oakland Airport station and downtown San Francisco will be $10.05. That’s a nice break from cab fares which run as high as $75-$80. Are you more likely to use Oakland Airport now? Leave your comments below. 

Virgin America posts another profit. After dipping back into the red in the first quarter of 2014, Virgin America was solidly profitable in the third quarter, reporting net income of $41.6 million and a healthy operating margin of 12.9 percent. After years of operating in the red since its founding in 2007, Virgin has been profitable now for five of the last six quarters, putting it in a good position for its upcoming initial public offering. Virgin said in an SEC filing last week that its IPO shares will be priced at $21 to $24, valuing the company at up to $1 billion. The anticipated $320 million from the share sale should allow Virgin to move ahead with an ambitious expansion plan to buy new planes and add new routes.

Sneeze alarm. With all the concern about disease lately, especially as it affects travelers, you might get a little paranoid when a fellow passenger on your flight sneezes. Did you ever wonder just how far that sneeze can travel? Check out this video — if you dare.

American adds Europe routes. American Airlines has unveiled plans to add a pair of new routes to Europe next spring. On May 7, AA will inaugurate new daily narrowbody 757 flights from New York JFK to Birmingham, England. And on May 14, the company will kick off daily 767-300 flights from its Miami hub to Frankfurt.

AIRPORTS

The nice new Star Alliance lounge at LAX's new Tom Bradley International Terminal (Air New Zealand)

The nice new Star Alliance lounge at LAX’s new Tom Bradley International Terminal (Air New Zealand)

Air New Zealand, US Airways move at LAX. Effective December 3, Air New Zealand will set up shop in Los Angeles International’s refurbished Tom Bradley International Terminal 3, moving out of Terminal 2. That will give premium customers easy access to the new Star Alliance Lounge at LAX, which Air New Zealand manages. The carrier operates twice-daily service to Auckland (to be increased next summer to 17 a week) and one flight a day to London from LAX. Meanwhile, American Airlines affiliate US Airways last week moved from Terminal 3 to Terminal 6, gates 60-63, “with convenient access to connections on flights operated by American Airlines at Terminal 4 through an underground connector,” American said. “Shuttle service is also available to Terminal 4 and the Remote Terminal for American Eagle flights.”

Featured: Our latest credit card bonus offers

New airside connector at SFO. We’ve heard (but not confirmed) that the new airside connection between SFO’s fabulously famous Terminal 2 (Virgin America & American) and the more prosaic Terminal 1C (Delta’s boarding area) has opened. This means that Delta flyers socked in by delays now have some exciting new dining and retail options once they are behind security.

Outdoor spaces are the craze these days. Here's what JetBlue's will soon look like at JFK (Image: JetBlue)

Outdoor spaces are the craze these days. Here’s what JetBlue’s will soon look like at JFK (Image: JetBlue)

JetBlue’s JFK terminal grows. On Wednesday (November 12), JetBlue will open a $200 million extension of its home base, Terminal 5 at New York JFK, to be used for international flights. (The airline’s international arrivals currently use leased gates at Terminal 4.) The new six-gate expansion offers full federal inspection facilities in an arrivals hall and 40 automated passport readers. JetBlue plans to develop a public outdoor area on the new facility’s rooftop, akin to the popular High Line park in Manhattan. Meanwhile, Air France has finished a complete renovation of its two-level lounge at JFK’s Terminal 1.

Popular: Oddball credit card offers reap big rewards

HOTELS

Hackers hitting HHonors accounts. How safe are your points in Hilton’s HHonors loyalty program? Recent online reports indicate that hackers have been raiding some accounts, not only stealing points — and in some cases selling them — but also gaining access to members’ credit card information.

Related: Hilton’s newest hotel in Honolulu

Hotels roll out keyless entry apps. Starwood and Hilton last week both announced new app functionality that will allow guests to open their room doors with smartphones. The Starwood Preferred Guest app’s new SPG Keyless feature is available now at 10 select Aloft, W, and Element hotels, with more to come in the months ahead; it allows SPG members who book directly with the company to bypass the front desk and go directly to their preassigned room, where a tap of their Bluetooth-enabled phone will unlock the door. Hilton said keyless entry will be available through its HHonors mobile app starting in 2015 at its Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, Conrad and Canopy brands, and at all 11 of its brands in 2016. The app will also work with other locked areas in Hilton’s hotels such as executive floors, fitness centers and garages.

A room at the new W Beijing located near the Forbidden City (Photo: Starwood)

A room at the new W Beijing located near the Forbidden City (Photo: Starwood)

Openings in Beijing, Sydney, Paris. The newest hotel in China’s capital city is Starwood’s 349-room W Beijing-Chang’an, located close to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Each room is equipped with a digital tablet that controls its lighting, 48-inch TV and Bluetooth sound system… InterContinental Hotels Corp. has cut the ribbon on the InterContinental Sydney Double Bay Hotel a few miles from that city’s central business district; the 140-room property is a luxury remaking of the former Double Bay Hotel … Hilton scheduled a January opening for the 268-room Hilton Paris Opera in the heart of the French capital; the company spent $50 million restoring and improving the 125-year-old building, formerly the Concorde Paris Opera.

In Case You Missed It…

>Check out these two airline credit cards for bonus benefits.

>American Express has opened a Centurion Lounge at San Francisco International.

>Two airlines offer free in-flight Wi-Fi.

>Here are six tips for securing the best air fare.

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

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Delta raises bar for Medallions + More LAX flights + Ebola poll results + Delta back in Love

This is part one of this weekend’s Catching Up on Travel News (part 2 comes tomorrow)

AIRLINES

Delta keeps making moves to improve the ride for it's customers with deepest pockets.

Delta keeps making moves to improve the ride for it’s customers with deepest pockets. (Photo: Jim Glab)

Delta tightens SkyMiles rules — again. Will United? In the latest tweak to its ever-changing SkyMiles program, Delta is increasing by 20 percent the minimum spend required during 2015 to achieve 2016 Medallion status — e.g., Medallion Qualifying Dollar requirements go from $2,500 to $3,000 for Silver status and so on, up to $15,000 for Diamond from the current $12,500. Delta says it is upping the ante to increase exclusivity of higher status– much like it’s done with more restrictions on guests allowed in Sky Clubs to control crowding. And keep an eye on United, which in keeping with it’s WWDD (What Would Delta Do) policy of mimicking every Delta move, could impose similar higher spending requirements. Is it working to make the experience more exclusive? We frequently hear from both sides of this issue, so please leave your comments below.

Another Delta squeeze. In another change, Delta will downgrade its Basic Economy fares (E fares). Effective February 15, passengers on those low-cost fares (typically on fares where the carrier competes with the likes of Spirit or Frontier) will not be able to get free Medallion upgrades, paid upgrades or advance seat selection; no refunds, changes or same-day standbys are allowed; and Preferred and Economy Comfort seats are off-limits.

Delta gets more time at DAL. Instead of being forced out of Dallas Love Field on October 13 as reported earlier, Delta will now get a reprieve at least until January 6 to keep operating its five daily DAL-ATL flights. What changed? Southwest Airlines — which controls 16 of DAL’s 20 gates — agreed to let Delta use one of them for a few months, and United anted up ticket counter space as well. Delta has been subleasing two gates from American Airlines, but those will be transferred to Virgin America this week.

An American Airlines B737-800 will soon fly ATL-LAX (Photo: BriYYZ / Flickr)

An American Airlines B737-800 will soon fly ATL-LAX (Photo: BriYYZ / Flickr)

American adds another key ATL route. A week ago, American revealed plans to revive LaGuardia-Atlanta service on January 6. And now AA announced another stab at the heart of Delta’s network: It will begin three flights a day between Atlanta and its Los Angeles International hub on March 5, and is already taking reservations. LAX-ATL will be a mainline AA route, operated with 737-800s. So for those of you who say you are ready to dump Delta for a carrier that (so far) has not made the move toward revenue-based frequent flyer rewards, you now have more options.

Ebola fears in check. Based on our recent Ebola Fear Poll and post, it sounds like frequent travelers are not too alarmed about the possibility of contracting Ebola. With nearly 500 votes from TravelSkills readers in so far, 68% say that they are not fearful about Ebola, 22% say they are somewhat fearful and just 10% say that they are very fearful. Have you participated in the poll? In case you missed it, here’s one of the most viral travel videos this week showing hazmat crews entering a plane where a passenger joked about having ebola. VIDEO

How fearful are you of the possibility of contracting ebola?

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(click on the vote button or the clear looking button to cast your vote)

wipesSpeaking of germs, we got a kick out of this email from TravelSkills reader MM about a recent flight where she was seated next to one of the 10% who are very fearful of Ebola: Dear Chris: I had to share an inflight experience I had tonight traveling from DFW to the ATL.  So I am seated on a three seat row, when a passenger seated beside me (I was stuck in the middle seat) gets to her aisle seat to settle in. I said a quick hello and continued looking at my phone.  She then began to pluck what I appeared to be antibacterial wipes from a container…they were ALCOHOL wipes—big ones!!  She proceeded to stand up and wipe down her entire seat…every inch…seat belt included..straps too.  Then she wiped down her tray table, light and ac controls, arm rests…the whole kit-kat and caboodle!  By this time, I am having flashbacks to having my ears pierced in seventh grade at Rich’s department store where they doused you in alcohol.  Then she neatly sat down.  There were so many fumes that I felt like I needed the pull down the oxygen mask before take off!  This is what happens when the fear of germs affects the quality of flight I thought to myself. Then I smiled and thought…I couldn’t wait to email TravelSkills about this!  I am anti-germy myself but keep my hand sanitizer neatly tucked away.  This woman was ready to do battle with bacteria!  Oh, the stories that will emerge from all this…”

HOTELS

Marriott's new wireless charger

Marriott’s new Kube wireless charger

Marriott tries a new tech amenity. if you see an odd black box in a Marriott lobby, don’t hesitate to put your phone on it — that’s what it’s for. Marriott installed Kube Systems wireless charging stations in the lobbies of 29 hotels, acting on a suggestion from customers at its idea website, www.TravelBrilliantly.com. Besides the wireless charging surface, the boxes have built-in connectors to power up to six devices.

In Case You Missed It…

>Looks like a major renovation is in store for New York’s iconic Waldorf-Astoria following its sale by Hilton to a Chinese insurance company for nearly $2 billion.

>Airline lounge memberships: Why they’re not for everyone.

>Try these tips for catching some Zs in your hotel room.

>Eight essential tips for business trips to San Francisco.

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

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Free inflight texting + Another 747 flies away + Lufthansa’s new premium economy + PreCheck not so special

AIRLINES

T-Mobile CMO Mike Sievert addresses the media at the Un-carrier 7.0 event  in San Francisco. (Photo: Jed Jacobsohn)

T-Mobile CMO Mike Sievert reveals new Gogo partnership in San Francisco. (Photo: Jed Jacobsohn)

Free inflight texting & voicemail. Starting September 17, T-Mobile customers can get free in-flight texting and voicemail service on all 2,000 U.S. aircraft equipped with Gogo Inflight Internet Wi-Fi. “To access the free messaging and voicemail services, T-Mobile customers will need to have their Wi-Fi Calling-enabled phone in airplane mode and connected to Gogo Wi-Fi.  From there, they simply launch their browser, verify they’re a T-Mobile customer, and follow the instructions,” Gogo told TravelSkills. (Interesting side: Gogo’s stock jumped 10% after this new deal became public last week.) If you don’t already use T-Mobile, does this make you want to switch? Leave your comments below. 

Click to see TVOne news report on Air New Zealand's final 747 flight from SFO

Click to see TVOne news report on Air New Zealand’s final 747 flight from SFO

End of an era at Air New Zealand. The latest airline to mothball its last 747 is Air New Zealand, which has flown the Boeing jumbos for 33 years. Its final 747-400 left San Francisco for Auckland last week, then was taken out of service. The carrier now uses 777s and 787s on transpacific routes. Meanwhile, Air New Zealand will add a third daily roundtrip to its LAX-Auckland route three days a week from April through October 2015.

Southwest boosts on-time record. Has Southwest Airlines figured out how to overcome its recent problems with late flights? The airline’s August performance showed a big improvement in on-time operations, up 10 percentage points from July when it (and JetBlue) were stuck at the very bottom of the the DOT’s on-time performance rankings.

Recent: How to choose the best new carry-on bag

Lufthansa's new premium economy seat on display at the Global Business Travel Association convention in August (Chris McGinnis)

Lufthansa’s new premium economy seat on display at the Global Business Travel Association convention in August (Chris McGinnis)

Lufthansa details premium economy service. Star Alliance member Lufthansa will debut its long-promised premium economy section in a few months, and it has posted a new website with details of what the service will provide to passengers and its planned schedule of deployment on international routes. It will be introduced starting in December on 747-8s from FRA to ORD, LAX and IAD; by late April on A380s to IAH, JFK, MIA and SFO; and in May 2015 on A340-600s to LAX, EWR and SFO.

Airline Wi-Fi searches. If you’re flying on United and you’d like to know in advance whether or not your aircraft is Wi-Fi equipped, you can look it up on this United website.  Passengers on Southwest can do the same thing with the carrier’s online Wi-Fi Finder. United & Southwest have taken the proactive step of notifying passengers on the day before their flight if the plane has wi-fi. (Whether or not the wi-fi is operational is another question ….)

Popular on TravelSkills: Another British Airways A380 for the US

The new soy ginger marinated salmon salad now onboard Virgin America (Photo: Virgin America)

The new soy ginger marinated salmon salad now onboard Virgin America (Photo: Virgin America)

Virgin America enhances front cabin menus. First class flyers on Virgin America will see a slate of new menu options this fall from celebrity chefs like Hiro Sone, Staffan Terje, Chris Beerman and Elizabeth Binder. New entrees include things like a grilled mushroom medley, soy ginger marinated salmon salad, roasted chicken with artichokes, ginger pepper noodles, and Marrakesh chicken salad. NOTE: If you fly Virgin America into San Francisco before Dec 14, bring your boarding pass to the Humphry Slocombe ice cream store in the Ferry Building marketplace for a free scoop! (It’s also served onboard flights departing SFO.)

Texas all-you-can-fly air service plans autumn start. A Texas entrepreneur plans to launch a new small-plane air service this fall with an all-you-can-fly policy for flat-fee memberships, according to the Dallas Business Journal. Called Rise, its eight-passenger Beechcraft King Air 350 turboprops will initially concentrate on the busy Dallas-Houston market with high-frequency service. Memberships will cost $1,650 to $2,650 a month, and Rise will use its own terminal at Love Field. The former CEO of California’s Surf Air — which has a similar business model — is executive chairman of Rise.

Please join the 50,000+ people who read TravelSkills every month! Sign up here for one email-per-day updates!

AIRPORTS

Mock up of what the new dining terrace at LAX Terminal 2 will look like

Mock up of what the new dining terrace at LAX Terminal 2 will look like

LAX shows plans for T2 overhaul. The Westfield Group, in partnership with Los Angeles World Airports, has created a video showcasing its plans for bringing 20 new retail and dining concessionaires to LAX’s Terminal 2. The revamped T2 will have a dozen dining outlets — twice as many as it has now — and will feature outlets of several local restaurants. The project, now underway, should be finished next year. (Currently, T2 primarily serves international carriers.) Terminal 2 is home to ten domestic and international airlines, including Aeroméxico, Air Canada, Hawaiian Air and Virgin Atlantic. 

Wi-Fi Update: Sites monitor airports, hotels. The folks at Cheapflights.com have compiled a handy guide to Wi-Fi at 25 major U.S. airports, including how to access it, whether it’s free or paid. Meanwhile, hotelwifitest.com — which lets users see the data speeds typically achieved at major hotels — enhanced its service so the results can be viewed directly by users of major hotel booking sites. “After a one-click install, the extension will automatically display the WiFi information block whenever you open a hotel page on Hotels.com, Expedia, Booking.com, or TripAdvisor,” the company told us.

SECURITY

TSA: Most travelers now use expedited lanes. Remember the early days of TSA’s PreCheck program when you were whisked through expedited screening while everyone else lingered in long lines? Those days are gone: TSA now sends more than half of all travelers through the expedited checks — not just PreCheck members, but various categories of low-risk flyers and persons selected randomly from regular lines. This is reportedly reducing wait times for all passengers — but early adopters of PreCheck certainly don’t feel so special any more.

CARS

Volkswagen's sporty new GTI now in the National fleet (Photo: VW)

Volkswagen’s sporty new GTI now in the National fleet (Photo: VW)

New cars at National. Members of National’s Emerald Club will have access starting this fall to new 2015 models in the company’s Emerald Aisle locations nationwide, including the Volkswagen GTI, Chrysler 200, Dodge Challenger, Jeep Cherokee, Mazda6, Mustang and Lincoln MKC. Some locations will also offer new Mazda MX-5 Miatas and Hyundai Velosters.

HOTELS

Marriott innovation: Healthy food from a machine. Hotel vending machines typically dispense candy bars and high-sodium snacks. But the Chicago Marriott O’Hare is trying out a new option: Fresh, healthy food from a vending machine. Priced from $3 to $12, options include things like the Detox Salad (kale, quinoa, fruits and beans); low-fat Greek yogurt with berries; and chicken breast from antibiotic-free, humanely raised birds.

In Case You Missed It…

Chris evaluates Virgin America’s LAX Loft lounge.

British Airways is bringing its A380 to San Francisco.

You can pile up bonus points with these fall hotel promotions

Southwest Airlines unveils a new logo and aircraft livery

–Jim Glab & Chris McGinnis

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A bright spot at LAX’s drab Terminal 3

Virgin America's Loft at LAX is hidden away in the upper level of Terminal 3 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Virgin America’s Loft at LAX is hidden away in the upper level of Terminal 3 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Anyone who has flown through Terminal 3 at Los Angeles International Airport knows that, despite efforts to gussy it up, it is a hulking relic from the 1960s.

To get inside, you must first pass through a TSA screening area wedged in a cramped, low-ceilinged and awkward space (that luckily has a mostly fast-moving PreCheck line). Once inside, there’s a Burger King, a Starbucks, a grab and go bakery and a few Hudson’s news shops. The outpost of LA’s popular Gladstone’s seafood restaurant is nice, but there’s frequently a line to get in, especially when flights are delayed.

Terminal 3 is the LAX home of Allegiant, Virgin America, Frontier, JetBlue and Spirit Airlines- all low-cost, low-fare carriers that don’t really have the funds for deep terminal renovations like Delta has underway at Terminal 5…or that the major international carriers (and the city) have created at the outstanding new Bradley International terminal.

Virgin's LAX Loft is not huge, but it feels that way due to brightness from floor to ceiling windows (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Virgin’s LAX Loft is not huge, but it feels that way due to brightness from floor to ceiling windows (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Standing out from the drab dreariness of Terminal 3 is Virgin America’s colorful LAX Loft. I have known about the Loft for a while– via Virgin’s PR machine, from TravelSkills readers, and from reading the lounge’s mixed reviews in the blogosphere. It’s been open since 2012.

Since I’ve had relatively good luck with flight delays at LAX, I have never had reason to decamp from the main terminal, so I’d never seen it in person.

When Virgin invited me to check it out during my recent trip to LA, I jumped at the chance.

Here’s the lowdown:

Entering the Virgins' LAX loft is like entering one of its planes. Moody & mod. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Entering the Virgins’ LAX loft is like entering one of its planes. Moody & mod. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Entry: Anyone traveling on Virgin America or its partner airlines can pay a $40 fee to enter the Loft. Full-fare first class passengers on long haul flights get in free. So do Gold and Silver Elevate members with their annually allotted day passes. Priority Pass or Lounge Club cardholders (plus companions) can also get in without a fee by presenting a valid membership card.

It’s located on the upper level of the terminal main gate area, accessible by elevators or a staircase and is open daily from 6am to 11pm. LAX is one of Virgin’s two primary hubs, so there is a steady stream of passengers all day long who might duck into the club.

Endlessly entertaining views plus loaner binoculars. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Endlessly entertaining views plus loaner binoculars. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The views: The club’s most outstanding feature? The breathtaking runway views. Plane-spotters can just sit back, relax and watch those colorful tails LAX is known for float by on the runway. Endlessly entertaining!

Wi-fi: free, password-protected, very fast and much better than the LAX’s free wi-fi. Plus, in Virgin style, there there are plenty of power plugs all over the place.

Design: It’s fun, mood lit and very much in keeping with what you see onboard Virgin America flights- lots of red, white and black. Modern furnishings (like Frank Gehry tables and big red Vitra sofas) float on a glossy gray (recycled material) floor. Regrettably, there is scant desk or table space for business travelers planning to get some work done. There’s a lively bar area, several separate seating areas, bathrooms, a marble-topped snack buffet and big views out to runways. There’s even a pair of powerful binoculars to check out what’s happening outside the big floor to ceiling windows.

I visited during late morning and only saw breakfast offerings like fruit, yogurt, pastries and cereal. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

I visited during late morning and only saw breakfast offerings like fruit, yogurt, pastries and cereal. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Food: Basic but good. There used to be a more elaborate buffet when Virgin Australia passengers used this lounge. But since that carrier moved into the Bradley International terminal last December, the repast is now on par with what you may find at most domestic US airline lounges- the current Loft menu in the morning includes pastries, bagels, breads, yogurt, fresh fruits, juices, cereal, and an espresso bar. In the afternoon/evenings, there is hot soup, breads, a cheese platter, fresh fruit, cookies and grab-and-go snacks like Krave Jerky and mixed nuts.

Hanging out at the bar and soaking up what's going on outside. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Hanging out at the bar and soaking up what’s going on outside. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Cocktails: Complimentary! I noted booze brands such as Glenfiddich, Jack Daniels, Tanqueray Sapphire, Bacardi and Sauza. Plus there are a couple vats of fruited, iced waters and an espresso bar. In addition to the usual beverages  you can also order “Lofty Libations” crafted by the bartender that include the Virgintini, Mile-High Margarita and Runway Ruddy Mary.

If you were stuck at LAX would you pony up the $40 for a visit? Have you visited Virgin’s LAX Loft? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

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Virgin Atlantic adds new ATL, SFO & DTW flights

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Riding British Airways Red Carpet Route to London

London's Regent Street decked out in US flags and NFL banners amid rumors of a possible London NFL team. (Photo Chris McGinnis)

London’s Regent Street decked out in US flags and NFL banners amid rumors of a possible London NFL team. (Photo Chris McGinnis)

With the sights and sounds of the San Francisco 49ers playing at Wembley Stadium on TV today,  it’s a perfect time for me to write about my latest business trip to London, my favorite city in the world.

First class flight attendants pass pre-flight glasses of Laurent Perrier Grand Seicle Champagne (Chris McGinnis)

First class flight attendants pass pre-flight glasses of Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle Champagne (Chris McGinnis)

Last month British Airways invited me to fly from Los Angeles to London aboard its brand new Airbus A380. With typical British pomp, BA is cleverly calling this “The Red Carpet Route,” due to the heavy film industry traffic between the two cities.

LAX-LHR  is the type of route where movie stars and industry moguls actually pay the $19,216 first class (or $7,356 business class) round trip fare. While I saw no big stars aboard my flight, Kate Moss was in the line next to me at customs at Heathrow.

BA’s departure from LAX is late—8:45 pm, which means you can get in a full day’s work, board and eat a quick meal after departure, go to sleep (hopefully) and wake up in time for arrival in London at about 3:00 pm the following day. Those in the Bay Area who would like to give BA’s A380 a try can jump on a cheap flight down to LAX, transfer over to the airport’s shiny new Tom Bradley International Terminal to board BA’s jumbo for the 9.5-hour flight to London.

Most carriers flying the A380 have first and business class on the upper deck, and economy class on the lower or “main” deck. BA has opted to keep premium passengers at “the front of the plane.” This means first class and business class sections are located at the front end of the upper and main deck and economy class is at the back end of both the upper and main deck. Take a video tour of BA’s A380 here.

Below are some notes and 12 photos from my trip. Enjoy!

View over the A380's enormous wing from main deck business class (Chris McGinnis)

View over the A380’s enormous wing from main deck business class. There’s room for 469 passengers on this big bird: 14 giant first class “suites”, 97 business class seats, 55 premium economy seats and 303 economy seats. First and business class seats are at “the front of the plane” on both the main (lower) and upper decks.  (Chris McGinnis)

 

These are two "suites" at the rear of of the first class section. Window suites have two windows with electronic ally controlled shades. All first class seats have their own closet for coats and shoes. (Chris McGinnis)

These are two “suites” at the rear of of the first class section; configured 1-2-1. Window suites angle outward toward to windows with electronically controlled shades. In full flat recline, the seat is 7 feet long. Nice: each seat has its own valet closet for hanging suits or coats and storing shoes. When it’s time to bed down, flight attendants make up the bed with a feather bed pad that lies on top of the seat, swathed in an all cotton comforter and full sized pillows. (Chris McGinnis)

 

British Airways trademark Yin-Yang seats are both forward and rear facing. To avoid awkward eye contact, a translucent privacy screen rises between seats after take off (Chris McGinnis)

British Airways trademark Yin-Yang business class seats are both forward and rear facing, configured 2-4-2. (Chris McGinnis)

The translucent privacy screen allow flight attendants to see through when looking down at window seat passenger (Chris McGinnis)

To avoid awkward face-to-face eye contact, a translucent privacy screen rises between seats after take off. This screen allows flight attendants to see through when looking down at window seat passenger (Chris McGinnis)

 

At this angle (looking toward seat mate) view is obscured in BA business class (Chris McGinnis)

At this angle (looking toward seat mate) view is obscured in BA business class (Chris McGinnis)

 

In economy class, seats are configured 3-4-3. Each seat has a large video screen with hundreds of options (Chris McGinnis)

In economy class, seats are configured 3-4-3. Standard economy pitch is 31 inches. In premium economy, pitch it 38 inches. Each seat has a large video screen with hundreds of entertainment options (Chris McGinnis)

 

Similar to Virgin America's Red system, passengers can send text messages between seats on British Airways A380 (Chris McGinnis)

Similar to Virgin America’s seatback Red system, passengers can send text messages between seats via “High Life Chat” on British Airways A380 (Chris McGinnis)

Wow! Check out the superb presentation of "Herb roasted organic chicken with a morel fava & pancetta ragout" for first class passengers (Chris McGinnis)

Wow! Check out the superb presentation of “herb roasted organic chicken with a morel fava & pancetta ragout” for first class passengers (Chris McGinnis)

 

This is "12 month aged serrano ham with roasted tomato timbale & shallot dressing" in first class (Chris McGinnis)

This is “12 month aged serrano ham with roasted tomato timbale & shallot dressing” in first class (Chris McGinnis)

 

A business class starter: "Oxspring cured ham with spiced black fig & goat's curd salad." (Chris McGinnis)

A business class starter: “Oxspring cured ham with spiced black fig & goat’s curd salad.” (Chris McGinnis)

 

No problem with carry on space on this big bird-- the A380 has some of the largest overhead bins I've ever seen. My briefcase is dwarfed by the space! (Chris McGinnis)

No problem with carry on space on this behemoth– the A380 has some of the largest overhead bins I’ve ever seen. My briefcase is dwarfed by the space! (Chris McGinnis)

 

Check out this wall of Global Entry kiosks at the new international terminal at LAX. 13 in all! I was through customs in 3 minutes! (Chris McGinnis)

Check out this wall of Global Entry kiosks at the new international terminal at LAX. 13 in all! I was through customs in 3 minutes! (Chris McGinnis)

Chris McGinnis

 

 


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8 things to like about Delta’s new California Shuttle

 

Nice view out the window as  the Delta California Shuttle arrives at LAX. (Chris McGinnis)

Nice view out the window as the Delta California Shuttle arrives at LAX. (Chris McGinnis)

Good news for TravelSkills readers who spend a lot of time on the West Coast! In early September,  Delta added hourly “California Shuttle” flights between San Francisco International and Los Angeles International using a fleet of Embraer 175 jets. And last week, Delta  announced that starting next April it will add six flights per day between SFO and Seattle using the same type of aircraft. 

Delta now offers up to 15 flights per day on the busy SFO-LAX route using the 76-seat Embraer 175 operated by its partner Compass Airlines. Flights depart SFO as early as 6 a.m. and return from LAX as late as 9 p.m.

Delta recently invited me to give the new service a try on a Tues-Sat trip from SFO to LAX.

Here’s what I liked:

Loath crowds? Delta's Terminal 1 is nearly empty mid-afternoon (Chris McGinnis)

Loath crowds? Delta’s Terminal 1 is nearly empty mid-afternoon (Chris McGinnis)

1> A ghost town of a terminal for my mid afternoon flight south on a Tuesday at  4 pm. That’s likely to change as Delta bulks up at SFO with even more flights to Seattle next spring. But be warned: Delta’s Terminal 5 at LAX is much busier, more crowded, and currently undergoing a major renovation, which will be complete in 2015.

Deserted PreCheck lines at Delta's Terminal 1 Boarding area C security checkpoint (Chris McGinnis)

Deserted PreCheck lines at Delta’s Terminal 1 Boarding area C security checkpoint (Chris McGinnis)

2> Fast and easy check in (including PreCheck) and security at Delta’s nearly exclusive terminal 1, Boarding Area C location.

Onboard a recent Delta Embraer 175 flight SFO-LAX (Chris McGinnis)

Onboard a recent Delta Embraer 175 flight SFO-LAX (Chris McGinnis)

3> Nice, new, roomy Embraer 175 jets w big square windows, all leather seats and overhead bins large enough for my rollaboard bag.

 

Delta's Economy Comfort seats onboard the Embraer 175 (Chris McGinnis)

Delta’s Economy Comfort seats onboard the Embraer 175 (Chris McGinnis)

4> Three classes: standard economy (52 seats) , Economy Comfort (12) configured 2-2;  first class (12) configured 1-2.

Full first class section on Delta's California Shuttle to LAX. Note the Great Dane service dog in the bulkhead! (Chris McGinnis)

Full first class section on Delta’s California Shuttle to LAX. Note the Great Dane service dog in the bulkhead! (Chris McGinnis)

5> The first class section was full on both my south and northbound flights. Economy almost empty on the way down from SFO, full on the 9:30pm Saturday night departure from LAX

Healthy inflight dining for first AND coach passengers (Chris McGinnis)

Healthy inflight snacks for first AND coach passengers (Chris McGinnis)

6> Super friendly, eager to please flight attendants and healthy, organic snacks like edamame hummus, raw sunflower seeds, whole grain crackers, raw veggies– for both first and economy passengers.

7> Gogo wifi on all flights (although my connection was spotty)

8> Free beverages, beer and wine, for all passengers in first and  economy include Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. craft beer, Starbucks coffee and Wente Vineyards wines.

Although Delta paid for my ticket, fares are always low on this hyper competitive route, no matter what airline you fly. Currently, economy fares range from about $100 to $350 round trip, depending on how far in advance you book. First class runs $300-$500 round trip.

Chris McGinnis

 


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8 things to like about Delta’s new California Shuttle

Delta California Shuttle's low altitude swing over LA offers some impressive views! (Chris McGinnis)

Delta California Shuttle’s low altitude swing over LA offers some impressive views! (Chris McGinnis)

In early September,  Delta added hourly “California Shuttle” flights between San Francisco International and Los Angeles International using a fleet of Embraer 175 jets. And last week, the Atlanta-based carrier announced that starting next April it will add six flights per day between SFO and Seattle using the same type of aircraft.

Delta now offers up to 15 flights per day on the busy SFO-LAX route using the 76-seat Embraer 175 operated by its partner Compass Airlines. Flights depart SFO as early as 6 a.m. and return from LAX as late as 9 p.m.

Delta recently invited me to give the new service a try on a Tues-Sat trip from SFO to LAX.

Here’s what I liked:

Loath crowds? Delta's Terminal 1 is nearly empty mid-afternoon (Chris McGinnis)

Loath crowds? Delta’s Terminal 1 is nearly empty mid-afternoon (Chris McGinnis)

1> A ghost town of a terminal for my mid afternoon flight south on a Tuesday at  4 pm. That’s likely to change as Delta bulks up at SFO with even more flights to Seattle next spring. But be warned: Delta’s Terminal 5 at LAX is much busier, more crowded, and currently undergoing a major renovation, which will be complete in 2015.

Deserted PreCheck lines at Delta's Terminal 1 Boarding area C security checkpoint (Chris McGinnis)

Deserted PreCheck lines at Delta’s Terminal 1 Boarding area C security checkpoint (Chris McGinnis)

2> Fast and easy check in (including PreCheck) and security at Delta’s nearly exclusive terminal 1, Boarding Area C location.

Onboard a recent Delta Embraer 175 flight SFO-LAX (Chris McGinnis)

Onboard a recent Delta Embraer 175 flight SFO-LAX (Chris McGinnis)

3> Nice, new, roomy Embraer 175 jets w big square windows, all leather seats and overhead bins large enough for my rollaboard bag.

 

Delta's Economy Comfort seats onboard the Embraer 175 (Chris McGinnis)

Delta’s Economy Comfort seats onboard the Embraer 175 (Chris McGinnis)

4> Three classes: standard economy (52 seats) , Economy Comfort (12) configured 2-2;  first class (12) configured 1-2.

Full first class section on Delta's California Shuttle to LAX. Note the Great Dane service dog in the bulkhead! (Chris McGinnis)

Full first class section on Delta’s California Shuttle to LAX. Note the Great Dane service dog in the bulkhead! (Chris McGinnis)

5> The first class section was full on both my south and northbound flights. Economy almost empty on the way down, full on the 9:30pm Saturday night departure from LAX

Healthy inflight dining for first AND coach passengers (Chris McGinnis)

Healthy inflight snacks for first AND coach passengers (Chris McGinnis)

6> Super friendly, eager to please flight attendants and healthy, organic snacks like edamame hummus, raw sunflower seeds, whole grain crackers, raw veggies– for both first and economy passengers.

7> Gogo wifi on all flights (although my connection was spotty)

8> Free beverages, beer and wine, for all passengers in first and  economy include Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. craft beer, Starbucks coffee and Wente Vineyards wines.

Although Delta paid for my ticket, fares are always low on this hyper competitive route, no matter what airline you fly. Currently, economy fares range from about $100 to $350 round trip, depending on how far in advance you book. First class runs $300-$500 round trip.


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United’s new seat + Delta dumps SFO-NRT + New Star Lounge at LAX

United's new slim line seats for B737s. (United)

United’s new slim line seats for B737s. (United)

United unveiled a newer, thinner seat design this week that looks great, but time will tell how well it performs comfort-wise.

The new seats are sheathed in sculpted blue leather with more ergonomic support. There’s a new mesh net storage space at knee level which is more hygienic; magazines are stored in a higher pocket above the tray table.

New seatbacks on slimline seat on CRJ700 (United)

New seatbacks on slimline seat on CRJ700 (United)

United also points out that it has reduced the weight and volume of the seat, which means better fuel economy. What United does not say is that it can cram more of these newer, thinner lighter seats on each plane, which means more revenue as well.

The Chicago Tribune reports: “[On the CRJ700] The company plans to cut the size of the more-expensive and roomier Economy Plus section in half to 16 seats, while the number of seats in coach will rise to 48 from 28. First class will remain the same with six seats. In total, the planes will have 70 seats up from 66. The legroom for each seat will remain the same, United said.”

Initially United will install the seats on its fleet of smaller CRJ700 aircraft, but eventually we’ll see 60,000 of the new seats on 400 aircraft by 2015.

DELTA DUMPS SFO-TOKYO- Who’s #2?

Just a few days after announcing yet another tranche of flights from the Bay Area (SFO-SEA) Delta quietly pulled its San Francisco-Tokyo flight, effective March 30 2014. Delta spokesperson Anthony Black confirmed the move to TravelSkills:  “We are ending service between SFO and NRT with the last westbound service effectiveFriday, March 28, 2014, and final eastbound service effective Sunday, March 30, 2014. Delta is suspending its nonstop service due to an unstable revenue environment caused by yen devaluation.”

Nonetheless, Delta’s recent bulk up of new flights from SFO (15x per day to LAX; 7 per day to SEA) led to some speculation between The  BAT and SFO officials about market share at SFO. If Delta had kept the Tokyo flight, it would have easily ranked #2 at SFO in terms of seats. But with the elimination of the Narita flight, Delta and Virgin could tie for #2 in terms of number of seats. But then we have to consider the possibility of the American-US Airways merger, which would catapult the merged carrier to #2. In 2012, United had 46% market share at SFO; Virgin had 9% and Delta & Southwest both had 8%.

The swank outdoor terrace at the new Star Alliance lounge at LAX (Chris McGinnis)

The swank outdoor terrace at the new Star Alliance lounge at LAX. Click image for slideshow!(Chris McGinnis)

SHINY NEW STAR ALLIANCE LOUNGE AT LAX (SLIDESHOW)

Last week, TravelSkills snagged a private tour of the new Star Alliance business/first class lounge located inside the renovated Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. Wow! What an improvement.

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The bright new space offers seating for around 400 Business Class and Star AllianceGold passengers, including an exclusive area for First Class passengers. Designed by architectural firm Gensler, the 18,000 square foot lounge features a unique open air terrace, with views of the northern runway towards the Hollywood Hills, and even includes fire pits and a water wall. There are two bars, eight shower rooms, enough electrical outlets to power an army, a buffet including a noodle bar, LEED certification (nice wood floors!) and an excellent collection of photographic art on all walls.

In total, eight Star Alliance member carriers operate out of the Tom Bradley International Terminal – ANA, Asiana Airlines, EVA Air, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, SWISS, THAI and Turkish Airlines. Air New Zealand will move to the terminal in mid-2014

Here’s a slideshow of what we saw!

Chris McGinnis


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Better SFO wi-fi + more TSA lanes + Southwest rules + OAK Connector + 50% p.s.

Here’s part 2 of our catch-up on the most important travel news for TravelSkills Readers from the last couple months. We’re sending out a couple installments of TravelSkills this week. ICYMI, here’s Part 1 of this week’s catch up!

Here's the hipster landing page you'll see when logging on to SFOFREEWIFI

Here’s the new hipster landing page you’ll see when logging on to SFO FREE WIFI

BETTER WIFI AT SFO. Logging on the (thankfully free) wi-fi at SFO became a clutter free experience this summer with an upgrade to a newer, faster network. Instead of a greeting of irritating ads, you can now log on with one click accepting terms and conditions, and boom, you are good to go for up to two hours.  Look for “SFO FREE WIFI.” When the airport is busy, the connections tend to slow down a bit, but hey, you get what you pay for, right?

The walls obscuring construction of SFO's T3 Premium security checkpoint (Chris McGinnis)

The walls obscuring construction of SFO’s T3 Premium security checkpoint (Chris McGinnis)

PREMIUM SECURITY EXPANSION AT SFO. Have you seen boarded up area adjacent to United’s Premium Security entry point (F-3) on the far western side of Terminal 3? Apparently, it’s hiding a significant expansion (six lanes, up from current four) of the frequently clogged security checkpoint, but we’ve not been able to squeeze any more details (such as opening dates) out of SFO yet. Stay tuned.

BART OAKLAND CONNECTOR UPDATE. The project to add an elevated spur line from BART’s coliseum station to Oakland Airport is on time and should open this time next year. The 3.2-mile ride should take just eight minutes and while fares have not been finalized, they could range from the current bus shuttle fare of $3 to as high as $8. The San Francisco Business Times reports that the project was initially pegged at just $100 million, but the final tab will be closer to $500 million. Now if we could just get BART to circle the Bay with a stop at San Jose Airport, we’d be world class! Will you be more likely to use Oakland Airport with the addition of the rail link? Please leave your comments below.

CHOOSE RENTAL CAR FROM PLANE? Yep. National Car Rental’s Emerald Club members will soon be able to fire up their phones when the plane touches down and using the new National smart phone app, choose among a real time display of available cars by make, model, even color. It’s sort of a virtual version of National’s popular Emerald Aisle where travelers who have reservations for a mid-sized or large car are allowed to choose any car on the lot. The new app will work at airports in Omaha, Richmond and Tulsa starting September 30 and National says it should be working at a total of 25 airports by the end of the year. Check out this video (above) of National’s Rob Connors explaining how it all works.

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Screen shot 2013-09-18 at 10.30.03 PM

(discoverlosangeles.com)

NEW LAX TERMINAL OPENS. This week marks the long awaited opening of the new $1.9 billion Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX. At 150,000 square feet, it’s half again as large as its dingy predecessor. The new curved-roof terminal we’ve all watched under construction in recent years is bathed in natural light, full of electronic art, mod furnishings, upscale dining and retail, new airline clubs and fantastic views of the tarmac and runways. (Sounds a lot like SFO’s Terminal 2, no?) The terminal is still a work in progress– it won’t be fully opened until 2015. To see more, check out this slideshow from the LA Times.

SOUTHWEST NO-SHOW NOW IN EFFECT. On Sept 13, Southwest’s new no-show policy went into effect. Customers who cancel a Wanna Get Away or Ding fare before departure can reuse their funds toward future travel without a change fee as in the past. Customers with other higher priced fully refundable fares either request a refund or hold funds for future travel. HOWEVER, if the ticket is not changed or canceled within 10 minutes of departure (no show), travelers lose the entire value of the ticket.

Inside San Diego's snappy new Terminal 2 West (Chris McGinnis)

Inside San Diego’s snappy new Terminal 2 West- those wavy lights are actually an art installation (Chris McGinnis)

SAN DIEGO MODERNIZES. Terminals at San Diego International’s 60s-vintage Lindberg Field are in dire need of repair or replacement. Flying Virgin America out of SFO’s state-of-the-art Terminal 2 last month and arriving at San Diego’s dingy old Terminal 2 East was a real eye opener. However, peering out from the old, dark eastern side of Terminal 2 I saw something bright and shiny and was pleased to be able to take a walk over to the new western wing of Terminal 2—and the difference was like night and day. In August, United opened a sparkling new 6,000 sq ft United Club in this new space. The United Club features spectacular views of the Point Loma seaside community, balcony lounge seating within the atrium and a centrally located buffet and bar. United is consolidating its operations at SAN, relocating all gates to Terminal 2 West and moving all its ticket counters there. No word yet on when much the much needed refurb of Terminal 1 (Southwest, Alaska) and Terminal 2 East (Virgin, others) will occur.

p.s. HALFWAY THERE. United says that it now has reconfigured eight of its 15 p.s. service flights to/from JFK and SFO/LAX. All planes should be completed by the end of this year. Have you flown on the refurbed 757 yet? How was it? Please leave your comments below.

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MORE MONTREAL. Did you know that Air Canada offers nonstops between SFO and Montreal during summer months? Starting this November, the 5.5-hour flight will transition to year-round using an Airbus A319. The Air Canada flight departs SFO at 8:10 am and arrives Montreal at 4:30. On the way back it departs Montreal-Trudeau at 5:35 pm, arriving SFO at 9 pm.  TIP: Air Canada offers some very competitive transatlantic fares from SFO via Montreal… and since it’s a member of Star Alliance you’ll earn MileagePlus points.

RENO-TAHOE. When Southwest pulled out of the Oakland-Reno market this year, Allegiant stepped in with fares as low at $40.00 each way on its Friday and Sunday (only) roundtrips. Allegiant also flies from Oakland to Bellingham WA, Eugene OR, Phoenix/Mesa AZ, Provo UT. Note that it only offers flights on certain days of the week—none daily.

Fares falling for fall flights to Hawaii!

Fares falling for fall flights to Hawaii!

MORE HAWAII. Beginning January 5, 2014, Hawaiian Airlines will offer daily wide-body 767 flights between Oakland and Honolulu, increasing its flights from four times a week. Daily service between Oakland and Kahului, Maui will continue as scheduled. In addition, Hawaiian Airlines will start new annual summer service between Oakland and Līhue, Kauai three times a week, and Oakland and Kona four times a week running from June 14 to August 15, 2014. We have started noticing the decline in Bay-to-Hawaii fares that comes during fall months… below $500 in some cases. When you seen anything near $300 roundtrip, you know you have a deal so grab that!.

MORE ONTARIO. United is adding a fifth daily flight between SFO and Ontario (ONT) starting December 19th using a CRJ-200.

ICYMI, here’s Part 1 of this week’s BAT news catch up!

Like what you are reading? Then please PLEASE forward this link to at least three frequent travelers and tell them to sign up for the Bay Area Traveler! THANKS!

Chris McGinnis

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New Delta Shuttle SFO LAX + Aer Lingus returns + Problems in China + Expensive cities

A Delta Embraer 175. Photo: Christopher Ebdon

A Delta Embraer 175. Photo: Christopher Ebdon

DELTA’S NEW SFO-LAX SHUTTLE. Today Delta announced  that it will begin hourly, nonstop Delta Shuttle service between Los Angeles International and San Francisco International airports on Sept. 3, 2013. The Delta Shuttle operation will include 14 daily flights in each direction and a product tailored to business travelers operating similarly to its New York Shuttle. Flights will depart at the top of the hour beginning at 7 a.m. Monday through Friday and will be operated by Delta Connection partner, Compass Airlines using 76-passenger  E-175 aircraft with 12 First Class, 12 Economy Comfort and 52 Economy seats. A Delta spokesman told TravelSkills that unlike the carrier’s NY Shuttle, the California operation will not have aircraft on standby, nor can passengers walk up and purchase tickets from a kiosk at the airport. The California corridor is getting HOT and super competitive. Delta’s product, using a two-class Embraer (with Wifi) is a comfy ride compared to some other airlines in this market. Delta’s boarding area at Terminal 1 now has PreCheck, too, which helps ease the journey. Hmm. Would you give up on your currentl mileage program and switch over to Delta to use this new shuttle product? Please leave your comments below. 

An Aer Lingus A330 at Washington Dulles (Photo:  Stephen White)

An Aer Lingus A330 at Washington Dulles (Photo: Stephen White)

BIG GREEN PLANE BACK AT SFO. Aer Lingus announced that it will bring back its nonstop between Dublin and San Francisco starting April 2, 2014. The Irish carrier will use an Airbus A330 on the route, which will run 5x per week. Air Lingus business class seats are of the less desirable “angled lie-flat” variety which are not as easy to sleep in as United’s true lie flat product. MileagePlus members should be happy to know that Aer Lingus and United have a code sharing alliance. Air Lingus nixed the SFO-DUB route in 2009 as the global economy sputtered.

(This is part two of a big “Catching up on Bay Area Travel News” post I’ve been working on this week. Here’s Part 1 of that roundup! 

A United 737-900 in Orlando (DolceLuxury)

A United 737-900 in Orlando (DolceLuxury)

UNITED RETIRING 757’s. United is taking an aggressive approach to retiring its fleet of aging 757-200s according to a post this week on FlightGlobal.com. United currently has 129 757-200s in its fleet and has plans to retire 73 of them over the next two years, replacing them with new, more efficient Boeing 737-900’s. However, United spokesperson Karen May told TravelSkills  that it intends to continue using its p.s. configured 757’s on the SFO-JFK run for the time being. Which aircraft do you prefer, the B757 or the B737? For me, the 757 is a torture chamber if stuck in standard coach. It’s a bit better in Economy Plus. First is okay, but still pretty tight for first class. On the other hand, on a recent short flight to Denver, I was lucky enough to ride on a brand new United B737-900 with 20 first class seats… and it was nice! What about you? 

ROCKETMILES OVERSEAS. Remember when we wrote about Rocketmiles, the new site that offers mega-mileage bonuses for upscale hotel bookings in major cities in the US? This month, it expanded to 100 cities overseas such as London, Paris and Tokyo. Good news for SF-based flyers, Rocketmiles offers miles in United’s MileagePlus program and points in Virgin’s Elevate (and seven other airline programs). Customers earn an average of 7,000 miles per booking while paying roughly the same rates those found on other hotel booking sites. Have you checked it out yet? (Note: Join the 214 TravelSkills reader who have signed up for Rocketmiles via TravelSkills—we earn bonus miles when you book for the first time.)

RIDE/CAR SHARING BREAKTHROUGH? Just in time for another BART strike, the California Public Utilities Commission has proposed a way to calm the waters in the crazy ride/car sharing market that is disrupting public transport in the Bay Area and across the country. The commission has created a new category called “Transportation Network Company” (TNC) for companies like Lyft, SideCar, InstantCab, and UberX that connect passengers with drivers using their personal vehicles via smartphone applications. This new type of transport company must apply for permits from the state, obtain insurance, provide driver training, and impose strict no drug or alcohol requirements on drivers. SFO authorities, who have been arresting drivers issued a press release stating: “Such companies are currently prohibited from operating at SFO, but the CPUC’s proposed decision is a necessary first step in paving the way for safe, legal operations at the Airport. This proposal will ensure that ride-sharing is safe for the public, by requiring companies to screen drivers, inspect vehicles, and carry adequate insurance.” The CPUC issued the proposed decision on July 30, 2013. It’s not yet clear how the new rules might affects new companies at SFO such as RelayRides or FlightCar that are disrupting the airport rental car business. Stay tuned

FREE WIFI SAN JOSE-LAX. Virgin America is offering a free 30-minute snippet of Gogo wi-fi on its flights on the hypercompetitive SJC-LAX market. Details here.  Southwest, the only other carrier with wifi in that market, charges $8 for access.

Big, beautiful Beijing Capital Airport is getting hammered by delays. (Tomasz Wagner Mananetwork)

Big, beautiful Beijing Capital Airport is getting hammered by delays. (Tomasz Wagner Mananetwork)

TORTUOUS DELAYS IN CHINA. And we thought delays at SFO were a headache…consider what it’s like to travel frequently from Beijing or Shanghai, where delays are so bad that riots are taking place at airports. In June only 18% of flights at Beijing Capital Airport departed on time, making it the worst airport in the world for punctuality according to FlightStats.com. Shanghai was only slightly better at 24% on time. The problem has become so bad that the Chinese have coined a new phrase for the angry mobs that form at airport gates: “kong nu zu”, or “air rage tribe.” (You MUST see this video of gate area anger antics. Wow!) The most significant delays seem to hit mostly domestic flights, so it’s probably smart to avoid using these airports as connecting hubs until the issues are straightened out. Instead, consider Seoul, Tokyo or Hong Kong.

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PRECHECK FOR EVERYONE. Starting this fall the TSA will open up PreCheck to anyone willing to pay the $85 fee (good for five years) and submit to a background check, which includes an onsite interview and fingerprinting. Previously, you had to be nominated by an airline, or participate in the Global Entry program to use PreCheck lanes, which do not require travelers to take off shoes or coats, remove laptops from carry on bags, or submit to full body scanners. Currently, more than 12 million travelers are part of PreCheck, which is available at 40 airports nationwide. The TSA expects the expanded access to add another 383,000 travelers to the PreCheck rolls within a year. We are big fans of PreCheck… what about you? Do you use it? What’s been your experience? Have you ever been declined use of PreCheck lanes? Please leave your comments below.

Emirates Team New Zealand Waka lounge at Pier 32 in San Francisco (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Emirates Team New Zealand Waka lounge at Pier 32 in San Francisco (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

EMIRATES’ AMERICAS CUP LOUNGE. Have you been by Pier 32 on the San Francisco Embarcadero and seen that large boat-like structure out on the docks? That’s the hospitality lounge that Emirates Airline has set up for Team New Zealand. Last week Emirates invited TravelSkills to the lounge and out on the water to catch some Louis Vuitton Cup action. But I knew some TravelSkills reader would love to see what’s inside that big boat, known as a “Waka” in Maori. Check out my Google+ slideshow and let us know what you think!

MOST EXPENSIVE CITIES. What’s the most expensive city in the world for business travel? I would have thought it would be one of the perennial picks, such as London or Moscow…but Australia has taken over! Brisbane is now the most expensive city in the world for business travelers followed by Tokyo, then Sydney and Perth. Melbourne comes in at #7. In the US, only New York City ranks in the top 10. Here’s the list.  What’s them most expensive city you’ve ever traveled to? 

GOTTA SEE THIS. Take a Google Maps Tour INSIDE an Emirates Airbus A380 parked at Dubai International airport… and let us know what you think!

United's new Scimitar split winglet (United)

United’s new Scimitar split winglet (United)

UNITED SCIMITARS. Look out your window next time you are flying United to see if the plane wing sports the sleek new “split scimitar” winglet, which is designed to help to reduce drag and improve the planes fuel efficiency. United says the new winglet will cut energy use by 2%, saving to $200 million per year. Currently only one United 737-800 has the new winglet, but starting next year, it will go on its fleet of Boeing 737, 757 and 767 aircraft.

PREMIUM ECONOMY PERK ON CATHAY. If you are flying in Premium Economy on Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong this fall, be sure to snag a certificate good for $100 off in-flight duty-free shopping here. Flights must be booked by August 22 for flights Sept 1- Oct 31.

 

Chris McGinnis

***

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No SkyTeam for Virgin + New Delta Jets + 500 miles for middle seats

VIRGIN WON’T GO ALL THE WAY. For now, at least. Delta says that its new partner, Virgin Atlantic, won’t be joining SkyTeam any time soon. Seems strange considering joining an alliance was one of the main reasons troubled Virgin said it needed to partner with Delta back in December. Delta paid Singapore Airlines $360 million for its 49% stake in the British carrier. “At some point down the road SkyTeam will come up, and I’m certain that over time it will be viewed favorably, but right now that’s not the priority,” said Delta’s Ed Bastian, as reported by Bloomberg. “Their main priority is addressing their financial needs in respect of the losses they’ve been posting.” So it sounds like everyone who was hoping to be able to once again earn or burn SkyMiles for Upper Class seats on posh Virgin flights are going to have to wait a while.

BIG (NEW) DELTA JETS. Reuters reports that Delta is in talks to purchase small and wide-body jets from Airbus and Boeing in deals potentially worth about $6 billion at list prices. Potential orders involve about 20 each of the plane makers’ most popular jets – the Airbus A320 or Boeing 737 in the medium-haul, narrow-body class and the Airbus A330 or Boeing 777 in the long-range, wide-body category. Sorry folks, no A380s or 747s—or the currently grounded 787 Dreamliner. What’s your favorite Delta jet… and why? Please leave your comments below. 

Middle seat in business class on ANA's Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Look at all that space to spread out and work! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Middle seat in business class on ANA’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Look at all that space to spread out and work! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

BOEING 787 UPDATE. Speaking of, Boeing is apparently ready to test batteries on two 787 flights, which could lead to the resumption of flights “in a matter of weeks.” Boeing is also polling frequent flyers on their perceptions of the beleaguered aircraft, but keeping the results of these polls confidential.  Let’s help them out with a poll of our own. (Hover over the “Vote” button to cast your vote...on some browsers the button might appear clear)

Have you noticed an improvement with in-flight wi-fi performance?

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NO FOOD INTO SKY CLUB. Even though the signs posted at Sky Club entrances state that no outside food or drinks are allowed, members are still surprised when they enter a club and get scolded by agents. But, what is a traveler to do if entering a club with food purchased outside but with the intent to eat it on the plane later? Hide it! The no-food policy is intended to prohibit smells, trash, and stains from filling the club, but if you are headed for a long flight, buying food in the airport is a good plan. Typically, coffee and bottled drinks are permitted, but that Big Gulp is not. If you bought a sandwich in the terminal, hide it in your purse or briefcase and promise not to open it until you leave.

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500-MILE MIDDLE SEAT BONUS. Did you know that Delta randomly surprises Medallion level members of SkyMiles when they get stuck in a middle seat on Mondays? Apparently, it’s a practice that’s been around for a couple years, but it was news to us when reader JK emailed to tell The TICKET about his pleasant surprise. Plus, he only had to endure this middle seat for the short flight between Atlanta and Tampa. Would you accept a middle seat for 500 miles? Please leave your comment below.

TICKET POSTS ON CNN! Remember our post a while back about smart strategies for saving money using smart phones overseas? It was one of our most popular posts last year. CNN liked it too, and grabbed TICKET editor Chris McGinnis at the airport for some advice in this segment.

LAX GROWS AGAIN. Delta is beefing up its LAX schedule again with new flights to Nashville, Tenn., San Jose, Calif., and Seattle and Spokane, Wash. Seasonal summer service to Anchorage, Alaska, Boston, Mass., and Bozeman, Mont. bolsters the schedule even further. On the international front, Delta is beginning new nonstop service to San Jose, Costa Rica and adding a flight to Guadalajara, Mexico (the current flight is a sleep-busting red-eye on SkyTeam partner Aeromexico). More frequencies are being added to New Orleans, La., Oakland and Sacramento, Calif., Phoenix, Ariz., and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

BOOKING HOTELS ON DELTA.COM. Did you know that you earn one SkyMile for every $2 spent on hotels when booking your room Delta.com? Not bad! However, remember that you do NOT earn hotel program points when booking on Delta.com.

NEW ATL FLIGHTS. Delta is adding service out west for the summer season with additional nonstops from Atlanta to Bozeman and Kalispell, Montana plus Saturday nonstops from Atlanta to Missoula. The flights begin June 22.

Korean Air A380 floating over Seoul Incheon Airport.

Korean Air A380 floating over Seoul Incheon Airport. (Photo: JangSu Lee)

AIRBUS A380 (FINALLY) TO ARRIVE AT WORLD’S BUSIEST AIRPORT. Korean Air will be the first airline to fly the world’s largest passenger aircraft to Atlanta nonstop from Seoul Incheon. Service was supposed to start earlier this year, but was delayed to August 2. The plane will park at terminal E where the airport spent nearly $30 million to upgrade the gate facilities and taxiways. Korean is a Delta SkyTeam partner and passengers can earn and redeem miles for economy or business class flights. SkyMiles members can earn miles for flying Korean Air first class, but miles cannot be redeemed for Korean Air first class flights (a restriction that Delta has for all SkyTeam international first class flights…business class is going to be as good as it gets!). Watch for the big blue jumbo jet to touch down this summer! Have you flown Korean Air lately? How was your trip? Please leave your comments below.

PHOENIX SKYTRAIN TO PLANE. Starting April 8, the PHX SkyTrain will connect to the Washington & 44th St station for Valley Metro, Phoenix’s light rail system—which means you can get to/from downtown Phoenix or Mesa relatively seamlessly via just two trains.

BRAZIL FLIGHTS COULD DOUBLE. The Brazilian government is permitting U.S. airlines to apply for additional frequencies to its airports. Delta is applying for a second flight to Sao Paulo from both Atlanta and New York-JFK. If approved, both flights would have the same guaranteed flat-bed seats up front as all existing Delta flights to Brazil with the exception of Atlanta-Brasilia.

NEW IDEAS INFLIGHT APP. Facebook users can now have their say on their in-flight experience by submitting ideas for Delta’s marketing department via the new Ideas In-flight App. Other customers can comment on ideas and vote on their favorites in the hope that new practices will be feasible enough to be adopted on a larger scale. Not all ideas are good ones, but it is certainly fun to weigh in with your thoughts and learn what other travelers think about the Delta in-flight experience.

Gettin' cozy on Delta.

Gettin’ cozy on Delta.

SNUGGLE UP WITH DELTA. A new partnership with Westin Hotels and its Heavenly Bed program is coming to a BusinessElite cabin near you. United Airlines was the first carrier to offer such a partnership, but Delta quickly followed suit offering its own version of comfy duvets. The new cushy comforts will also be available on domestic BusinessElite flights from JFK to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle plus from Atlanta to Honolulu. The new duvets and pillows will appear in June, and on ultra-long-haul flights over 12 hours, a special lumbar pillow will be provided.

MORE LIE-FLAT SEATS TO JAPAN. Starting April 1, Delta will offer lie flat seats on its Boeing 767-300ER flights between SFO and Tokyo Narita. Flights between Portland PDX and Narita already have the flatties.

DRIVING TO/FROM NYC AIRPORTS. Hertz on Demand members can drive a Hertz car between airports and several locations in Manhattan for less than half of what you’d pay a cab or car service…and there is no membership fee. Would you?

STARWOOD CROSSOVER REMINDER. If you have not yet linked your Delta and Starwood accounts, be sure to do so here. Starwood Gold and Platinum members can begin earning Starwood points on all Delta purchases made through delta.com or a travel agent (third-party opaque sites like Hotwire or Priceline do not qualify) and Medallion members can earn SkyMiles on all of your Starwood hotel stays (one mile per dollar spent although the same restriction on third-party opaque sites still applies). This double dipping will prove to be a great partnership for travelers looking to rack up points. Platinum and Diamond Medallion members will also benefit from free Internet access at Starwood hotels while Starwood Platinum members can enjoy SkyPriority access and a free checked bag.

Dramatic rooftop pool at the brand new Okura Prestige hotel in Bangkok (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Dramatic rooftop pool at the brand new Okura Prestige hotel in Bangkok (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

BUSINESS TRIP: BANGKOK. Are you headed to Bangkok…or do you just dream about going there? Check out  the advice and photos inChris McGinnis’s latest BBC Business Trip: Bangkok— read up on the rash of new luxury hotels, where to get great Thai food, where to get a suit made, and why you should NOT ask for chopsticks.

DELTA IN AFGHANISTAN. Flyers may find it interesting that Delta has opened its first sales office on the Bagram Military Base in Afghanistan to help facilitate travel for civilians and military personnel to and from the country. While this does not indicate new Delta service to Kabul, it does mean that Delta is trying to attract military and civilian flyers to its overseas flights by connecting them on other carriers to Delta flights (notably from Dubai to Atlanta). The two-person sales office helps Delta travelers with SkyMiles accounts, ticket purchases, and other travel-related issues. Next time you are in Kabul, be sure to stop by!

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Virgin America CEO David Cush: Why San Jose?

This morning, Virgin America announced that it will add four daily nonstops between San Jose International (SJC) and Los Angeles (LAX) starting May 1.

Virgin CEO David Cush told TravelSkills that he has been actively engaged in talks with San Jose airport and civic leaders for the last 18 months. He said that while San Jose was more interested in Virgin adding long haul flights to the east coast, he wanted to test the waters at SJC with new flights to LA first. “With high fuel costs, adding new flights from San Jose to east coast cities is just too risky for us right now,” he said.

Virgin will be entering the very crowded San Jose-LAX run, which is already served by four carriers: Low fare leader Southwest (which has pushed Virgin off routes such as SFO-Orange County), United (which dominates the Bay Area) as well as American and Alaska Airlines. Southwest flies a one-class 737 on the hour-or-so long route, United and American fly one-class regional jets, and Alaska uses a turbo-prop.

Cush told TravelSkills that Virgin is already competing well with those carriers on the SFO-LAX run, where it offers eight flights per day. “We will be the only carrier on the route to offer first class, wi-fi and satellite TV on a mainline, two-class jet (Airbus A320). Plus, we have a nice new lounge at LAX to attract business travelers.”

Virgin America CEO David Cush

Virgin America CEO David Cush

Another plus for business travelers: Virgin’s flights will depart from gates adjacent to the nice, new, $35-per-visit Club at SJC. Cush said that he would investigate how Virgin might team up with the lounge to offer special access elite-level members of the Elevate program.

Another reason frequent travelers might consider driving down to San Jose to catch a plane to LAX: weather. “For example, this morning our flights at SFO are delayed at least an hour due to low visibility, but flights are running on time in San Jose. I think that many of our customers in the indifferent zone around Palo Alto are likely to opt for San Jose on days like today,” said Cush.

He said that his market research shows that Virgin customers in the South Bay are willing to drive to SFO for its long haul flights to the east coast, but not so much for short hop flights to points along the west coast. For this reason, Cush decided it was time to “dip our toe into the market and see what happens.”

This marks the first time Virgin has ventured south to the San Jose International, which its leaders have said suffers from “the Virgin effect”—referring to the popularity of SFO compared to airports in San Jose or Oakland due Virgin’s low fares—and those of its competitors.

Current mid-week fares on the route are at about $178 round trip. Virgin will post its fares on the route tomorrow morning. Cush said he expected fares on SJC-LAX and SFO-LAX would end up on par with each other. Here’s the schedule:

Screen shot 2013-02-04 at 10.46.49 AM

To entice Virgin into this fray, San Jose is waiving landing fees at the airport for one year– a savings of about $490,000 according to airport officials. San Jose Airport spokesperson Rosemary Barnes said, “We will realize increased revenue from more passengers who park on-Airport, spend at restaurants and shops, and increased  passenger facilities charges (PFCs) which go back to reinvesting in our infrastructure.” San Jose offered similar enticements to ANA to snag its (currently mothballed) 787 Dreamliner flights to Tokyo.

“We are delighted to welcome Virgin America as our newest airline partner and I’m confident they will receive a very warm welcome in San Jose,” said SJC’s Director of Aviation Bill Sherry. “Silicon Valley includes the world’s most tech-savvy frequent fliers who we know will love and embrace Virgin America’s unique product and branding; this is a winning combination.”

What do YOU think will happen? If you live on the peninsula or in the South Bay, will you choose Virgin to fly to LA from San Jose? Please leave your comments below.

Virgin Press Release

–Chris McGinnis


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Virgin America’s new lounge at LAX

Virgin America’s new Loft lounge at LAX (Photo: Virgin America)

At San Francisco International, Virgin America’s digs at the bright-n-sassy new Terminal 2 are so nice that the whole thing feels like an airport club.

However, those who have flown Virgin to Los Angeles know that’s not the case at LAX– despite upgrades, facilities at Terminal 3 are sub-par– and frequently crowded.

But if you have elite status with Virgin’s Elevate program,  or an extra $40, all that changed today with the opening of Virgin America’s new 4,500 sq ft Loft lounge. It’s located inside security on the second floor of Terminal 3– occupying the space previously used by Alaska Airlines.

Would you be interested in a private tour of Singapore Airlines’ giant Airbus A380 double-decker when it arrives in San Francisco this winter? Click here for details! 

The space was designed by Jesse McMillin, creative director at Virgin America, and from the video below, the mod furnishings and red, white and black color palette and mood lighting look very similar to… the inside of a Virgin A320, or our very on T2 at SFO. (TravelSkills profiled McMillin’s “Cool Travel Job”  last year.)

The Loft has a maximum capacity of 90. Elevate silver members get two free passes per year; Gold members get three. Once you have used those up, day passes are available for $40. It’s open from 6 am until 11:30 pm daily.

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Follow @cjmcginnis

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Sponsor:  

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.

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