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.

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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

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

 

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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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United’s big plans for LAX (Photos)

Rendering of the terrace at the new United Club atop LAX's Terminal 7. (Image: United)

Rendering of the terrace at the new United Club atop LAX’s Terminal 7. (Image: United)

As part of an ongoing systemwide overhaul of United Airlines’ airport facilities, company executives hosted Los Angeles city officials this week to outline their plans for a $573 million renovation of the carrier’s public spaces at Los Angeles International Airport.

The two-year project will take in everything from a new ticketing lobby with new self-tagging baggage kiosks to an enhanced security screening area to redesigned gate areas to a new and expanded United Club on top of Terminal 7.

“United’s new-look terminals and gate areas will feature a modern design with relaxed and inviting spaces, including a variety of comfortable seating options and abundant charging stations for customers’ electronic devices,” a spokesman said.

United offered some renderings of what the finished product will look like.

Entrance to United's new security screening area at LAX. (Image: United)

Entrance to United’s new security screening area at LAX. (Image: United)

United's planned overhaul of its ticketing area. (Image: United)

United’s planned overhaul of its ticketing area. (Image: United)

New United bag claim area at LAX after renovations. (Image: United)

New United bag claim area at LAX after renovations. (Image: United)

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s brand new website breaks out + Chinese tourists on notice + Fast trains in Spain + United’s 787 Dreamliner plans + New Oneworld lounge at LAX +

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bonusThe United Explorer Card is perfect for those who don’t fly or spend enough to earn elite status– that’s because the card provides some nice elite level perks like priority boarding, passes to United Clubs and free first checked bags. Other nice perks: no irritating foreign transaction fees, primary car rental collision coverage and double miles on tickets purchased from United. Right now you can get 50,000 bonus miles for signing up and spending $3,000 in the first three months. Plus, the $95 annual fee is waived for the first year. Details in our TravelSkills post about the card here.


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Bigger, better Oneworld lounge at LAX (photos)

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Economy class meals rated + New rules for travel to Cuba + Star Alliance adds fast lanes to security + New international air routes + Gogo speeds up Wi-Fi + Trip Report: Cathay Pacific 777

Seating has been increased by 50 percent at the LAX Oneworld Business Lounge. (Image: Qantas)

Seating has been increased by 50 percent at the LAX Oneworld Business Lounge. (Image: Qantas)

Qantas, Cathay Pacific and British Airways have finished a substantial expansion of the Oneworld Business Lounge in the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. The lounge is managed by Qantas.

The project increased seating capacity in the lounge from 400 to 600; tripled its total floor space; increased the number of shower suites from nine to 16; added six workstations equipped with iMacs; installed a dedicated dining area, a new cocktail bar and a Californian food cart; and put in a second buffet line with a make-your-own juice bar, hot dishes, salads, snacks and desserts.

Bar at the expanded Oneworld Business Lounge at LAX. (Image: Qantas)

Bar at the expanded Oneworld Business Lounge at LAX. (Image: Qantas)

The Business Lounge is available to Qantas, Cathay and British Airwats passengers booked in  business class; Qantas Gold frequent flyer members, Cathay’s Marco Polo Gold members and BA Executive Club Silver members; Oneworld Sapphire-level members; and Qantas Club members.

New buffet line at the LAX Oneworld Business Lounge. (Image: Qantas)

New buffet line at the LAX Oneworld Business Lounge. (Image: Qantas)

The Business Lounge expansion follows the opening of the adjacent “remarkably stylish” Qantas First Class lounge that was finished last winter.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Economy class meals rated + New rules for travel to Cuba + Star Alliance adds fast lanes to security + New international air routes + Gogo speeds up Wi-Fi + Trip Report: Cathay Pacific 777

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The United Explorer Card is perfect for those who don’t fly or spend enough to earn elite status– that’s because the card provides some nice elite level perks like priority boarding, passes to United Clubs and free first checked bags. Other nice perks: no irritating foreign transaction fees, primary car rental collision coverage and double miles on tickets purchased from United. Right now you can get 50,000 bonus miles for signing up and spending $3,000 in the first three months. Plus, the $95 annual fee is waived for the first year. Details in our TravelSkills post about the card here.


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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:

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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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Qatar Airways eyes Atlanta, Boston, LAX routes

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s new 50,000 mile bonus + Secret stash of hidden hotel deals + The most outrageous luxury suites in the sky + Roomier widebodies on domestic flights! 

Qatar Airways plans to bring the new Airbus A350 XWB to Boston and New York. (Image: Qatar Airways)

Qatar Airways plans to bring the new Airbus A350 XWB to Boston and New York. (Image: Qatar Airways)

As U.S. airlines continue lobbying the U.S. government to rein in the ambitious expansion of the Big Three Mideast carriers, one of them — Qatar Airways — just announced plans to add three more U.S. gateways in 2016, giving it a total of 10.

Qatar said it intends to begin daily flights from Doha to Los Angeles on January 1, using a two-class Boeing 777; daily flights to Boston on March 16, operating a two-class A350 XWB (Airbus’s new widebody); and daily service to Atlanta starting July 1, also with a 777.

Qatar also said it will double its service between Doha and New York JFK effective March 1, adding a second daily flight with an A350 XWB; the existing JFK-Doha flight uses a 777.

Qatar is a member of the Oneworld Alliance–while Emirates and Etihad have shied away from alliances.

The three Mideast airlines — Dubai’s Emirates, United Arab Emirates’ Etihad and Qatar — have dismissed allegations by the U.S. carriers that they are competing unfairly thanks to billions of dollars in subsidies from their governments. If the U.S. airlines’ share of the market is slipping, they say, it’s because the Mideast airlines offer superior comfort and service.

Still, Qatar’s announcement of such an ambitious expansion of capacity is certain to draw even more howls of outrage from the big U.S. airlines. It remains to be seen whether Congress and/or the Obama Administration will let the U.S. carriers get what they want — although historically, they usually do.  Qatar’s early announcement could be an effort to nail down as much U.S. access as possible before the government slams the door to more.

Besides JFK, Qatar currently flies to Washington Dulles, Philadelphia, Chicago, Houston, Miami and Dallas/Ft. Worth.

Have you flown on Qatar Airways or any of the other UAE carriers (Emirates, Etihad)? Would you? Why or why not…

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s new 50,000 mile bonus + Secret stash of hidden hotel deals + The most outrageous luxury suites in the sky + 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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Most expensive city + Airport phoning + 25 million more PreCheckers + Cameras in rental cars + 2-4-1 deal in LA

San Francisco's dubious new title (Photo: Gags9999 / Flickr)

San Francisco’s dubious new title (Photo: Gags9999 / Flickr)

San Francisco: We’re Number One! The City by the Bay has captured first place in a new study, but it might not be an enviable ranking: According to the trade publication Business Travel News, San Francisco is the most expensive business travel destination in the U.S., with average costs (hotel, meals and incidentals) totaling $509.50 a day. That’s almost $15 a day more than second-place New York City. Boston ranked third, at $465.52. But San Francisco is a bargain compared to the travel costs Weekend Editionin some foreign cities, like number one-ranked Caracas ($1,325) and number two London ($576).

U.S. airport mobile networks rated. Have you noticed differences in your phone’s mobile data connections from one airport to another? The differences in network reliability and speed are real — and significant, according to a new report from RootMetrics. The company tested data networks at 50 major U.S. airports, and determined that Memphis International provided the best experience for travelers, while Dallas Love Field showed the biggest improvement, jumping from 40th place in a previous study to fifth place in the latest rankings. Rounding out the top five were Pittsburgh in second place, Chicago O’Hare in third, and Ft. Myers, Fla. in fourth. San Diego ranked in last place among the 50 airports. Atlanta scored a seventh place ranking, while San Francisco was 45th.

World’s 10 highest (and lowest) quality cities

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

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

‘Trusted Travelers’ increase. Do those TSA PreCheck security lines seem to be getting a bit longer? The Transportation Security Administration said last week that the number of registered PreCheck members has topped the 1 million mark. What’s more, Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry program — whose members are also eligible for the expedited PreCheck treatment — now counts more than 2 million travelers in its ranks. But just wait: TSA officials told a House committee hearing last week that they expect to sign up another 25 million Americans in PreCheck and CBP Trusted Traveler programs over the next several years — insisting that they would also reduce the number of non-members who are currently being selected for the speedier security lanes.

Have you checked out Personal Capital yet? A powerful new tool from the former CEO of PayPay and Intuit (Quicken) to help busy people manage finances– some say it’s a better tool for wealth management than Mint.com. If you, like many business travelers, have a tough time keeping up with your investments, you should check it out today and help support TravelSkills!

Why are cameras in Hertz cars? If you sat behind the driver’s seat in a rental car and saw a camera pointed squarely at you, wouldn’t you be a little suspicious — or at least curious? That’s what some Hertz renters are seeing: cameras and microphones installed in the company’s NeverLost navigational units. Hertz insists that the cameras are currently non-functioning and can’t be turned on. It suggests that in the future, renters might be able to turn them on for “videoconferencing” with Hertz representatives. Huh?

The new Kempinski Beijing looks like it belongs on another planet! (Photo: Kempinski)

The new Sunrise Kempinski Hotel Beijing looks like it belongs on another planet! (Photo: Kempinski)

Openings: Bahrain, Budapest, Beijing. A man-made island overlooking the capital city of Manama is the setting for the newly opened Four Seasons Hotel Bahrain Bay. The 273-room urban resort’s restaurants were overseen by celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck … The newest luxury hotel in Budapest is the Aria, which opened this month; located next to St. Stephen’s Basilica, it offers free breakfast and free high-speed Internet … The new 306-room Sunrise Kempinski Hotel Beijing, which boasts extensive meeting facilities and a unique circular design, is actually located at Yanqi Lake near the Yan Mountains, almost 30 miles from the city center … Raffles Hotels has cut the ribbon on the 173-room Raffles Jakarta, linked to the new Ciputra Artpreneur Centre in the city’s Golden Triangle … Effective October 1, 2015, Hilton will take over management of the Hotel Nikko Tokyo, located in the waterfront area of Odaiba, rebranding it as the Hilton Tokyo Odaiba … In Central America, InterContinental Hotels Group has opened a newly built Crowne Plaza less than a mile from Panama’s Tocumen International Airport.

The Getty Center overlooking the 405 and downtown LA (Photo: Justin Vidamo / Flickr)

The Getty Center overlooking the 405 and downtown LA (Photo: Justin Vidamo / Flickr)

Culture in L.A. Got business in Los Angeles? If you’re going there between April 6 and May 19, you might want to tack on a couple of extra days and bring your significant other along. Those are the dates of the new “Culture L.A.” promotion organized by the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board. Visitors who stay in a hotel at least one night during the promotion period can get two-for-one admissions to more than 30 of the area’s top performing arts venues and tourist attractions, including the Getty Center, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles Zoo, L.A. Chamber Orchestra, Aquarium of the Pacific and many more.

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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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Have dinner in a 70’s-era Pan Am 747

"Stewardesses" in vintage uniforms carve chateaubriand seatside on the Pan Am Experience (Photo: Michael Kelley)

“Stewardesses” in vintage uniforms carve chateaubriand seatside on the Pan Am Experience (Photo: Michael Kelley)

An exact replica (including the spiral staircase!) of a Pan Am Boeing 747 in Los Angeles is the setting for the new “Pan Am Experience” a four-hour affair that includes a four-course meal served from trolleys by “stewardesses” in vintage uniforms.

But it’s not cheap. A step back in time to the so-called golden age of travel costs $297 in first class, $197 in Clipper class. Reservations are required and “passengers” have to dress up!

“Guests are expected to dress the part, and and dress nicely, just like passengers did in the 1970s. We won’t require a coat and tie, but we will discourage jeans, sneakers, shorts or sandals. Our goal is to make this feel like Mad Men, and our guests should play the part,” said Rob Shalhoub of Air Hollywood, the company that has created The Pan Am Experience. 

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Passengers are expected to dress up for dinner for this flight! (Photo: Michael Kelley)

Passengers are expected to dress up for dinner for this flight! (Photo: Michael Kelley)

Inside the soundstage at Air Hollywood, a Hollywood studio specializing in aviation themed content, is an exact interior replica of a Pan Am 747, including both First and Clipper class cabins– plus the famous Pan Am upper deck lounge. There are all the furnishings also all the cabin decor that made the iconic plane so special, including the spiral staircase connecting first class to the upper deck, sleeperette seats, magazine racks (remember those?) and authentic Pan Am china, linens and stemware.

In first class, stewardesses will start with cocktails, and then serve a four-course meal from trolleys on vintage Pan Am china. Shalhoub told TravelSkills that meal courses (provided by an airline catering company at LAX) will include a shrimp and lump crabmeat cocktail starter, chateaubriand carved seat-side, chicken and a vegetarian pasta. After dinner, a dessert, fruit and cheese trolley will roll through with liqueurs and coffee. Back in Clipper class, passengers will get the same meal served on a tray. In both classes, vintage 70’s movies play from the overhead projection system.

Advice: How to get a free $400 ticket home for the holidays

Passengers retreat to the lounge upstair  "inside the bubble" on the Pan Am 747 (Photo: Michael Kelley)

Passengers retreat to the lounge upstairs “inside the bubble” on the Pan Am 747 (Photo: Michael Kelley)

After the flight, participants will be able peruse the vast collection of airline memorabilia, shop for licensed Pan Am merchandize and explore Air Hollywood’s other movie sets and props used in hundreds of movies (like Bridesmaids or Airplane!) TV shows and commercials for the last 40 years.

To create the experience, Air Hollywood teamed up with Anthony Toth, the owner of what’s likely the largest collection of Pan Am memorabilia in the world. Toth painstakingly recreated a Pan Am 747 in his garage to store his horde and entertain friends, and it grew and attracted so much attention that he had to move it to a warehouse. Eventually, Toth and Air Hollywood found each other and negotiated a deal to move Toth’s replica to the Air Hollywood soundstage in the San Fernando Valley.

New: Limited time credit card bonus: 70,000 points to sign up!
Check out the "back of the plane" in Clipper Class (Photo: Michael Kelley)

Check out the “back of the plane” in Clipper Class (Photo: Michael Kelley)

Shalhoub told TravelSkills that the first three events (Oct, Nov & Dec) are nearly sold out in First Class, but there are still plenty of tickets available in Clipper class. For more information, see The Pan Am Experience.

What do you think? Would you go?

Chris McGinnis

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Airbnb for a business trip? Mixed results

Airbnb balcony view

The view from the balcony of my Airbnb accommodation (Photo: Airbnb)

During a recent business trip to Los Angeles, I stayed in an Airbnb apartment for the first time. When I made the booking, I was thrilled at the prospect of getting more for less—fabulous location, more space, free parking and (of course) free high-speed wi-fi. But as a first-timer, I also had a plenty of questions about using Airbnb for a business trip.

Regular TravelSkills readers may recall why I chose Airbnb for this trip…here’s a snippet from my previous post Are Uber, Airbnb or Lyft safe?

I booked an Airbnb condo in Los Angeles because all the convention hotels near my conference were sold out—except one property 10 miles away. The thought of a 10-mile slog in LA traffic was unbearable. Through Airbnb, I booked a one-bedroom condo in a brand-new building across the street from the convention center. Like most business travelers, cost was not my primary motivation, but it made me smile to be saving $84 a night. Hip décor and free use of the building’s gym and pool didn’t hurt either.

Recently, Airbnb has made a play specifically for the business travel market with a new, focused portal and by partnering with Concur on its TripLink product.

But does Airbnb really make sense for business travelers? Let’s see…

Airbnb living room 2

The unit’s living room was a lovely place to hang out at the end of the day. (Photo: Airbnb)

Here’s how my Airbnb stay played out:

Right off the bat, I have to say that I missed the familiarity of checking in in a hotel lobby. “Checking-in” at my Airbnb proved to be confusing and time-consuming. I was thrilled to have free parking for my rental car. So when I drove in from the airport, I followed the instructions the host provided. Entry required punching a code into a garage keypad, identifying myself and waiting for someone on the other end to open the gate. There were some miscues, and that process took about 10 minutes. The iron gate finally swung open.

The unit’s keys were to be in a lockbox on a pillar by the parking space. Thankfully, opening the lockbox went without a hitch. But then, it was not clear how to get from the parking garage into the locked building. At this point I was thinking fond and nostalgic thoughts about hotel front desks—I wanted one! After 10 more minutes, two phone calls and a few texts, I was in. Hours later I realized the fob for building entry was on the key ring. Dumb. Still, at a hotel, I would have been unpacked by then.

Bedroom in my Airbnb accommodations. What happens when you need to call "housekeeping?" (Photo: Airbnb)

Bedroom in my Airbnb accommodation. But what happens when you need to call “housekeeping” for an extra towel? (Photo: Airbnb)

Luckily, it got better once inside. The apartment was lovely and as clean as any hotel room. The view of the Convention Center, Staples Center and L.A. Live was just as the listing promised. There was complimentary coffee (Keurig!), tea, and water bottles, and snacks were provided free of charge. And of course, free wi-fi is always a welcome amenity.

The primary reason I chose this Airbnb apartment was its super-handy location. I was only a three minute walk from the front door of the LA Convention Center and reveled in the convenience– I was closer than all those other attendees at my convention who were paying significantly more up the street at the JW Marriott, or Ritz-Carlton.

Related:  Best new biz-class hotels in L.A.  | 20 business class seats in one room

In the morning, it felt a little weird waiting for the building’s elevator with some “real” (non-Airbnb) residents. And I wondered…as an Airbnb guest, was I a persona non grata? Maybe. I smiled and looked down. The following days I would conceal my convention badge.

One day while at the convention, I realized I needed my laptop, which I’d left back at the apartment. I dashed across the street and back in the span of five minutes. If I’d chosen a hotel, this would likely not have been such an easy option. Big score for Airbnb.

The front door to my Airbnb apartment near the LA Convention Center (Photo: Nancy Branka)

The front door to my Airbnb apartment near the LA Convention Center (Photo: Nancy Branka)

When the sun went down, though, I wasn’t feeling the love. I attended a convention-sponsored party at a nearby venue. Easy—just a short walk, right? When I walked over to the event in the evening light with lots of fellow conventioneers around, I felt happy about the sunset stroll.

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However, when the event was over and I had to walk back to the apartment in the dark,  I wasn’t so sure about the neighborhood. There was no brightly lit and active hotel front door and lobby staffed by a doorman and a steady stream of cars, taxis and guests. And I wasn’t comfortable with the homeless man camped out by the building’s front door, something I’d less likely encounter at a business-class hotel.

Did my real-life Airbnb experience meet my expectations?  Overall, it was a very positive stay because of location, location, location. So I’m glad to have Airbnb in my arsenal of travel resources. Now that I’m no longer an Airbnb newbie, I would feel more comfortable about doing it again, especially for a longer stay. 

But on the other hand, there were some hassles that would make me think twice about using Airbnb again for a business trip. Every Airbnb unit, every host and each location is different– careful scrutiny of both is essential to a successful stay. Luckily, the Airbnb site is very helpful when it comes to this with plenty of safeguards, user reviews, verified photos, maps and information. But booking a brand name, business class hotel room doesn’t require such scrutiny.

Have you ever used Airbnb for business travel? Would you feel comfortable using it? Share your thoughts in the comments.

— Nancy Branka 

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3 brand new Los Angeles hotels (& 3 facelifts)

Ahh. Hotel windows that open at Kimpton's Hotel Wilshire in LA (Chris McGinnis)

Ahh. Hotel windows that open at Kimpton’s Hotel Wilshire in LA (Chris McGinnis)

At TravelSkills, we love new hotels. They smell better, work better, feel better, and are usually bigger, brighter and hipper than others. But new can also have its downside: Construction noise, service issues, and/or locations in sketchy or “upcoming” neighborhoods. Some are so new that TripAdvisor reviews are scant compared to more established hotels. In an ongoing feature, TravelSkills reports on the newest hotels in the world’s most important cities. When we say “newest” we have certain criteria around that: The hotels have to be brand new or deeply renovated within the last few years, 3+ stars and appropriate venues for business travel.

On a recent quick buzz through LA for the Global Business Travel Association Convention, I stayed overnight at the Kimpton Hotel Wilshire near The Grove and LACMA on a somewhat lifeless stretch of Wilshire Boulevard. While the Hotel Wilshire is not brand new (opened in 2011), it sure felt like it. Clean as a whistle, a super cool rooftop pool/bar/restaurant (see my Instagram!), decent rates and windows that actually open. (Hermetically sealed hotel rooms are a pet peeve!) But I digress. I promised 3 brand new hotels, so here ya go…

Here are three newbies worth a look:

Cement walls and big views from the new Line Hotel in LA (Photo: The Line)

Cement walls and big views from the new Line Hotel in LA (Photo: The Line)

K-POP IS HOT. Now that all things Korean are hot (thanks in part to Psy’s Gangnam Style), so is LA’s Koreatown, a densely populated, 24-hour neighborhood between Hollywood and downtown. Smack in the middle of that (on Wilshire Blvd) is the brand new 388-room The Line hotel, which opened in January 2014. The hotel comes with plenty of hip pedigrees—for example it is owned by the same group that created the hip NoMad and Ace hotels in NYC and the Saguaro in Palm Springs; Roy Choi of Kogi BBQ Trucks fame is running the kitchen at the popular Pot restaurant (yes, they serve kim chi, but it’s the spicy pork bbq that’s most popular). The hotel is housed in a 12-story building that previously housed the Radisson Wilshire Plaza hotel, but there’s nothing remotely Radisson about The Line. Rooms are minimalist chic with exposed concrete walls, modern furnishings, pops of color, and expansive LA Basin views thru big floor- to-ceiling windows. Sadly, this is one of those hotels with windows that don’t open. Nice: There’s a metro stop across the street from the hotel, which makes it easy to go car-less if you have meetings downtown. Rates for late September are in the $200 per night range. There are also free wi-fi and free bikes for tooling around the neighborhood.

The ACE hotel is easy to spot due to this sign on its roof (Photo: Lauren Coleman)

The ACE hotel is easy to spot due to this sign on its roof (Photo: Lauren Coleman)

HIPSTER HEAVEN. The 182-room Ace Hotel Los Angeles opened in the downtown historic district in January 2014. It’s housed in the old United Artists Theatre building and attracts a hip and trendy crowd to its rooftop pool, bar and lounge. Rooms are industrial chic (exposed concrete, metal, marble). Bathrooms are (regrettably) the type that are open to the room—not the greatest set up for couples, but okay for single travelers. Thankfully, room windows open slightly. Wi-fi is free and fast for everyone—not just hotel guests. Enjoy curated mini-bar snacks (including local craft brews) and room service from the hotel restaurant LA Chapter (Most popular item is the Five Leaves Burger- grass fed beef patty, thin slices of beet and pineapple, topped with a fried egg. Try it you’ll like it!). The location is great if you are attending an event at the nearly LA Convention Center, Staples Center or LA Live. Lowest rates for late September are in the low $200 range. Having trouble finding it? Just look for the iconic (and ironic) JESUS SAVES beacon on the roof.

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Grab n go meals in the lobby of the combined Courtyard & Residence Inn at LA Live (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Grab n go meals in the lobby of the combined Courtyard & Residence Inn at LA Live (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

MORE MARRIOTT. Marriott has a huge presence in the fast growing (but still a bit gritty) area around LA Live. First, there’s a huge JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton that dominate the entertainment zone. Across the street Marriott just opened a massive and modern Residence Inn (218 rooms) and Courtyard (174 rooms) in the same building last month.The $172-million, 23-story high-rise hotel project is new-from-the-ground up which means there’s still that “new hotel smell” and modern amenities like fast, free wi-fi and windows that open to the great outdoors. There’s a complimentary breakfast buffet for Residence Inn guests; Courtyard guests get coffee only. Beware: Valet parking is $38 per day plus tip. (Advice: Self park in one of the many lots nearby.) Marriott’s not done with the area yet: A brand new Renaissance hotel will soon rise from a parking lot next to the hotel.

In LA, facelifts are popular so it’s important to mention these notable, recent lift and pull jobs! :)

Poolside at the recently revamped Sunset Marquis Hotel (Photo: Sara Emry)

Poolside at the recently revamped Sunset Marquis Hotel (Photo: Sara Emry)

>The popular Sunset Marquis hotel nestled into a quiet corner of West Hollywood has just opened the doors on a full renovation of its popular, big suites (averaging 529 square feet) with outside balconies or roomy patios. 

>Hyatt wants in on the action in downtown LA, too, so it has spent $25 million to update an this 420-room, ex-Marriott hotel and list it on the Hyatt website under the name The LA Hotel Downtown. The jury is still out on TripAdvisor on whether the hotel has reached Hyatt Regency standards.

>Last year Loews Hotels hung its name on the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel (next to the Dolby Theatre of Academy Award fame), renaming it The Loews Hollywood Hotel and has spent $26 million renovating the its 628 rooms– with windows that DO NOT open to the outside. 

What’s your favorite hotel in Los Angeles? Why? Please leave your recommendations below! 

–Chris McGinnis

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Virgin America CEO David Cush: Why San Jose?

(Phoot: Drewski2112 / Flickr)

(Photo: Drewski 2112 / Flickr)

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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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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Trip Report: The London West Hollywood Hotel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Trip Report: The London West Hollywood Hotel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Come on along for the show:

Elegant entryway off San Vicente Blvd

Elegant entryway off San Vicente Blvd

My roomy

My roomy “Vista Suite” with a view of West LA and Century City.

All rooms have

All rooms have “floating beds” placed in the center of the room. All are pale green accented with unusual marble and bleached wood.

Suede-like walls in every corridor-- note the vertical brushed grain and the fingerprints above the chair rail.

Suede-like walls in every corridor– note the vertical brushed grain and the fingerprints above the chair rail.

The sumptuous breakfast buffet that's included in your room rate (along with free Wi-Fi)

The sumptuous breakfast buffet that’s included in your room rate (along with free Wi-Fi)

Terrine of foie gras and toasted brioche with yuzu marmalade at Gordon Ramsay LA-- onsite at the London Hotel

Terrine of foie gras and toasted brioche with yuzu marmalade at Gordon Ramsay LA– onsite at the London Hotel

Got suggestions, ideas, experiences or comments? Need help sorting out a travel dilemma? Send me an email!


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