These two Virgins are splitting up

Virgin Atlantic is one of several carriers putting 787 Dreamliners onto Bay Area routes. (Image: Virgin)

Virgin Atlantic flies 787 Dreamliners on its San Francisco route. (Image: Virgin Atlantic)

Are you a member of Virgin America’s Elevate loyalty program hoping to book an award flight on partner Virgin Atlantic? Then you better act fast – really fast.

Virgin America said on its website that the two airlines “will be sunsetting their frequent flyer partnership on November 13, 2016.” The last date for Elevate members to claim award travel on Virgin Atlantic with Elevate points is November 12, following the usual booking procedure.

And Elevate members will no longer earn points for travel on Virgin Atlantic after November 12.

“Virgin America will continue to offer a range of other airline partners through the Elevate program, including Virgin Australia, Hawaiian Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Emirates,” the company said.

Why the split-up? Virgin America said Virgin Atlantic “is introducing some changes to its loyalty program, and due to technical limitations, the Elevate program will no longer be compatible with (Virgin Atlantic’s) Flying Club once Virgin Atlantic upgrades the back end of its program on November 13.”

Of course, other factors could be in play as well. Barring government intervention, Virgin America is about to be acquired by Alaska Airlines. Alaska Airlines is involved in a major market share battle at its Seattle hub with Delta Air Lines. Delta Air Lines is the owner of a 49 percent stake in Virgin Atlantic. Connect the dots.

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

United will fly E175s from San Jose to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (Image: United)

United will fly E175s from San Jose to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (Image: United)

In domestic route developments, United will offer special service out of San Jose for a big convention in January; Delta adds an Austin route and expands in the Twin Cities; JetBlue is about to jump into the fray on one of the northeast’s busiest routes; American exits three Philadelphia markets; and Virgin America will operate a pair of seasonal services out of New York City.

With a nod to the big temporary demand coming out of Silicon Valley, United Airlines plans to operate a virtual shuttle service for techies going to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next January. According to Airlineroute.net, United Express/SkyWest will offer seven daily roundtrips between SJC and Las Vegas from January 4 through January 9 only, using Embraer 175s. The temporary United service will offer an alternative to Southwest’s heavy schedule in the SJC-LAS market.

Austin Bergstrom Airport will get new Delta service to Raleigh-Durham. (Im,age: City of Austin)

Austin Bergstrom Airport will get new Delta service to Raleigh-Durham. (Image: City of Austin)

Delta has set a March 9 starting date for new daily service linking Austin, Texas with its growing Raleigh-Durham base. The carrier said Austin is the “largest unserved non-stop market” from RDU. The flights will be operated by Delta Connection/GoJet with a 76-seat, two-class CRJ-900.

Meanwhile, Delta also announced some additional service out of its Minneapolis-St. Paul hub next year. A key development for SkyMiles summer vacationers: Delta’s winter seasonal service from MSP to Honolulu, which begins on October 29, will now continue operating continuously through Labor Day 2017 instead of stopping in April as previously planned. Also coming from Delta at MSP next summer: The addition of a third daily flight to San Jose, a sixth to Phoenix, and a second to Richmond.

JetBlue will use E190s for its new LaGuardia_Boston flights. (Image: JetBlue)

JetBlue will use E190s for its new LaGuardia-Boston flights. (Image: JetBlue)

October 31 is the launch date for JetBlue’s entry into the busy New York LaGuardia-Boston market, which is dominated by the Delta and American shuttle operations. JetBlue plans to offer six daily roundtrips between LGA and BOS, using E190 aircraft with 100 seats, including 16 in JetBlue’s Even More Space section and 84 in regular economy. The entry into the LaGuardia market will make JetBlue the only airline serving Boston from all three New York-area airports. In another part of the country, JetBlue recently started daily service between New Orleans and Ft. Lauderdale, in competition with Southwest and Spirit.

As part of an ongoing rethinking of the Philadelphia hub it inherited from US Airways, American Airlines plans to end service next February in three regional markets. Getting the axe are AA’s three daily CRJ200 fights between PHL and Newark, along with its twice-daily service from Philadelphia to Binghamton., N.Y. and Elmira, N.Y.

Virgin America said this week it plans to bring back service next month in two seasonal markets out of New York JFK. On November 1, it will begin daily non-stops between JFK and Ft. Lauderdale, and on November 19, it will begin service between JFK and Palm Springs, California.

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

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Update on Alaska-Virgin talks with regulators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

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Love a lie-flat seat? You’ll love this…

Lie-flat front cabin seating on a Delta 757-200. (Image: Delta)

Lie-flat front cabin seating on a Delta 757-200. (Image: Delta)

Delta’s announcement this week that it will introduce lie-flat first class seats next spring on a new transcontinental route is just the latest step in a growing expansion of flat-bed front-cabin seats on routes across the country – an expansion largely fueled by JetBlue’s increased commitment to its Mint premium service.

Delta said it will use a 757-200 with flat-bed seats in first class when it starts flying on April 24 between Los Angeles International and Washington D.C.’s close-in, Reagan National Airport (DCA) which is preferred by most with business in the district. (Because perimeter rules limit DCA to just a handful of flights longer than 1,250 miles, Delta said it will drop one of its two daily DCA-Salt Lake City flights, but will begin a new flight from Salt Lake to Washington Dulles.)

The introduction of lie-flat front-cabin seats on domestic flights a few years ago was initially limited to service between the New York area and San Francisco and Los Angeles, where it is now offered by American and Delta out of New York JFK and by United’s “p.s.” service out of Newark Liberty International. When JetBlue rolled out its competing Mint premium cabins with lie-flat seats, it initially did so in those same two transcon markets out of JFK.

TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis is in Washington DC this week-- flew nonstop SFO-Washington National on Virgin America

Washington National Airport gets lie-flat seats from Delta (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

But Delta has also introduced lie-flat seats on 757-200s between JFK and its growing Seattle hub. And that market has become one of several targeted by JetBlue in a big expansion of its Mint service.

JetBlue recently added the Mint option to its Boston-San Francisco route, and is doing the same on Boston-LAX this fall. And earlier this year, the carrier announced its intention to bring lie-flat Mint seating to even more transcontinental routes, with plans to increase the size of its Mint-equipped A321 fleet from 17 planes to 31 by 2017.

Transcontinental routes that JetBlue has targeted for Mint service expansion in the months ahead include Seattle-Boston, Seattle-JFK, San Diego-JFK, San Diego-Boston, San Francisco-Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles-Ft. Lauderdale and Las Vegas-JFK.

JetBlue has big plans for expanding its Mint service. (Image: JetBlue)

JetBlue has big plans for expanding its Mint service. (Image: JetBlue)

Two months ago, Delta unveiled plans for new routes out of Boston next year, including twice-daily service to San Francisco with 757-200s. (Although the announcement didn’t specify that these aircraft will have lie-flat front-cabin seating, it seems a safe assumption given JetBlue’s Mint service in that market.) JetBlue then said it will lay on a fourth daily Mint-equipped Boston-San Francisco flight next summer.

Virgin America has a nice premium cabin on its transcon routes, but the seats do not recline fully flat. The airline has talked about refreshing its front cabin, but that has taken a back seat to the impending merger of Virgin and Alaska Airlines. The combined carrier (assuming they are eventually combined rather than remaining as separate brands under common ownership) will have a big stake in transcon Seattle markets as well as SFO-JFK and LAX-JFK. The question is, what will Alaska decide to do with the front cabin product?

Whatever it decides, Alaska is already committed to adding a new Premium Class cabin to its 737-800s, 900s and 900ERs – not just regular coach seats with extra legroom, but an actual premium product with extra amenities and perks, situated between first class and economy.

Will that be the next big battlefield in transcontinental passenger options? How important is a lie-flat seat to you on transcon flights? Please leave your comments below. 

Don’t miss out on these popular TravelSkills posts:

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Airport news: Newark, Seattle, Phoenix, Dulles, Boston

United's hub operation at Washington Dulles got a new lease on life. (Image: metropolitan Washington Airports Authority)

United’s hub operation at Washington Dulles got a new lease on life. (Image: metropolitan Washington Airports Authority)

In airport news this week, Seattle Tacoma International is giving a preview of what its new international arrivals facility will look like; Phoenix Sky Harbor will inform travelers about the waiting times for TSA lines; a unique restaurant concept is coming to Newark Liberty; United signs a new lease at Washington Dulles, and Turkish Airlines opens a lounge there; and Virgin America switches terminals at Boston Logan.

Those recurring rumors that United Airlines is about to get rid of its Washington Dulles hub have been put to rest by the news that United has signed an extension of its lease at IAD, guaranteeing it will keep a big presence there through 2025. There had been speculation that United might shift more of its East Coast connecting traffic and international flights to Newark. In other developments at Washington Dulles, Turkish Airlines has its first U.S. airport premium lounge there. The 5,000 square foot facility has showers, free Wi-Fi, a buffet, business area with six Cs, and a selection of newspapers and magazines.

The Port of Seattle has released renderings of the new international arrivals facility (IAF) to be built at Seattle-Tacoma International, due for completion in 2019. Citing a “dramatic increase” in the number of international flights at SEA’s South Satellite, the Port said the existing federal inspections area at the airport is already beyond peak capacity. The 450,000-square-foot IAF will be east of the current Concourse A, and will be linked to the South Satellite by a 900-foot elevated walkway across the top of Concourse A. “Creation of a secure international corridor on Concourse A will mean more gates for arriving international flights with a direct connection to the IAF,” the Port said. The facility will increase the number of international widebody-capable gates from 12 to 20; increase the number of Passport booths and kiosks from 30 to 80; increase bag carousels from four to seven; and reduce minimum connecting times from 90 to 75 minutes. Here’s a link to a gallery of images for the new IAF, and an animated fly-through video.

A rendering of the interior of Seattle's new international arrivals facility. (Image: Port of Seattle)

A rendering of the interior of Seattle’s new international arrivals facility. (Image: Port of Seattle)

Flying out of Phoenix Sky Harbor? You can now see what the waiting times are for TSA security lines before you head to the airport, if you’re leaving from Terminal 2 or 4. The airport now posts security waiting times on its website (www.skyharbor.com), on flight information displays in the terminals and at PHX Sky Train stations, and on visual paging screens in the terminals. “This amenity will be especially helpful for customers traveling through Terminal 4, since passengers can use any of the four security checkpoints in that terminal to access any gate,” the airport noted, adding that T4 handles 80 percent of the airport’s customers. The service will add T3 data later this year. Note: The waiting times are for regular TSA lines, not PreCheck.

The new Daily restaurant at Newark's Terminal C. (Image: OTG)

The new Daily restaurant at Newark’s Terminal C. (Image: OTG)

The newest dining venue to open at United’s Newark Terminal C hub – part of the facility’s ongoing $120 million redevelopment — is called Daily, described by concessions partner OTG as “the world’s first airport restaurant where the entire menu changes every day.” Why? In order to present the freshest possible cuisine, the restaurant will base its menu on the produce, meats and fish currently available from nearby farmers’ markets. (Which has us a little concerned considering what’s near Newark Airport 😉 The centerpiece is a wood-burning grill for preparing meat and fish entrees. Other new venues recently opened at EWR Terminal C include Saison, a French bistro; Riviera, with French country dining; Little Purse, serving up dumpling and noodle dishes; and Tacquila, specializing in street tacos.

At Boston Logan, Virgin America has moved its operations from Terminal B to Terminal C, in order to be close to merger partner Alaska Airlines. Virgin flies from BOS to San Francisco and Los Angeles, while Alaska has flights to Seattle, Portland and San Diego. Spirit Airlines has also relocated at BOS to Gates B37-38 from another part of Terminal B.

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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Earn airline points for Airbnb stays

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

Qantas has a new way for loyalty program members to earn points. (Image: QANTAS)

Partnerships with hotel chains have been a mainstay of airline loyalty programs for decades. And now a “sharing economy” enterprise that some see as a threat to the hotel business is slowly wading into the same pool.

That enterprise is Airbnb, which has been making a concerted effort in recent months to court business travelers with things like automatic links to corporate expense reporting systems and up-front information about the business traveler-friendliness of its member properties. And it has seen business traveler bookings surge as a result. The obvious next step was airline loyalty programs.

Qantas just announced a new tie-in with Airbnb that will let its customers earn points in its frequent flyer program when they book through the Qantas website (www.qantas.com). Participants can earn one Qantas point for every dollar they spend on Airbnb accommodations worldwide, if they book through the Qantas site.

“We know many of our customers are just as likely to arrange an Airbnb as they are to book a hotel, and we wanted to recognize and reward them for that,” said Qantas CEO Alan Joyce.

This modern two BR Victorian in San Francisco's Noe Valley is $300/nt (Image: Airbnb)

This modern two BR Victorian in San Francisco’s Noe Valley is $300/night (Image: Airbnb)

Qantas isn’t the first airline to do this. About a year ago, Virgin America entered into a similar partnership with Airbnb for bookings made via a link at the Virgin website. Members of Virgin’s Elevate program earn one point per dollar spent on Airbnb. Members who have never used Airbnb before and create an account get a one-time bonus of 1,500 Elevate points and a $20 Airbnb credit. Virgin’s tie-in with Airbnb is currently effective through October 2017.

Meanwhile, United just added Airbnb to the vendors listed on its MileagePlus X smartphone app. The new partnership allows users to rack up three MileagePlus miles per dollar spent at Airbnb. If you aren’t using MileagePlus X yet, here’s a link to get started.

And American Express has a tie-in with Airbnb that lets its Membership Rewards participants pay with program points for Airbnb bookings. Members must create an Airbnb profile with their American Express login.

 Readers: Would you be more likely to book Airbnb if it was affiliated with your primary airline?  Post comments below.

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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What’s the deal with Alaska Virgin America?

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

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

An announcement by Alaska Airlines and Virgin America Airlines about extending the timing of their proposed merger has some observers wondering whether the deal might have run into problems with the Justice Department’s antitrust regulators.

The two airlines said this week they have “agreed with the Justice Department” that they won’t consummate their deal until after October 17, unless DOJ clears it for an earlier date. Previously, the two airlines said they wouldn’t close the deal before September 30. “The extension gives the DOJ additional time to review the proposed merger,” the airlines said.

This naturally spurred some speculation about what might be going on. The Motley Fool, for instance, ran a story this week headlined: “Is the Alaska Air-Virgin America merger on the rocks?”

Over the past decade or so, the Justice Department has given the nod to much larger airline mergers, showing little or no antitrust concern over the market concentration they would bring. After Delta-Northwest, United-Continental and Southwest-AirTran easily passed DOJ muster, there was rising criticism of the government for not doing enough to protect consumers from industry consolidation.

DOJ forced American and US Airways to give up slots at key airports to win merger approval. )Image: Jim Glab)

DOJ forced American and US Airways to give up slots at key airports to win merger approval. (Image: Jim Glab)

Thus when the American-US Airways deal came along in 2013, DOJ got a little tougher, ordering the two airlines to give up slots and gates at a number of airports to low-cost carriers, “in order to enhance system-wide competition in the airline industry resulting in more choices and more competitive air fares for consumers,” the agency said.

But Alaska and Virgin said this week that in spite of the delay, they remain “confident they will address any concerns and obtain regulatory approval” for their merger, “given the airlines’ largely complementary networks, the relative size of the merger compared to past airline combinations, and both Virgin America and Alaska’s emphasis on customer service.” They argued that a combined Alaska-Virgin America will provide “more robust competition against the Big Four airlines, which control 84 percent of the domestic market.”

The Street weighed in with this: “It’s highly unlikely that regulators would scuttle the marriage of the two carriers, especially because there’s so little overlap in their routes. Other than competing on the Los Angeles-Seattle route and a smattering of routes out of San Francisco, the two airlines don’t compete at all. But a combined entity would dominate West Coast regional air travel, proving a moneymaking boon for already strong Alaska Air.”

Even The Motley Fool, in an analysis after its scary headline, concluded that “there is little reason to worry” about DOJ impeding the merger’s outcome. “There is no good reason for federal antitrust regulators to block it,” the publication said. It noted that since the deal was announced last spring, Virgin’s financial performance has “deteriorated,” but still, “Alaska Air doesn’t seem to be having second thoughts” about the merger.

So what do you think will happen? Will the deal go through as easily as we once thought? What’s the reason for the delay? Leave your comments below. 

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! )

DONT MISS! The 100,000 points question!

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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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Popular: On vacation + New routes + Planespotting + Asia deals + Best Western

Have a nice August! We're on vacation! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Have a nice August! We’re on vacation ’til September! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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Dear Readers: The TravelSkills blog will be on vacation until September. We hope you have a nice summer! 

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TravelSkills’ 10 most popular posts during the week of July 24 (descending order):

Routes: United (Shanghai, Saigon), Singapore (to UK), Delta (Caribbean), American, more 

LAX-Paris for $446 + Atlanta, San Francisco, Dallas, New YorkWeekend Edition

Test your planespotting skills with our new quiz! (over 2,000 have tried. Avg score is 76%)

Routes: United (Tampa, Miami), Virgin America (Newark), Spirit, Frontier

Airports update: Denver’s problem, More CLEAR, O’Hare expands, JetBlue innovates + more

Inside look at Virgin Australia’s refurbed B777 (Photos, 3D Streetview)

7  JetBlue lie-flat seats coming to an airport near you?

DEAL! $540 to Hong Kong from U.S. East/West coast, roundtrip (Now one stop) SFO-Beijing nonstop now $546

Surprisingly few Americans use Uber, Lyft

10 The Best Western surprise

 

Don’t miss your chance to get $150 in gift cards for trying the new Upside app! Here’s how

QANTAS LAX

Cool view of the other Australian carrier while at the Virgin Australia event at LAX (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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

Etihad opens a new premium lounge in LAX’s Bradley Terminal

Are these the world’s most high-tech hotels?

Business traveler spending on taxis drops 51 percent in two years

Starwood Preferred Guest partners with Wi-Fi hotspot provider

French carrier La Compagnie offers unlimited transatlantic travel for $35,000

Another Delta hub gets CLEAR lanes: Detroit 

Too bad: Fewer widebody aircraft on order

Uber says its drivers are ow cruising The Strip in Las Vegas. (Image: Jim Glab)

Allegiant adds new nonstops from Oakland to Las Vegas. But would you? (Image: Jim Glab)

Allegiant adds Oakland-Las Vegas nonstops for just $58 roundtrip, but…

Clever: Lufthansa sells seats on Airbnb

Actor Michael Caine changes his name for faster airport security

Chase 5/24 rule means your credit card application could be dead on arrival

Are you signed up for PreCheck but never seem to get it? TSA wants to hear from you:

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Dear Readers: The TravelSkills blog will be on vacation until September. We hope you have a nice summer! 

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Burning question re: Virgin America’s new app

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

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

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

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

Now that's unusual!

Now that’s unusual!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Routes: United, Virgin America, Spirit, Frontier

United will use 737s on two new Florida nonstops (Image: Tampa International)

New nonstops to connect bay cities (Image: Tampa International)

In domestic route news, there’s lots of extra capacity coming to Florida, including new United routes from San Francisco and Spirit Airlines routes from Ohio, plus a new Florida destination for Frontier Airlines. Meanwhile, Virgin America plans to increase  capacity from the West Coast to Newark Liberty International Airport.

United will use 737s on new San Francisco routes to Florida. (Image: United)

United will use 737s on new San Francisco routes to Florida. (Image: United)

United’s newest domestic routes from San Francisco will be to Florida, starting in late fall and winter. The airline said it plans to begin a daily San Francisco-Miami flight on December 16, reviving a route that it dropped 12 years ago. United will also introduce a daily SFO-Tampa flight beginning February 16. Both routes will use 737s.

Just a few days after Alaska Airlines announced some new routes to Newark, Virgin America said it will also take advantage of the FAA’s plan to open up more slots at that airport this fall. Effective November 18, Virgin plans to increase Newark frequencies from three flights a day to four from both San Francisco and Los Angeles. The extra SFO flight is scheduled for a 9:40 a.m. departure from San Francisco, while the fourth LAX departure will be at 7 a.m.

Spirit Airlines is adding new service from Ohio to Florida (Image: Spirit Airlines)

Spirit Airlines is adding new service from Ohio to Florida (Image: Spirit Airlines)

Spirit Airlines plans a big expansion of service at Akron/Canton, adding four Florida destinations beginning November 10. The schedule includes new daily flights from Akron to Ft. Lauderdale and to Orlando, along with seasonal service from Akron to Ft. Myers four days a week and to Tampa three days a week. On the same date, meanwhile, Spirit will also suspend service between Cleveland and Dallas/Ft. Worth, changing that route from year-round to seasonal; the DFW flights will begin again on April 26.

Punta Gorda, Florida is about 25 miles north of Ft. Myers, and it has an airport that’s a lot less busy than the latter city’s Southwest Florida International; Punta Gorda is currently served only by Allegiant Airlines. So Punta Gorda is the newest airport that will go onto Frontier Airlines’ route map. On October 30, Frontier will add new service to Punta Gorda from Trenton, N.J., operating year-round four days a week. On the same date, Frontier will begin seasonal service three days a week between Punta Gorda-Philadelphia and Punta Gorda-Chicago O’Hare, continuing through April.

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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JetBlue lie-flat seats coming to an airport near you?

JetBlue A321

More of JetBlue’s new A321s will come equipped with Mint cabins. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Claiming that its premium-cabin Mint service has “opened up a new market untapped by other carriers,” JetBlue said this week it has big long-term plans to keep expanding Mint to new markets beyond those it has already announced. But will it succeed?

The company said it has amended its long-term purchase agreement with Airbus to bring even more new A321s to its fleet, many of them configured with Mint premium cabins. By the end of this year, JetBlue said, it will have 17 Mint-equipped A321s; by 2017, it will have 31.

Equipped with lie-flat seats and offering “curated” food and amenities and “hospitality trained” flight attendants, JetBlue’s Mint service was initially introduced on the New York JFK-Los Angeles and JFK-San Francisco routes to give business travelers a lower-cost alternative to the lie-flat premium seating in specially-configured aircraft operated by American, Delta and United on those two key transcontinental routes (United last fall moved its p.s. transcon service from JFK to Newark).

JetBlue has big plans for expanding its Mint service. (Image: JetBlue)

JetBlue will add Mint to these cities, and eventually even more(Image: JetBlue)

And apparently the experiment has worked: JetBlue said that since it introduced Mint in 2014, routes that offer the premium service have become some of its most profitable. “Revenue per available seat mile on Mint routes has grown 20 percent since 2014, and Mint has helped attract new corporate clients and west coast point of sale,” the company said.

JetBlue recently added Mint to transcontinental flights between Boston and San Francisco, and will bring it to Boston-LAX flights this fall. This past spring, the carrier said it will expand Mint service over the next two years to even more transcontinental markets, including Seattle-Boston, Seattle-JFK, San Francisco-Ft. Lauderdale, Los Angeles-Ft. Lauderdale and Las Vegas-JFK. It has also started adding Mint service on a few select Caribbean routes from New York and Boston.

Have you flown Mint yet? Check out our Trip Report here!

JetBlue's Mint class offers upgraded meals. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

JetBlue’s Mint class offers upgraded meals. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

In announcing the addition of more Mint-equipped A321s to its fleet, JetBlue didn’t reveal any more new routes for the service, although it suggested it may add more frequencies to existing LAX and SFO transcon routes.  But citing its success in “outperforming competitors” on Mint’s existing routes, it said that “transcontinental markets outside of New York and Los Angeles are prime for similar disruption. For example, only 5 percent of transcontinental flights over 1,800 miles consistently offer regularly scheduled lie-flat seats.”

According to Bloomberg, JetBlue is considering using its new tranche of planes for trans-Atlantic flights. 

This makes us wonder: How many markets of more than 1,800 miles can support front cabins with lie-flat seats, and how many more customers will be willing and able to ante up the fare premium? Is JetBlue trying to position itself for a future transcon battle not against the Big Three but against a combined Alaska-Virgin America? Neither of those airlines has true lie-flat premium seats on transcon routes, and although Virgin is said to be planning a first class refit, lie-flat seats are apparently not part of those plans.

Moreover, to the best of our knowledge, Alaska hasn’t yet figured out whether to keep operating Virgin as a separate brand, or two fully merge the two – and if so, how?

JetBlue

A JetBlue Mint seat in full recline (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Meanwhile, as JetBlue expands its transcon front cabins, will it be able to maintain a cost savings over the premium service of its Big Three competitors? Even now, that advantage appears to be eroding. A random check of premium cabin prices between JFK and LAX for mid-September finds JetBlue’s Mint in the same general space as the Big Three, with roundtrip fares ranging from roughly $1,150 to $1,600.

In other news, JetBlue said that it expects to grow significantly at California’s Long Beach Airport, adding nine new daily flights there starting in the fourth quarter of this year. It didn’t say where the new flights will operate from Long Beach, but it noted those routes will not offer Mint service.

So what do you think? Would you fly JetBlue if it brought Mint to an airport near you? Please leave your comments below. 

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

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Most popular: Unprecedented JetBlue offer | Annoying flyers | Next for United? | Turkish | Reclining wars

JetBlue will add several extra flights between DEN and SFO for the Super Bowl (Image: Jim Glab)

One of the most lucrative offers ever from JetBlue this week. CLICK pic for details (Image: Jim Glab)

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

6 highly annoying habits of infrequent fliersWeekend Edition

United Airlines CEO outlines what’s next

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

Airport news: SFO, Denver, Washington, Hartford, Uber/Lyft

To recline or not to recline…

Turkish Airlines Olive Bar

One of FOUR olive bars scattered around Turkish Airlines massive lounge at IST (Chris McGinnis)

Trip Report: Turkish Airlines Business Class to Istanbul (Lounge review coming next!)

Clear gets a second wind

Say what? JetBlue matching Virgin America points balances

Airport briefs: LaGuardia, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Atlanta

Sounds like Qantas 747 will be at SFO for a while (Photo: Peter Biaggi)

Sounds like Qantas 747 will be at SFO for a while (Photo: Peter Biaggi)

10 A chat with Qantas CEO re LAX, SFO, 787, Lounges

Remember when the posh Ritz in Paris closed down almost two years ago for a full renovation? Well, it appears that cocktails at the Hemingway Bar should help foot the bill for the redo. TravelSkills reader BD sent us a photo of the drinks menu– each cocktail is 30 euros- about $35. Sante! Rooms this summer start at 1,100 euros or about $1,250.

Cocktail menu from the Ritz Paris hotel's Hemingway Bar

Cocktail menu from the Ritz Paris hotel’s Hemingway Bar

Hey have you given Lyft a try yet? We’ve recently been won over by friendlier drivers, ease in tipping, and rides in the front seat. Get $20 off your first ride when using our link!

Lyft Logo

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

This guy got a whole plane to himself! MSY-ATL

United’s plans for transpacific growth

5 things to know about travel to UK post Brexit- featuring a quote from Chris

Airports where Uber is available | Airports where Lyft is available

World’s longest (35 mile) train tunnel opens in Europe, cuts north-south travel time

Costco credit card switch goes into effect

Bright red sinks in restrooms & shower suites at Delta's new SFO Sky Club (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Bright red sinks in restrooms & shower suites at Delta’s SFO Sky Club (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

NYT: Airline lounges in the US getting an upgrade

Starwood’s Aloft brand introduces content streaming to guest room TVs

Study identifies credit cards with best travel insurance coverage

Major airports predict their busiest travel days this summer (mostly Thursdays and Fridays through Labor Day)

Airlines’ first quarter haul from bags, ticket changes: $1.7 billion

Video shows behind-the-scenes view of how your luggage is handled

Will the future of travel include flying hotel rooms?

EU will let Iran Air fly there again; carrier places big Boeing order

Don’t miss this gorgeous video of Cathay Pacific’s BRAND new Pier Business Class lounge at Hong Kong- getting RAVE reviews! Can’t wait to see it in person!

–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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Say what? JetBlue matching Virgin America points balances

JetBlue's A320s (pictured) and some A321s will get new seating and tech improvements. (Image: JetBlue)

JetBlue wants you really badly and is making an offer that’s tough to refuse! (Image: JetBlue)

This new promo from JetBlue is more jolting than Brexit! If you have a big stash of Virgin America Elevate points, check this out:

Now, we’ve all heard about how airlines will match elite status in order to get flyers to switch allegiances. Well, this new promo from JetBlue goes WAY beyond that.

Today JetBlue announced that it will MATCH your Virgin Elevate balance– that’s right, they will GIVE you a wad JetBlue points if you’ll fly them just one time by August 31.

Even if you have as few as 500 mealy Virgin Elevate points, JetBlue will give you 5,000! Here’s the breakdown:

(Image: JetBlue)

(Image: JetBlue)

To get the points, here’s what you have to do:

Email a screenshot of your Virgin Elevate account dashboard (that shows your balance) to pointsmatch@jetblue.com by July 4. Screenshots must include first name, last name, and points balance. You must include your TrueBlue number in the email. Not a member of TrueBlue? Sign up here.

Once JetBlue has that, they say they’ll assess your balance and eligibility, and then email you to let you know if you’re officially registered for the promotion.

After that, you must book and fly ONE one roundtrip JetBlue flight by August 31. My advice if you live in California? Take a day trip between SFO and Las Vegas or Long Beach for as little as $93 round trip!

Fares checked on June 24 between SFO and Las Vegas

Fares checked on June 24 between SFO and Las Vegas

Once you do that, JetBlue will deposit the points in your True Blue Account.

Full details of the offer right here! This is a no brainer, folks! 

What do you think? Will you take advantage of this? Have you flown JetBlue before? Please leave your comments below. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dont miss: 6 habits of highly annoying infrequent fliers

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

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

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

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

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Will Alaska preserve Virgin America’s brand?

Virgin America touches down in Palm Springs on a cold winter day (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Virgin America might keep its identity despite its acquisition by Alaska Airlines. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

When Alaska Airlines finalized its acquisition of Virgin America, most observers assumed that the latter carrier’s identity would be absorbed into the purchaser’s, which has happened with other U.S. airline mergers. But that might not be the case.

Alaska CEO Brad Tilden, speaking in New York this week and following up with an Associated Press interview, said his company is “looking at” the possibility of maintaining the separate brands of the two airlines, although no decision has been made yet.

Tilden told the AP that he is “taking a good look at running two brands for some period of time, perhaps forever.”

“We believe in the power of the Virgin America brand and we don’t want to lose all that loyalty and revenue that exists today,” he said.

Tilden noted that while the acquiring carrier in U.S. mergers traditionally extends its own brand to the merger partner, that has not been the case in Europe – e.g., Air France and KLM maintain their separate identities even though they are a single company, and the Lufthansa Group has maintained the previous brands of its acquisitions, including Swiss and Austrian Airlines.

Alaska Airlines and Virgin America have distinct products and passenger markets. (Photo: Jim Glab)

Alaska Airlines and Virgin America have distinct products and passenger markets. (Photo: Jim Glab)

In any case, Alaska and Virgin have very distinct products, and trying to decide which parts to keep and which ones to discard in a single merged brand might be a real problem, especially given the loyalty of Virgin’s flyers to its unique characteristics, like its mood lighting and the ability to order meals from seatback screens.

The two airlines are currently undergoing the usual investigation by the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division prior to government approval of the merger, and shareholders must give it their OK as well. Tilden said he expects the regulatory approval process to be completed within the next few months.

Readers: Do you think Alaska should keep Virgin America as a separate brand? If not, which parts of the Virgin experience should Alaska adopt for the combined airline?

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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California competition heats up

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

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

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

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

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

Southwest at Oakland

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

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

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

Virgin America Hawaii

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

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

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

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Routes: Virgin America, JetBlue, Delta, Surf Air, Sun Country

Virgin America has started flying to Hawaii from Los Angeles. (Image: Virgin America)

Virgin America has started flying to Hawaii from Los Angeles. (Image: Virgin America)

In domestic route news, Virgin America kicks off a new Hawaii service, JetBlue will jump into a busy Northeast Corridor market, California’s Surf Air has a new pricing option, Delta adds a route from Washington D.C., and Sun Country Airlines comes to Denver.

Virgin America Airlines continued its expansion in the Hawaii market by launching new daily non-stops this week from Los Angeles International to Honolulu. It will add more new Hawaii service next month, with plans to start flying from LAX to Kahului Airport on Maui as of June 14. The carrier already flies from San Francisco to both destinations in Hawaii. To promote the new Los Angeles routes, Virgin has launched a Hawaiiscape sweepstakes for Elevate members, offering free flights, hotel stays and 50,000 Elevate points. Members who enter at www.MakeYourHawaiiscape.com by May 27 will get 250 Elevate points.

JetBlue is planning to start flying this fall between New York LaGuardia and Boston Logan, a market thoroughly dominated by Delta and American. The carrier set an October 31 start for the service, which will offer six flights a day on weekdays between LGA and BOS, with lighter schedules on weekends. That will give JetBlue customers the option of flying to Boston from any of New York’s three airports. JetBlue said it will also take advantage of the FAA’s decision to open up slot controls at Newark Airport by adding more frequencies this fall from Newark to Orlando, Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Ft. Myers. Meanwhile, JetBlue this week added Nashville to its route map, launching two daily roundtrips from there to Boston and one to Ft. Lauderdale.

Surf Air offers private aircraft flights around California. (Image: Surf Air)

Surf Air offers private aircraft flights around California. (Image: Surf Air)

Surf Air, which promotes itself to California travelers as an “all-you-can-fly private air travel club,” is offering a new lower-priced membership option through the end of this month with no initiation fee. The new Explorer Membership is priced at $850 per month, with a minimum three-month commitment. It includes one monthly roundtrip flight to any Surf Air destination. A regular membership starts at $1,950 a month. The company operates executive private aircraft around an intrastate network that includes airports in the Bay Area, metro Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Truckee/Tahoe, Napa, Monterey, Sacramento, Palm Springs and Las Vegas.

Delta Air Lines plans an August 1 start for new Delta Connection service between Washington Reagan National and Raleigh, according to Airlineroute.net. The carrier will offer four flights a day on the route, using CRJ900s operated by GoJet Airlines.

Sun Country Airlines, a niche carrier based at Minneapolis/St. Paul International, this week kicked off new service between Denver and MSP. The carrier operates one daily roundtrip in the market, offering Denver-originating passengers eastbound connections to Boston, Washington D.C. and New York JFK.

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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Virgin America alters Elevate, expands status match

Virgin America's Elevate elites get free or discounted access to the airline's Loft lounge at LAX. (Image: Virgin America)

Virgin America’s Elevate elites get free or discounted access to the airline’s Loft lounge at LAX. (Image: Virgin America)

Even though it is on the verge of being swallowed up by Alaska Airlines Group, which will no doubt lead to still-undetermined changes, Virgin America has unveiled an upgrade in benefits for elite-level members of its Elevate frequent flyer program – and the news includes a swipe at rival JetBlue.

Virgin said it has expanded its Elevate Status Match offer – previously open to elite-level loyalists of American, United, Delta and Southwest – to include JetBlue as well. Mosaic-level members of JetBlue’s TrueBlue program can now obtain Gold status in Virgin’s program just by joining Elevate and applying at Virgin’s Status Match page. “Members can enjoy Gold status perks for three months, plus the opportunity to retain Gold status through the end of 2017,” Virgin said.

Meanwhile, Virgin has increased the bonus points that Elevate Silver and Gold members can earn, and has introduced a new pathway to elite status by counting flight segments.

(Image: Virgin America)

(Image: Virgin America)

Members can achieve Elevate Silver status now by completing 15 flights on Virgin, or by earning 20,000 status credits at 5 per $1 spent. Thirty completed flights will now confer Gold status, as will 50,000 status credits. Plus, the new flight counter is retroactive to January 1 of this year.

Once a member achieves Silver status, he or she will earn a bonus of 50 percent, or a total of 7.5 points per $1, up from the previous 25 percent bonus. For Golds, the earning bonus has increased from 100 percent to 120 percent, or 12 points per $1 spent.

Why would Virgin go to the trouble of doing this? A spokesperson told TravelSkills, “The Elevate enhancements announced today are part of our continuing mission to make flying fun again and even more rewarding for our frequent flyers. We’re also encouraging guests who may be feeling a bit ‘blue’ with their current carrier to fly Virgin America and enjoy a more premium travel experience.” He also reminded us that airline mergers can take years, not months, to complete.

When TravelSkills met with Alaska Airlines execs in San Francisco this week, they promised a generous transfer rate for Elevate members when the program the programs integrate next year. Stay tuned!

Is it worth attaining status with Virgin now that its days are numbered? Please leave your comments below. 

.

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

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Popular: Delta discounts biz class + United to Europe + Hola, Southwest + Delta dumps fee + Car rental rates down

Delta's flat bed seating on a 767. (Photo: Delta Air Lines)

Sleep in a discounted Delta flat bed to Europe this summer! (Photo: Delta Air Lines)

Before we get started with this week’s most popular post, let’s take a look at an unusual opportunity. Late last week Delta trotted out some very nice discounts for SkyMiles award travel to Europe– in business class. This is the yet another sign that European bookings have taken a hit this summer.Weekend Edition The first was the fare sales we saw from United and SAS this week (our most popular post). And now, this. The discounts start at just 105,000 miles for Delta One (bidness) for roundtrips June 3 to October 29 (with lots of blackout dates). BUT, you must act fast– currently the deals are only good if you book by Thursday, April 21. Here are the details . Even if you don’t have a big stash of SkyMiles, keep in mind that you can convert your American Express Membership Rewards points to Delta miles. Stay tuned to TravelSkills in coming weeks as I think we’ll continue to see some very good deals across the pond this year.

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

Deal Alert: Deep summer sale to Europe

Southwest’s growing international game

Surprise! Delta drops an annoying fee

Air China will use an A330-200 between San Jose and Shanghai. (Image: Mehdi Nazarinia/Wikimedia Commons)

Air China will use an A330-200 between San Jose and Shanghai. (Image: Mehdi Nazarinia/Wikimedia Commons)

Routes: San Jose, San Francisco, Atlanta, Newark, Philadelphia, Miami

Rental car rates are down. But why? (Poll results show 50% of readers book fewer rental cars due to…)

Warning: Be careful pricing multi-leg trips

Americans love the air travel experience! Wait. What? (Poll results show that 65% of readers don’t agree…)

Takeover targets Starwood & Virgin America team up

Should I tip my Uber or Lyft driver?

10 TSA explains confusion over PreCheck policies

Two round trip business class tickets to Asia! Where? Stay tuned (Map image: US Central Intelligence Agency)

Two round trip business class tickets to Asia! Where? Stay tuned (Map image: US Central Intelligence Agency)

The BIG giveaway! Stay tuned to TravelSkills this week for our biggest giveaway EVER. Get this: We have TWO roundtrip business class tickets to give away on a new Asian route from SFO. Any guesses where? The big reveal comes this week. To win them, you’ll have to agree to write up a Trip Report for TravelSkills. Are you game? Stay tuned!

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

Virgin America paid $11 million to license Virgin name in 2015

5 new gates at Chicago O’Hare for American

BMW planning a new ridesharing service like Uber

No more tips for Charlotte airport’s old-school bathroom attendants

Virgin customers: Like, but not love when it comes to Alaska Airlines

Uber continues to disrupt ground transport with a new carpool sharing option (Photo: Uber)

Wait: I can’t get my Uber here? Come on! (Photo: Uber)

5 big cities that DON’T have Uber (yet)

Plane geek gets clipped by low flying plane VIDEO 

Now earn elite qualifying United miles on Brazil’s Azul airlines

New Beijing Airport looks like lady parts

All-you-can-fly airline in the northeast shuts down

AmEx Rewards points can be used for online tech purchases

Flyers’ rights group asks FAA to reconsider regulation of seat size

Atlanta’s airport eyes open market-style food concessions in Concourse E

Here’s a look at Southwest’s LAX Terminal 1 renovations

New forecast downgrades the outlook for business travel growth

Air France late-departing business class flyers from NYC can dine before boarding

First class seat design has 4K video, mood lighting, wireless charging and its own app

Airbus might move lavs, galleys below main deck on A350-1000

This hotel is located in an iconic clocktower building on Madison Square Park (Photo: Marriott)

This hotel is located in an iconic clocktower building on Madison Square Park (Photo: Marriott)

Headed to NYC soon? Don’t miss TravelSkills reviews New York’s five newest business class hotels. Did you see all of ’em? If not, here ya go:

 1 Hotel Central Park (Midtown)

The Baccarat (Midtown)

New York EDITION (Flatiron/Madison Sq Park)

The EVEN Hotel (Near Penn Station/Garment district)

The Knickerbocker (Times Square)

.

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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Takeover targets Starwood & Virgin America team up

Virgin America

The moodlit airline has a sexy new partner (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A new partnership between two of the travel industry’s sexiest players was likely in the works before all this merger mania hit.

Today, Starwood Preferred Guest and Virgin America Elevate teamed up to announce a generous partnership, which is great… but reminds us that both brands days are numbered.

Starting today, SPG members interesting in flying Virgin (or its partners) will be able to transfer Starpoints into Elevate points at a 1-to-1 ratio. Also, Elevate members will earn two Elevate points for every dollar spent at Starwood hotels.

Here are details of the new partnership.

St Regis Princeville

Use your Virgin Elevate points for a view like this one from St Regis Princeville in Kauai (Chris McGinnis)

Are you a SPG member interested in flying Virgin or its partners? When you transfer your Starpoints directly to Elevate points,  SPG adds an additional 5,000 points for every 20,000 you transfer at a time. Here’s how. Scott over at Travel Codex thinks transferring Starpoints into Elevate points might not be such a great idea for some.

With Virgin America onboard, SPG now has over 30 airlines as transfer partners, one of the many reasons members love this program so much… and why many are so worried about how Marriott might tinker with it.

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 Virgin America prices for faster wi-fi

Virgin America starts charging for fast satellite-based Wi-Fi this month. (Image: Virgin America)

Virgin America starts charging for fast satellite-based Wi-Fi this month. (Image: Virgin America)

For the past several months, Virgin America has been installing and testing a new satellite-based Wi-Fi system on 10 of its new A320s– and offering the service for free. Those tests have been successfully completed, and this month the airline will start charging for the faster in-flight Internet service, according to a Virgin America blog post.

Virgin said the tests of its new ViaSat satellite-based Wi-Fi found that it operates eight to 10 times faster than other in-flight systems, providing passengers with “speeds similar to what they have at home so they can stream everything from movies to TV shows, music and breaking news to their own devices.”

Effective this week, the Wi-Fi pricing on ViaSat-equipped A320s ranges from $4.99 for short flights (under two hours) to $17.99 for trips longer than five hours (e.g., transcontinental flights). Flights of two to three hours cost $7.99, three to four hours are $9.99 and four to five hour flights charge $13.99 for the fast Wi-Fi. For 5+ hour transcons, the fee will be $17.99. (That’s much cheaper than what you’ll pay for a standard buy-on-board Gogo pass for slower ground-based service, which now fetches over $50.)

Virgin America's new satellite based wi-fi is fast enough to stream movies (Image: Virgin America)

Virgin America’s new satellite based wi-fi is fast enough to stream movies (Image: Virgin America)

Virgin America said Elevate Gold members will get free ViaSat Wi-Fi through the end of the year, and will get emails with promo codes for access. Since Gogo and ViaSat are separate companies with different platforms, holders of monthly or annual passes for Gogo in-flight Wi-Fi – which is on the rest of Virgin’s fleet – can also access the ViaSat service for free, but will receive emails with access codes. An announcement at the beginning of a flight will tell passengers whether their aircraft has the ViaSat service. Virgin America does not currently offer Wi-Fi on its Hawaii routes, but it’s expected some time this summer.

The airline has teamed up with LinkedIn to offer free “professional development” video tutorials from Lynda.com to all passengers on the ViaSat-equipped planes.

The new service raises competitive questions on some routes – i.e., how will Virgin’s satellite service compete against the free Fly-Fi high-speed service that JetBlue offers on its fleet, especially as JetBlue appeals to more transcon business travelers with the expansion of its Mint premium cabins?

Last fall, JetBlue finished installing the satellite-based Fly-Fi service on its entire Airbus fleet, and it expects to have it on all its E190s by this fall. And so far, the service remains free.

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

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Reactions to Alaska Virgin merger vary widely

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

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

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

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

_____

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

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

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

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Virgin's Richard Branson

Virgin’s Richard Branson

He might be baaack! 

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

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

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

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

Alaska Air needs to get hip to the cool California kids

Fortune magazine said Alaska needs to upgrade in absorbing Virgin:

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

______

JetBlue better watch out

The New York Times sees a big challenger to JetBlue:

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

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

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

American Airlines likes it

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

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

______

Risky business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview: 5 things Marriott CEO said about Starwood deal

San Francisco snags new UK nonstop

A look inside Delta’s newest jet (photos)

10 AA wants another big China route

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

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

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

Southwest adds nonstops between Long Beach and Oakland

Delta is new sponsor of Washington Nationals

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

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

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

Conditions ripe for Zika outbreak in southeastern US states

American Airlines poised to be largest transpac carrier from LAX

Even the White House gets Atlanta airport name wrong

Alaska Airlines tests electronic baggage tags

Will your passport move onto your smartphone?

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

Hilton and Uber integrate their apps

Southwest Airlines offers Rapid Rewards bonus to Lyft riders

Avis adds Land Rovers to its fleet

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

Japan Airlines starts online meal reservation option

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

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Breaking: Alaska Airlines reportedly wins Virgin America

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related : Travel industry mergers that make sense!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Trip Report- Virgin America to Honolulu

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

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

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

–Chris McGinnis

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

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Is Virgin America for sale?

Virgin America A321 Palm Springs

Virgin America touches down in Palm Springs on a cold winter day (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Bloomberg News reported Wednesday morning that Virgin America Airlines could be for sale. But there was no hint of who the potential buyer or buyers might be.

Citing unidentified sources, Bloomberg said Virgin “is working with a financial adviser after receiving takeover interest,” although it added that “no decision has been made, and Virgin America may choose not to pursue a sale.” Sale of Virgin shares was temporarily stopped after they jumped as much as 12 percent in morning trading.

This morning, a Virgin America spokesperson told TravelSkills, “As a public company, we have a policy of not commenting on any market or media speculation concerning mergers or acquisitions involving Virgin America.”

Sir Richard Branson’s U.K.-based Virgin Group owns a 25 percent stake in Virgin America, as it has since the airline started. By law, the other 75 percent must be held by U.S. investors. In the fall of 2014, Virgin went public with an initial offering of stock that raised more than $300 million.

There was some speculation on CNBC that Delta might be interested in acquiring part or all of Virgin America, based on its existing 49 percent equity stake in Virgin Atlantic and its transpacific joint venture with Virgin Australia. Virgin America also has partnerships with the other Virgin carriers. Delta has been active in buying equity stakes in other airlines in recent years as well, including Brazil’s GOL, Aeromexico, and China Eastern.

There’s also the possibility that Virgin America could be acquired by non-airline investors.

A JetBlue A321 parked at SFO this week- here to celebrate launch on Mint service on SFO-BOS (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A JetBlue A321 parked at SFO this week- here to celebrate launch on Mint service on SFO-BOS (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

At TravelSkills we’ve often thought a merger of Virgin America and JetBlue would make sense. Their route maps don’t overlap too much– JetBlue is primarily an east coast carrier and Virgin is big out west, and now in Hawaii. JetBlue has a nice foothold in the huge New York City market. Virgin is adored in San Francisco and Los Angeles. JetBlue boasts the modern, convenient airport terminal (T5) at JFK. Virgin has the state of the art T2 at SFO. The two carriers could share the mod Virgin Loft at LAX since they both operate out of Terminal 3 there. Both carriers fly Airbus narrowbody jets.

Related: 6 things about JetBlue

Virgin America will mark its 10th birthday this summer. The airline struggled during its first several years, but finally started to turn a profit in 2013. Since then, its fortunes have improved dramatically as the price of oil declined; its net profit number jumped from $10 million in 2013 to $60 million in 2014 and to $340 million last year.

Do you think Virgin is going to sell or merge? Thoughts below, please!

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

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Airline Briefs: AA bags, Alaska miles, Delta PJs, Virgin courses

American will reduce the free checked bag allowance for some premium passengefr. (Image: American)

American will reduce the free checked bag allowance for some premium passengers. (Image: American)

In airline news briefs this week, American will change its checked-bag policy for premium travelers; Alaska makes a mileage program commitment; Delta expands its offering of front-cabin loungewear, and Virgin America will help business travelers learn while they fly.

American Airlines tells Travelskills that the company is changing its free checked bag policies for passengers in its premium cabins, effective for tickets bought March 29 or later, in an effort to bring American “in line with our U.S. competitors.”  Instead of the current three free checked bags, AA will only allow two free checked bags in two-cabin aircraft, including domestic First Class and international Business Class. The change will not apply to AAdvantage Executive Platinums, who will still get three bags free, as will First Class passengers on three-cabin international flights.

While other big U.S. airlines have changed their loyalty programs over to spending-based instead of mileage-based models (or are planning to, like American), Alaska Airlines says it will not – at least, not in the immediate future Speaking at a JP Morgan investment conference this week, Alaska chief financial officer Brandon Pederson said that the airline will be “sticking with the traditional model” for its Mileage Plan program. But he added that he “wouldn’t say we would never go to that (a spending-based model).”

Delta' just upped its game when it comes to inflight slumber (Image: Delta)

Delta’ just upped its game when it comes to inflight slumber (Image: Delta)

In December, Delta started offering a new amenity to passengers flying in its Delta One cabins from Los Angeles to Sydney and Shanghai – in-flight sleepwear/loungewear that they can change into to keep their clothes from getting wrinkled. And now Delta has expanded that perk. The light-gray PJs are now being offered to Delta One customers on flights from Seattle to Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong; and from Detroit to Shanghai and Beijing. They come in small/medium or large/extra large, and passengers can take them home after their flight.

The popular networking service LinkedIn is teaming up with Virgin America to offer free streaming in-flight video tutorials to passengers. Starting next month, Virgin customers will be able to watch business-oriented videos produced by Lynda.com, a company that LinkedIn purchased for $1.5 billion. Available through the airline’s in-fight entertainment system, the videos cover topics like Getting Things Done, Creating Great Workplace Habits, and Managing Stress.

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

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Routes: Virgin, JetBlue, Southwest, American, Frontier

Virgin America's new route links the Bay Area with the Rocky Mountains. (Image: Virgin America)

Virgin America’s new route links the Bay Area with the Rocky Mountains- and lowers fares. (Image: Virgin America)

In domestic route news, Virgin America breaks into a big new business market; JetBlue targets Ft. Lauderdale for substantial growth; Southwest doubles capacity on a Bay Area transcontinental route; American adds some secondary markets; and Frontier plans three new routes.

On Tuesday, Virgin America started flying its newest U.S. route, offering three flights a day between San Francisco and Denver – a route dominated by United. Earlier this month, United prepared for battle by increasing frequencies on the SFO-DEN route to as many as a dozen flights a day. To promote the new route, Virgin is offering promotional discounts of up to 30 percent off Main Cabin fares between DEN-SFO for travel from April 12 to May 25, on bookings made through March 24.

JetBlue announced plans for significant growth at Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, saying that it expects to increase operations there during the winter to 140 flights a day “in the coming years;” that’s an increase of 75 percent over its current schedules. The only specific expansion it mentioned in the announcement was a plan to begin Ft. Lauderdale-New Orleans service on September 29, with one daily roundtrip; and an increase in Ft. Lauderdale-Nassau, Bahamas service from three flights a day to five, starting August 1.

Southwest Airlines special livery

Southwest Airlines newest special livery “Tennessee One” Like it? (Image: Southwest Airlines)

Effective for the summer season from June 5 through August 6, Southwest Airlines plans to add a second daily roundtrip between Oakland and Baltimore-Washington International. The carrier said it will increase capacity on several other BWI routes during the same period, adding a sixth daily flight between BWI and Denver, a ninth between BWI-Manchester, N.H.; an eighth between BWI and Hartford Bradley; a seventh between BWI and Tampa; and a 10th between BWI and Orlando.

American Airlines will add a new spoke from its Phoenix hub on June 2, launching one daily roundtrip to Redmond, Oregon. The route will be operated by Skywest/American Eagle with a CRJ700. And on May 5, new Envoy/American Eagle E145 flights are due to begin between Dallas/Ft. Worth and Sioux City, Iowa’s Sioux Gateway Airport (for trivia buffs: the airport’s three-letter code is SUX).

Frontier Airlines has unveiled plans for three more new routes in the months ahead. On May 15, it will begin flying between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas three times a week; on June 22, it will kick off one daily roundtrip between Denver and Washington Dulles; and on June 28, it will start daily service linking Phoenix with Colorado Springs.

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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Big airfare deals from SFO: Denver, Boston, New York, Vegas

Eventually, you'll catch trains from Denver's modern Union Station to Denver International Airport 40 miles northeast of downtown (Photo: RTD)

Starting April 22 you’ll catch trains from Denver’s modern Union Station to Denver International Airport 23 miles northeast of downtown (Photo: RTD)

Denver has always been a very inexpensive city to fly to because of an ongoing fare war between United and Southwest. But since Denver based Frontier has gone “ultra low cost” and SF-based Virgin America has entered the market, we are seeing some outstanding deals from Bay Area airports.

For example, Virgin launched a systemwide fare sale today to several cities, but Denver fares are some of the best. For example, it is offering nonstop round trips SFO-DEN for just $118! Yes, that is roundtrip. It’s good for flights in April and May. While many flights are coming in at  $59 each way ($118 round trip), we are also seeing them at $79 ($138-$158 round trip). That’s still a screamin’ deal! Check it out here.

Some other good deals from today’s Virgin sale: SFO-Seattle is just $128 roundtrip for April and May flights. SFO-New York is below the rare $300 threshold at $298 roundtrip on a handful of flights. Hawaii is running below the $400 threshold at $398 roundtrip to both Honolulu and Maui for flights through early June.

See all of Virgin’s sale fares from SFO here. ALSO, be sure to check other airlines that compete on these routes for matching fares.

JetBlue has rock bottom rates to Boston and Las Vegas! (Image: JetBlue)

JetBlue has rock bottom rates to Boston and Las Vegas! (Image: JetBlue)

Another great deal that TravelSkills reader EW found for us: JetBlue’s new Mint class (with lie flat seats!) between SFO and Boston is going for just $986 round trip. It’s rare to see seats at the front of the plane on transcon flights for less than $1,000 so jump on this! JetBlue introduces the posh new Mint service to SFO-Boston on March 24. See the TravelSkills Trip Report about JetBlue Mint class here.

In addition to this phenomenal fare, JetBlue is flying SFO-Las Vegas for just $88 round trip this spring. Find all JetBlue’s deals here.

NOTE: Fares searched March 15 and subject to change

Have you ever flown JetBlue? Would you? What did you think? Please leave your comments below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A red carpet welcome under wintry skies at Palm Springs International

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

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

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

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

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Trip Report: Virgin America SFO-Honolulu

Virgin America

Headed west out over open water on one of Virgin’s new ETOPS rated A320s (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Last week I jumped on a Virgin America flight to the islands- my first since the carrier launched nonstops from San Francisco to Honolulu and Maui late last year. It has since announced that it will add nonstops from LAX to Hawaii later this year.

Virgin’s entry into the Hawaii market has helped spur a fare war, with flights frequently falling into the low $300’s round trip from the west coast- quite a good bargain! The California-to-Hawaii market is packed with nonstops from nearly every other US carrier, including Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian and United.

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

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

To be able to offer these flights, Virgin needed a new plane, an ETOPS-rated Airbus A320 (pictured above) that is equipped to fly long distances over water. So that’s the first thing I noticed when I boarded– that “new plane smell” as well as a shimmering new surfaces lit with purple hues from its mod mood lighting.

This A320 also has the newer, higher-definition version of the RED seatback entertainment system– which includes a much more robust, interactive inflight mapping program that kept me occupied for hours. (I am usually much more entertained by the inflight map than inflight movies!)

Inflight internet & live TV not yet operable on Hawaii flights (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Inflight internet & live TV not yet operable on Hawaii flights (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Despite the fab new seatback system, I was disappointed to learn that the plane’s satellite-based connectivity system is not working yet, which means no inflight internet or live TV for the 5+ hour flight. Flight attendants rolled their eyes when I asked about this…saying that it’s a very common complaint from Virgin America regulars who love their inflight wi-fi. Regrettably they said that they don’t expect it to be operable until “later this year.” A Virgin spokesperson responded, “Not quite yet” when I asked when the service would be working.

Despite connectivity issues, the RED system does not disappoint– even without a connection, there’s a full roster of very good, current movies and TV shows to watch, some great indie and international choices, and that wonderful inflight mapping feature.

While this picture-of-a-picture is grainy, in real life seat back images are sharp (Chris McGinnis)

While this picture-of-a-picture is grainy, in real life seat back map images are sharp & interactive (Chris McGinnis)

Another downside on these 5+ hour nonstops is crowding at the back of the plane when lines for for the two lavatories form. On my flight, there was a nearly constant queue back there, especially 2-3 hours in. That’s uncomfortable for passengers seated the last 3-4 rows as well as flight attendants who told me that due to a new configuration of the galley area, they are unable to sit down for rest breaks. Luckily on this flight I upgraded to Main Cabin Select, and was seated in row 10 over the wing (exit row).

See Seatguru’s seatmap of Virgin’s newest A320

Main cabin on a new Virgin America A320 seats 138 (Chris McGinnis)

Main cabin on a new Virgin America A320 seats 138 (Chris McGinnis)

Overall, the flight was very nice and a standout when compared to other carriers– much like nearly all my Virgin America experiences. But to be honest, I was hoping for a bit more fun and celebration about the fact that we were flying to Hawaii. A lei, a flower or slice of pineapple in a cocktail, an aloha shirt or maybe a little ukele music over the PA system would have been a nice addition. All I saw that celebrated this a flight to paradise was a can of POG (Passion, Orange, Guava) juice available on the seatback food & drink ordering system. Nonetheless, the flight was pleasant and on-time.

Take a spin through my trip in the slides below:

At 6:45 am, PreCheck at SFO's Terminal 2 was a breeze (Chris McGinnis)

At 6:45 am, PreCheck at SFO’s Terminal 2 was a breeze (Chris McGinnis)

 

Gorgeous sunrise lights up our new A320 and SFO control tower (Chris McGinnis)

Gorgeous sunrise lights up our new A320 and SFO control tower for a 7:30 am departure (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

This is what a brand new Virgin America A320 looks like: black leather & mood lights. Wow (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

Plenty of knee room on exit row 10 Main Cabin Select (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

Seatback mapping system provides trip stats. Note that image is much clearer that what shows in this photo (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

Note the clear HD image, and the POG reminder that this flight is paradise-bound! (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

My go-to meal on Virgin America, the Protein Plate & Honest T Green Tea, did not disappoint (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

My seatmate ordered the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And a POG (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

I love the healthy food options on Virgin- this is one of three pages of choices- order from the screen & flight attendant delivers (Chris McGinnis)

 

IMG_2545

One of two shiny new lavs at the back of this A320 (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America

Flying over gorgeous Oahu on approach to HNL (Chris McGinnis)

 

Had some fun scrambling around Kauai! (Chris McGinnis)

Had some fun scrambling around Kauai! Then headed back (Chris McGinnis)

 

Japan Airlines HNL

I love Honolulu’s open air corridors. Such a nice welcome to paradise 🙂 (Chris McGinnis)

 

Spectacular view of Honolulu at take off. Note the sparkles in the paint on the engine! (Chris McGinnis)

Spectacular view of Honolulu at take off for SFO. Note the sparkles in the paint on the engine! (Chris McGinnis)

 

Virgin America Honolulu Waikiki

Final look at Waikiki and Diamond Head on our way back to SFO. Aloha! (Chris McGinnis)

What’s your favorite way to get to Hawaii? Been lately? Please leave your comments below.

–Chris McGinnis

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

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Routes: Virgin’s new Hawaii sale; JetBlue’s Mint to Boston; Alaska to Atlanta

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

Virgin America will bring Hawaii service to Los Angeles this year. (Virgin’s LAX lounge photo: Chris McGinnis)

In domestic route news, Virgin America plans a new Hawaii route; JetBlue sets schedules for the launch of Boston Mint service, and adds new cross-country markets; Alaska will resume an Atlanta route; and a niche carrier sets its sights on Portland.

Following up on its recent inauguration of service from San Francisco to Honolulu and Maui, Virgin America announced this week that it will serve the same two destinations from Los Angeles. The company said it has scheduled a May 5 start for daily flights from LAX to Honolulu, and a June 14 launch for daily service linking LAX with Kahului, Maui. Virgin noted that the new LAX schedule will allow even more connecting possibilities to Hawaii from the other cities it serves. Virgin is offering sale fares between Hawaii and LAX for as little as $338 round trip — today (Tuesday) only — and is offering Elevate members an award flight price starting at 8,278 points. UPDATE: As of Wednesday morning Feb 3, these “one day” sale fares ($338 rt) are still available when searching for SFO to Hawaii on VirginAmerica.com

NICE: These sale fares are good for travel all the way from now through summer– and they apply to flights from San Francisco, too! 

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

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

JetBlue will add more Mint flights on transcon routes from Boston. (Image: JetBlue)

Following up on plans it announced months ago, JetBlue has set the starting dates for the expansion of its premium Mint service to routes out of Boston.  According to Airlineroute.net, JetBlue will introduce a Mint-equipped A321 on one of its three daily San Francisco-Boston flights effective March 24, followed by a second daily Mint service beginning April 20 and the third starting September 20. JetBlue’s Boston-Los Angeles route will get the same treatment, but so far only one of the three daily flights on that route has the new Mint service scheduled, with a starting date of October 20.

Meanwhile, JetBlue also has its eye on some new cross-country markets. The carrier said it will begin new daily service between Boston-Salt Lake City on May 12, and between Ft. Lauderdale-San Diego as of June 16. Also in the works is new daily service linking Los Angeles with Buffalo, N.Y. starting June 16. On all three routes, the eastbound departure will be a red-eye.

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

Alaska Airlines is bringing back nonstops between Atlanta and Portland, OR (Image: Jim Glab)

Alaska Airlines dropped service between Atlanta and Portland, Ore. a few years ago, but now it is planning to revive that route on a seasonal basis. The airline said it will operate a daily 737 roundtrip on the route this year from June 4 through August 27. Delta already serves that market. Alaska also announced plans to operate weekly Saturday service this summer between Spokane and Anchorage, from June 11 through August 27.

Don’t miss: The “unofficial” airport of the big game giveaway

Minnesota-based Sun Country Airlines plans to begin new year-round service between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Portland, Ore. on June 9, according to Airlineroute.net. The 737 service will initially operate five times a week, and will be reduced to four a week after August 31.

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AA matching United 1K status; Virgin America, JetBlue double points

American is said to be fishing for United's top elites. (Image: American)

American is said to be fishing for United’s top elites. (Image: American)

Are you a proud United 1K who’s thinking about switching loyalty to another airline? A Virgin America or JetBlue flyer in need of extra points? Then you are in luck.

If you’re a 1K considering switching to American, the time might be now, according to the popular mileage blog The Points Guy, which is reporting a big new status match offer from AAdvantage.

There’s no word on how long the opportunity might remain in effect. It appears to be confirmed by recent reports on StatusMatcher.com as well.

The site says AAdvantage Executive Platinum status is being offered to United 1Ks, and it will kick in instantly (presumably after a brief processing period). To keep the AA Executive Platinum status active through February of 2017, you’ll have to earn 35,000 elite-qualifying miles within 90 days on American, British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines and/or Qantas.

The report said program 1K switchers who become Executive Platinums qualify for four systemwide upgrades on American from any fare class. Interested parties are advisded to call AA at 888-697-5636 to make the request and start the process.

I'm one of the lucky travelers living in a Virgin America hub. Love those US flag winglets! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Double points on Virgin America (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Virgin America is pulling out a powerful tool to boost bookings during the slow “dead weeks” of early winter. Those who register, book, and fly with Virgin by Feb 29 will earn 2x Elevate points. Details and registration here.

The typical earn for Elevate members is five points per $1 spent on the base fare and five status points per $1 spent on base fare. In this offer, you will earn 100% bonus points per $1 spent on the base fare for a total of 10 points but will still earn only five status credits per $1 spent on the base fare.

JetBlue’s offer of double points is even sweeter– that’s because the bonus points count toward the carrier’s elite Mosaic status. Details and registration here. To get the bonus, you must book your flight by January 31.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  United packages Economy Plus with amenities + Ride-sharing firm goes out of business + Bucket list for air travelers + Useless travel gadgets + ‘Uber of the Skies’ dies 

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Airlines ranked on availability, speed of in-flight wi-fi

In-flight Wi-Fi is catching fire worldwide. (Image: Virgin America)

In-flight Wi-Fi is catching fire worldwide. (Image: Virgin America)

U.S. carriers still lead the world in the availability of in-flight Wi-Fi, but foreign airlines are starting to catch up. And the quality of Wi-Fi connections, while still rather basic, is on track toward significant improvement, according to the latest annual report on the state of in-flight Wi-Fi from Routehappy.

Virgin America still ranks in first place among U.S. carriers with Wi-Fi available on almost 100 percent of its available seat miles (ASMs), Routehappy said (the exception: a few Virgin flights to Hawaii). Following in order are Delta, Southwest and United, all of which have Wi-Fi on more than 80 percent of their ASMs, the company noted.

Actually, one foreign airline topped everyone, with Wi-Fi available on 100 percent of its ASMs: Scoot, the low-fare subsidiary of Singapore Airlines. And Icelandair was on a par with Virgin America, also close to the 100 percent mark.

routehappy1

Although Delta ranks ahead of United and American, “both competitors have nearly closed the gap,” Routehappy said. It noted that when American absorbed US Airways into its system, it picked up another 350 Wi-Fi enabled aircraft.

Overall, travelers on U.S. airlines systemwide have “at least a chance of Wi-Fi” 78 percent of the time, vs. a 24 percent chance on foreign carriers, according to Routehappy. But it noted that foreign carriers are picking up steam. Besides Scoot, it said that “substantial Wi-Fi offerings” can now be found on the flights of Aer Lingus, Aeroflot, Etihad, Garuda, Iberia, Japan Airlines, Norwegian, and SAS.

On long-haul international routes, Routehappy said, Emirates and Lufthansa scored the best for Wi-Fi availability, “measured by number of ASMs and percentage of ASMs respectively.” The “most connected” long-haul route in the world is New York-Dubai, it said, while the least connected is London-Hong Kong.

routehappy2

The company also looked at the quality of in-flight Wi-Fi, which it ranks as “basic, better or best,” depending on the technology used. And that’s where there’s plenty of room for improvement. Routehappy said that in its previous annual report, issued in January 2015, it found Wi-Fi connectivity in the “best” category available on less than 1 percent of U.S. flights; today, that his risen to 6 percent of all flights worldwide.

And the company said it expects to see substantial gains in Wi-Fi quality in the months and years ahead, based on intense passenger demand for improvement.

“The mere availability of Wi-Fi is no longer enough,” Routehappy observed. “Passengers now demand a home broadband-like experience, and more airlines are now delivering this. JetBlue is nearing completion of a fleet-wide broadband rollout, allowing access to Netflix and other streaming services with no access charges; Virgin America has also recently introduced the same system. Additionally, airlines such as Delta, Aeromexico, Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa, and others are preparing to launch high-speed broadband solutions in the near future.”

 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  United packages Economy Plus with amenities + Ride-sharing firm goes out of business + Bucket list for air travelers + Useless travel gadgets + ‘Uber of the Skies’ dies 

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Big airports by the numbers

SFO's new 221-foot air traffic control tower will open next summer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

SFO’s new 221-foot air traffic control tower will open next summer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Even if San Francisco is not your primary airport,  a new report by the The City of San Francisco Controller’s office is an interesting read, ranking the airports we use most in a wide variety of factors, and comparing them to SFO.

Some interesting nuggets we gleaned from the report:

Boston has the most “origin and destination” traffic of most major US airports followed by Ft Lauderdale and Las Vegas. This means that BOS is used primarily by locals, or people flying to Boston– it’s not much of a hub airport where the majority of passengers are just connecting, such as Chicago, Houston and Dallas/DFW (and Atlanta, but for some reason, the report does not include the world’s busiest airport.)

Planespotters take note: New York JFK, Los Angeles and San Francisco (SFO) have the highest number of airlines serving them. JFK is home to a whopping 80 different carriers, while SFO has 49.

Related: Cloudy outlook for Washington Dulles

SFO, Las Vegas and New York JFK sell more stuff (food, beverage, concessions, duty free) per passenger than their peers. For example, those at the top of this list sell about $30 per passenger, while those at the bottom (Dulles, DFW, Ft Lauderdale) only sell about $10 per passenger.

Over the last 7 years, the number of passengers flying out of SFO grew 33%, followed by Miami and Seattle. (Much of that can be attributed to the arrival of Virgin America in 2007.) Washington Dulles is at the bottom of this list, having lost 13% of passengers in the same period.

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New York JFK, Miami and Las Vegas are where you’ll see the largest, fullest planes (they have the most “enplanements per flight”). Houston, Dulles and Chicago O’Hare are home to the largest number of  smaller aircraft. Not surprisingly, Los Angeles, SFO and JFK have the largest number of big planes flying overseas routes.

Those who live in Chicago, Dallas and Houston have the most nonstop flights to the most cities. (Again, I think Atlanta would rank highly here, but it’s not included in this report.) Boston, Seattle and Ft Lauderdale have the fewest among the major airports studied. JFK, Miami and Newark have the most international nonstop destinations.

And here’s some info specific to SFO and the airlines that serve it. Most notable is that American is now the #2 carrier at SFO after United.

SFO numbers

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about:  United packages Economy Plus with amenities + Ride-sharing firm goes out of business + Bucket list for air travelers + Useless travel gadgets + ‘Uber of the Skies’ dies 

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Briefs: New Virgin planes, Delta PJs, MileagePlus store, JetBlue’s app

Virgin America's new Airbus A321neos will hold 24 percent more passengers than its A320s. (Image: Airbus)_

Virgin America’s new Airbus A321neos will hold 24 percent more passengers than its A320s. (Image: Airbus)

Virgin America is ordering some new, larger aircraft; Delta is offering free pajama/lounge suits to some long-haul passengers; United MileagePlus members can shop with miles in a real store; and JetBlue has a new and improved version of its app.

With a fleet that has always relied on Airbus A319s and A320s, Virgin America announced it is moving on up to the next-generation Airbus A321neo. The carrier has initially ordered 10 of the next-generation planes for delivery starting in early 2017. Besides reducing fuel burn by 20 percent compared with the current Virgin fleet, the A321neos will be have a greater passenger capacity thanks to a longer fuselage. The Virgin configuration will hold 185 seats, about 24 percent more than its current A320 models.

Delta's new front cabin loungewear only comes in gray. (Image: Delta)

Delta’s new front cabin loungewear only comes in gray. (Image: Delta)

Delta has a new amenity for passengers traveling in the Delta One cabin on flights from Los Angeles to Sydney and Shanghai: In-flight sleepwear/loungewear, so you don’t have to get your nice clothes all wrinkled on those ultra-long trips. The unisex cotton loungewear only comes in gray, with a choice of two sizes: small/medium or large/extra large. They’re available now on the LAX-Sydney and LAX-Shanghai flights, and will be introduced in March 2016 on all Delta flights between the U.S. and China, including Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing.

United's Miles Store at Newark Terminal C.(Image: OTG)

United’s Miles Store at Newark Terminal C.(Image: OTG)

Don’t have time for holiday shopping? If you’re a United MileagePlus member, you can shop and pay for your purchases with miles at an actual retail store during this holiday season. United’s new Miles Shop, created by airport restaurant and retail specialist OTG, is in Terminal C at United’s Newark hub. A variety of gifts and electronics are on the shelves, including luggage, headphones, books, travel kits and power adapters, as well as kids’ toys and clothes. Items are prices from 600 to 50,000 miles. If you pay the old-fashioned way (i.e., cash or credit), you’ll earn 5 miles per dollar spent.

JetBlue said that its iPhone and Android apps have been improved: Customers can now use the apps to select and change seat assignments after check-in, buy ‘Even More Space’ seats and other ancillary services, cancel a check-in for rebooking, and use the phone’s camera to input credit card and passport information. JetBlue also released a new app for the iPad, designed for its larger screen. Besides accessing the usual customer service functions, iPad users can also use the new app to browse through destination guides for many of JetBlue’s 93 destinations.

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Healthy eating for travelers: LAX, Virgin America top 2015 ratings

Virgin America's Protein Plate breakfast. (Image: Chris McGinnis)

Virgin America’s Protein Plate breakfast. (Image: Chris McGinnis)

Do you try to eat healthy when you travel? Lots of road warriors figure it’s easy to lower the bar and indulge themselves on the road, because why not? Still, plenty of travelers  are trying to keep their health in mind. But the availability of healthy menu items can be inconsistent; some airlines and airports are much better than others when it comes to serving up nutritious food.

A pair of new studies show just how inconsistent they can be– and which ones are doing the best job.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has come out with its 2015 study of menu options at major airports, and it finds things are continuing to get better overall: 71 percent of the restaurants at the 30 biggest U.S. airports now offer “at least one high-fiber, plant-based vegan meal option,” the group found — a 25 percent gain from 2001.

The committee gave Los Angeles International the number one ranking, with healthy menu options offered at 44 of 49 restaurants there, or 90 percent. The group cited one LAX outlet in particular — Real Food Daily — for a good selection of entrees with “a mix of vegetables, beans and grains.”

Newark Liberty ranked second with an 84 percent rate, followed by San Francisco International and Philadelphia International, each with 82 percent.

At the bottom of the list was Minneapolis-St. Paul, where only 56 percent of the eateries served up at least one dish that met the committee’s standards; Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson wasn’t much better, with a 57 percent rate. The committee said those two airports had “a high proportion of fast-food restaurant chains, including Burger King and McDonald’s, clogging their airport terminals.”

Meanwhile, the website Diet Detective has come out with its 2015 analysis of in-flight food on U.S. airlines, and once again Virgin America was at the top of its list, earning four and a half out of five stars. The site said Virgin “is still doing a fantastic job of creating healthy food and offering strong choices in all categories except for individual snacks” — but it noted that “all of the airlines could do better with their snack choices.”

The site put Delta and JetBlue in a tie for second place, each with four stars. It noted that Virgin, Delta and JetBlue all deserve special credit for starting to share nutritional information on some of their offerings.

At the bottom of the rankings, Diet Detective gave “shame on you” ratings to Alaska, Spirit and Frontier, and noted that “Hawaiian Air was not much better.”

The best thing about Diet Detective’s study is that it gives calorie counts and nutritional data for specific menu items at each airline; it even tells you how many minutes of walking you’d have to do to burn off a specific in-flight meal. And it makes you realize some things are counter-intuitive — e.g. if you think you’re saving calories on Delta by ordering a snack box instead of a meal, think again: The average Delta meal is 546 calories, the average snack box 712.

Sadly, the Diet Detective observed that the calorie count per in-flight food item has been on a steady upward trend in recent years, from an average of 360 calories in 2012 to 400 this year. What’s more, the airlines “appear to be decreasing the number of choices they offer,” the site said.

Readers: What’s your favorite airport restaurant/in-flight meal option for healthy dining?  Otherwise, what’s your biggest eating indulgence on the road? Post comments below.

 

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: 5 ways to save using Uber/Lyft  + New overseas plan from Verizon + Trans-Pac fare war?

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Maui, Hawaii on sale

Richard Branson fooling around on Virgin's inaugural flight to Honolulu in November (Photo: Virgin America)

Richard Branson fooling around on Virgin’s inaugural flight to Honolulu in November (Photo: Virgin America)

Virgin America begins flying today from San Francisco to Kahului, Maui (OGG) with connecting flights from most Virgin America markets – with introductory fares as low as $398 roundtrip. (Anytime you see a California-Hawaii fare at less than $400, it’s a deal!)

Virgin launched service to Honolulu, Hawaii last month (with similar sale fares) and says that Hawaii continues to be the number one tourism destination from the West Coast, with over 3.3 million visitors in 2014. And it’s also the #1 most requested award destination among frequent flyers.

The new Maui flights are on sale now and can be purchased here.  Virgin’s Elevate members can redeem reward flights to Hawaii – with no black-out dates, for as few as 8,187 points today. Flyers can also find deals today* on connecting flights between Maui and many of Virgin America’s cities – including Los Angeles, Dallas, New York, San Diego and Washington DC (IAD).

Other airlines will likely match this and other low fares to Hawaii during the sale period (thru Friday night, Dec 4), so check around. (Currently only Hawaiian Air is matching, but I expect that to change…)

Virgin’s daily, nonstop flights will be operated with new Airbus A320 aircraft that it has taken delivery of this year, which are equipped with fuel-saving, ‘sharklet’ wingtip devices, allowing the airline to operate flights over longer-haul routes.

NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: World’s largest passenger plane +  Get on earlier flight without paying fee + New overseas plan from Verizon + Avoid surge pricing

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