If you are planning to take to the skies this summer, prepare to pay up. KCBS called on TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis for his outlook on summer flying. Check out the article and listen to the short podcast of his remarks!
CHRIS PREDICTS: BIG RISE IN AIRFARES. You can kiss all those rock bottom, dirt cheap fares that we’ve seen over the last few years goodbye as the economy warms up and demand rises faster than anyone expected. Add in higher fuel prices due to instability in the Middle East and airlines’ new-found discipline around capacity increases, and you’ve got the recipe for BIG fare increases, especially this summer when demand peaks. So far this year, airlines have been successful in pushing through several fare increases targeting mostly business travelers. So get ready for a pricey ride this year, especially if you are flying on routes where there’s no low-fare competition. If you’ve got summer plans to fly during July or August, it’s probably time to go ahead and buy tickets now…you’ll find prices already extraordinarily high, but they won’t be coming down. For example, we priced summer round-trip coach fares to Europe from ATL this week, and they are already averaging around $1200.
SKYMILES EXPIRATIONS EXPLAINED. This week Delta ditched the frustrating, consumer un-friendly (yet widespread) practice of putting an expiration date on miles earned. Until now, SkyMiles members had to show some sort of activity in the program at least once every 24 months, or face losing their earnings. While this is not much of a problem for the frequent traveling TICKET reader, it does come into play for less frequent-flying retirees sitting on big banks of miles or those who may have moved away from a Delta hub. When Delta starts scrapping with Southwest later this year, you can bet it’ll pull this arrow out of its PR quiver since Southwest Rapid Reward miles expire after 24 months of inactivity. And don’t think that this is permanent– Delta once promised its Frequent Flyer miles would never expire (remember?), and it they changed the rules. It could always happen again!
AIRTRAN+SOUTHWEST. We’ve hammered our contacts at both AirTran and Southwest to get the scoop on when the proposed deal will close and the Southwest Red Bellies will soar over Atlanta skies. But no one is saying a peep as long as antitrust regulators are snooping around. Stay tuned! All we’ve heard is that the deal could close in “late spring.”
DELTA’S NEW ECONOMY COMFORT. As hinted late last year in The TICKET, Delta has unveiled its newest class of service on international routes and dubbed it Economy Comfort. This small subset of rows at the front of the economy cabin will be available on more than 160 Boeing 747, 757, 767, 777 and Airbus A330 international aircraft. Similar to United’s Economy Plus, passengers in these rows (designated by a special headrest cover) will pay a small premium to sit here and will benefit from up to four additional inches of legroom and 50 percent greater recline than standard Economy seats. (We’re a little concerned about what it may be like to sit behind someone with 50 percent more recline…but we’ll see…) The buy-up fee will average between $80-160 each way, but Diamond and Platinum Medallions (and up to eight people traveling in the same record) will have complimentary access to these seats. Customers who purchase full-fare economy tickets will also have access to these seats but Gold and Silver Medallion members on discounted fares will have to pay a fee. Delta’s Economy Comfort section has one additional benefit that United’s Economy Plus does not: free booze. All Delta international passengers enjoy free beer and wine, but Economy Comfort and Business Elite passengers have a complete open bar. On a similar note, the “New United” announced that it’s popular Economy Plus seats found on both its domestic and international planes will be a permanent part of the combined operations of United and Continental going forward.
BIG SPRING BREAK. With Spring Break just around the corner, Americans are opening up their pocketbooks and investing in travel. According to an AOL survey, 72% of respondents said they have more (31%) or the same amount (41%) of money to spend on spring break this year compared to last. So get ready to share your airport and airplane space with the shorts and flip-flops crowd if you are traveling anytime between early March and Easter (late, on April 24 this year).
PFC’s COULD RISE. Part of President Obama’s new budget plan could bump up ticket prices later this year. Currently, airport Passenger Facilities Charges (PFC’s) that airports use to fund improvements, are capped at $4.50 per segment. The budget proposal would move the cap to $7 per segment, potentially adding $14 to the cost of a nonstop round trip, $28 for one-stop roundtrips.
FREE FLYING FACEBOOK. From February 1 – 28, Delta, AirTran and five other airlines’ customers can access Gogo Inflight Internet to connect to Facebook without purchasing a flight pass, courtesy of Ford Motor Company. Just fire up your laptop or smartphone inflight and click on the ad from the Gogo landing page. And if you’ve not done so already, be sure to LIKE The TICKET’s Facebook page.
AIRTRAN OVERSEAS. AirTran cranked up its new flights to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic this week—and will add new daily flights to Bermuda from Baltimore/Washington beginning April 7 and from Atlanta on May 26. AirTran now flies to sandy destinations such as: Aruba, Cancun, Mexico, Montego Bay, Jamaica, Nassau, Bahamas, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
LOUNGE ACCESS FOR GOLDS. Remember that as of March 1, all SkyMiles Gold Medallion members are welcomed into the fold of SkyTeam Elite Plus meaning they gain access to all SkyTeam lounges overseas (even when flying coach). Since this is a new alliance-wide policy, confrontations between uninformed lounge staffers can be expected so always carry your Delta SkyMiles Gold Medallion card.
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DELTA FLEET ENHANCEMENTS. Delta has announced the expedited retirement of more than 100 regional and aging mainline aircraft from its fleet as capacity growth is trimmed. Rising fuel prices have played a role in the move. First to go will be the remainder of the DC-9 fleet over the next 12-18 months. By late 2012, those gas-guzzlers will be long gone (good riddance). Also on the chopping block are the 26 Saab 340s (buh-bye!) inherited with the Northwest merger. The remainder of cuts comes from the removal of about 60 50-seat CRJ-100s, which is certain to bring applause from frequent travelers tired of the cramped Barbie Jets. This news comes on the heels of Delta’s recent request to review a narrow body replacement for its fleet to begin later in the decade. Keep watching The TICKET for any major aircraft orders that may be on the way.
CANADA’S SOUTHWEST AIRLINES. A new interline agreement is now in effect between Delta and Canadian low-cost carrier WestJet. The partnership is similar to that launched recently between Delta and Brazilian carrier Gol permitting passengers to connect between the two carriers’ flights, but SkyMiles earning/burning potential is not part of the deal yet. Calgary-based WestJet handles a third of Canadian domestic flying.
LEAK SCANNER IMAGE, GO TO JAIL. Even though the TSA insists that new body scanners cannot capture and store images, two U.S. senators propose criminalizing the dissemination of airport full body scanner images. Chuck Schumer (NY) and Ben Nelson (NE) are hoping to add an amendment to the aviation spending bill that would prohibit anyone with access to the images from copying and distributing them. If they do, they’ll face fines of up to $100,000 and a prison term.
ANDROID APP. If you’ve been feeling left out of the Delta smartphone app craze because you’ve got an Android device, your wait is over. Now, in addition to Blackberry and iPhone app, Delta’s Android app is ready for downloading from the Android Market. With the app, you can get your flight status and gate info, search schedules, get eBoarding passes, check SkyMiles balances and even set a reminder about where you are parked at the airport. Eventually, these apps could help customers stuck in winter weather situations, allowing them to view and choose flight alternatives.
HEY JAVA JUNKIES. Delta has announced a partnership with Seattle’s Best Coffee (a subsidiary company of Starbucks) to serve their coffee on board. This premium coffee brand will be served in all three classes worldwide. Quietly, Delta conducted actual taste tests aboard select flights with passengers to determine which blend would have the best taste at altitude. The winner? Level 4 (based on a scale of 1 to 5 of roast intensity). Level 4 will begin appearing on Delta mainline and Delta Connection flights in March. (We’ve just learned to travel with a handy pack of Starbuck’s VIA, a TICKET sponsor, to avoid the possibility of bad travel coffee!)
SEPTUAGENARIAN. Delta recently reached its 70th birthday serving Atlanta and celebrated with a big bash. As “Georgia’s hometown airline,” Delta deployed a new Boeing B777-200LR and christened it the “Spirit of Atlanta.” It will fly mainly on routes between ATL and Tokyo, Johannesburg, or Dubai.
NEW LOOK, BUT… The SkyMiles booking tool at delta.com may have a new look, but feels as clunky as ever. Delta made a big splash about new options to filter, modify, and sort flight search results. However some available flights are now hidden unless searching by schedule (rather than price). Also, the site still displays crazy itineraries priced at 375,000 for a Business Class ticket. To be fair, Delta does offer some “low-category” mileage tickets around the globe, especially when traveling with partner airlines, but they can never be found on delta.com due to the consistently poor search engine. As always, to score the very best award deals you have to call a Delta agent. (And remember, you don’t pay the fee for the call unless you book a ticket.)
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