(Almost) 100% lie-flat United + Asian fare sale + p.s. updates slow + run on Economy Plus

Is United new business class in the bubble on a 747 best in class at SFO? (Photo: United)

Is United new business class in the bubble on a 747 best in class at SFO? (Photo: United)

Catching up on Bay Area Travel news:

UNITED NOW 100% FLAT. Last week, United Airlines confirmed to The BAT that in long-haul business class, it is now 100% all-flat-all-the-time—all long-haul international aircraft now have United’s new 180-degree lie-flat seat. United succeeded in beating Delta, its nearest US competitor, to the punch on this front. I have to admit, I’m a fan of the new seat, especially when perched upstairs inside the bubble on a United 747-400. It feels like a private plane up there! The least desirable biz class seats are those in the middle of the middle in a 2-4-2 configuration on its reconfigured 777’s. Luckily I’ve always snagged a window or an aisle. What about you? What do you think about United’s new business class seat? Is it the seat to beat these days on long hauls out of SFO? Please leave your comments below.

UPDATE: July 11: United spokesperson Karen May writes: “It appears I misspoke when I said 100 percent of our long-haul international flights have flatbed seats. I just learned today that our flights between Honolulu and Tokyo do not have them yet. I apologize for the error.”

ASIAN ALTERNATIVE TO PRICEY EUROPE? Have you checked fares to Europe this summer? During peak summer travel season, nonstop, roundtrip fares from SFO are approaching $2,000. Singapore Airlines has just kicked off an interesting sale if you are interested in heading to Asia instead. For the next six weeks, it’s going to offer one special discounted fare per week from all its US gateways, including SFO. This week, the deal is to Singapore with round trips going for just $999 all-in for late summer and fall trips (Aug 18-Nov 15). Details here.

Emirate's foot washing station at its SFO business class lounge (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Emirate’s foot washing station at its SFO business class lounge (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

CLEAN FEET AT SFO. In addition to the posh foot-washing station inside the Emirates lounge at SFO, observant Muslims can now clean up for prayers in the parking decks.  SFgate reports that the airport has opened a new foot washing station on the ground floor parking deck for Muslim cab drivers.

HYATT IN VEGAS. If you are a Hyatt Gold Passport member, you should be pleased to know that starting in August you can earn and burn your points at some of the hottest names on the strip such as the Bellagio, Aria, MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay—all of which fall under the MGM Resorts umbrella. Hyatt follows the recent entry of other hotel programs onto The Strip scene, such as Marriott Rewards at the Cosmopolitan or IHG Priority Club at the Venetian/Palazzo.

Whoa! Check out those biz class fares to NYC!

Whoa! Check out those biz class fares to NYC!

FARES HURTING. As we predicted, summer airfares are hitting stratospheric levels. It’s interesting to see how the airlines, online agencies and assorted discounters are trying to convince us that $450 is a “great deal” for a nonstop roundtrip between the Bay Area and New York or Washington. Business class fares on SFO-JFK nonstops are currently running at an astounding $4,000 round trip. On The BAT Facebook page, reader L.N.H. wrote, “Round trip economy fares for July trips to Florida are consistently $800+. I snagged a flight one week when they dropped to $600, and they quickly went back up to $800 and now over $1000. Crazy.” Do you have any examples of appallingly high summer fares? Please share them with us below! 

ALTERNATIVES TO AIR TRAVEL. Did you read our post last week about the idea of travel via tubes, which could reduce travel time between California and New York to about 45 minutes? If you missed it, you’d be one of the few—it was the BAT’s most popular post so far this year—nearly 50,000 people have read it so far! While the idea sounds far fetched at the moment, did you know that Japan is now working on a new 311-mph MagLev train that will cut travel time between Tokyo and Kyoto from 90 minutes to just 40 minutes? I wonder if they will have that built before our “high speed” 165-mph train between SF and LA is completed in 2026 (maybe).

UPDATED PS SERVICE SFO-JFK. Rollout of new p.s. Premium service aircraft on United’s San Francisco-New York JFK run is creeping along. Currently only one aircraft (out of 15) is in service, however United Spokesperson Karen May tells The BAT that three more of the Boeing 757-200s will be ready for prime time by the end of June. Have you taken a ride on an updated p.s. flight yet? Let us know how it went!

Room service breakfast at the Shangri-La Paris. Ooo-la-la! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Room service breakfast at the Shangri-La Paris. Ooo-la-la! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

NEW YORK HILTON DUMPS ROOM SERVICE. The giant 2000-room New York Hilton Midtown (On 6th Ave) says that starting in August, it will no longer offer room service. Guests who’d like a bite to eat in their rooms will be directed to the cafeteria-style Herb n Kitchen restaurant in the hotel lobby. How do you feel about a “full service” hotel cutting out a key amenity like room service? No more late night delivery of club sandwiches or pots of coffee in the morning? Do you care? Please leave your comments below.

SUBSCRIBE TO ECONOMY PLUS? This week United rolled out new $499 annual “subscriptions” to Economy Plus seating. Subscriptions are an option for those who don’t fly United enough to obtain Gold (or higher) elite status, but still want access those roomier seats at the front of the coach cabin at the time they make their booking. Those who hold paid subscriptions will have the same first-come-first-served access to Economy Plus seats once reserved for United’s Elite Mileage Plus members. How do you feel about this? Will enough folks be willing to fork over the $499 to make a difference in elites’ ability to nab these seats first? Please leave our comments below.

NEW PERK FOR CHASE/UNITED EXPLORER CARD. Just in time for summer trips to Europe, the Chase/United Explorer card is adding a benefit long offered by the popular Chase Sapphire Preferred card: no foreign transaction fees, which can add an irritating and extra 2-3% to all purchases made in other countries. While 3% may sound inconsequential, it adds up! Spend $3,000 on a week in Europe, and you’ll get hit with an extra $90 fee if you use a card that zaps you with foreign transaction fees.

ANA IS BACK AT SJC! Last week, ANA’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner went back into service on the San Jose-Tokyo Narita route. If you recall, the plane was grounded shortly after the inauguration of the SJC-NRT flights. ANA invited me on that flight back in January and I wrote about my experience here. I must say that it was one of the best business class flights I’ve taken in the last five years!

Check out the BAT in the Noe Valley Voice!

Check out the BAT in the Noe Valley Voice!

THE BAT FEATURED IN NEWSPAPER. The Bay Area Traveler was recently featured in the best little neighborhood newspaper in San Francisco, The Noe Valley Voice. Take a read to learn more about The BAT’s fearless editor Chris McGinnis and his outlook for the summer travel season!

Chris McGinnis


Are YOU signed up for The BAT? If not, why not? Subscribe to The BAT via e-mail!


  • SFscott

    Just flew SFO-NRT-MNL on Delta in their BusinessElite class. Nice experience, but the United lay-flat bus. class seats are far nicer. As a tall person, I really couldn’t fit my feet in when the seat was fully reclined, a problem I’ve never experienced on United. Plus, the seats feel too narrow. But then all airline seats are too narrow for the average American. :(

    The aisle access is definitely a plus in Delta’s configuration, as I’ve had to climb over my neighbor most of the time on United flights. As a tall person, that’s not too challenging, but I can imagine for the average person that’s a real chore.

    My kudos to Delta for having one of the nicest lavatory experiences. The 767 to NRT had a great lavatory size (for airplanes, that is), was kept clean the whole flight (hear that, United??) and even had a fresh flower floating in water on the sink. Nice touch.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    Lie-flat seats without direct aisle access? Ugh.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    I don’t have a problem with dropping room service, as long as the hotel doesn’t mind me barefoot in my robe picking up coffee in the morning or supper at midnight.

  • Oceangoer

    Totally agree about United’s lie flat seats. I love the upstairs area of the 747 and flew that way recently from London to SFO. Not only was the lie flat seat as good as a bed but having a quilt instead of a scratchy blanket was the icing on the cake. Well done united!

  • JC

    Although DL doesn’t have flat-beds in its entire international fleet yet, I’m glad it’s been committed to offering direct aisle access in its BusinessElite cabin. It’s 747, 767, 777, and A330 fleet will have flat-beds in a 1-2-1 configuration, and all NRTSFO flights now have flat-bed 767s.

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  • Dublinguy

    I booked a coach ticket to Sydney in July for $1496, $680 of that was called a International Surcharge, still better than the $3500 + the December tie is going to cost.

  • http://www.travelskills.com/ Chris McGinnis

    United spokesperson Karen May has confirmed that old style cradle seats are still in use on HNL NRT and she apologizes for the misstatement. -Chris

  • Kacee

    Wow that is a speedy response Chris! I’m impressed with your follow-up.
    - Carl

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  • http://www.travelskills.com/ Chris McGinnis

    Thanks Kacee: I’m trying to confirm this with United PR person who supplied this info. Will make a correction as soon as they confirm.

  • Kacee

    UA is still flying one long haul international route (HNL-NRT) with a non-flatbed business class seat.

  • http://www.travelskills.com/ Chris McGinnis

    Good points! Thanks for sharing that! — chris

  • Barry K

    Great deal on the SQ fares from SFO. However, there is NO mileage accrual (On SQ or UA) and, these fares do not count towards PQM. I doubt UA will do a price match.

  • Darlene Television

    United’s seat are awful in side to side room. AA puts 4 across in business on a 777 and United puts 8.

  • Jack

    Agree until LH puts its new lie flat C seat on all their planes, then I think I’d probably pick LH, especially on the 380.

  • Tim_Dick

    Virgin’s Upper Class Suite is probably the US-Europe biz. class seat to beat. UA is good as long as you pick a seat facing aft. (Have slept 8 of the 10 hours on this flight.) If you face forward, your head is below your feet which is rather uncomfortable. Great column!

  • http://www.travelskills.com/ Chris McGinnis

    Hey Jack: I agree that Asian carriers beat UA, esp NH as you say. The 787 flight to Tokyo blew me away. But for transatlantic, I think the UA seat is winning…

  • Anon E Mouse

    Has UA upgraded the flights to Guam and Hong Kong (on the 737-800) to lie-flat also?

  • http://www.travelskills.com/ Chris McGinnis

    Well, that’s debatable, but I changed it anyway! Thanks for the heads up! — chris

  • petermjensen

    I agree: United’s true lie flat seats in BUsiness class are awesome. They deserve credit for this one. Thanks United!

  • Jack

    Not sure what constitutes a branding as a full service hotel, but I would suspect room service is one of those items….Granted the NY Hilton isn’t a five-star property, I would expect it to have room service available.

  • Jack

    Do not think United lie flats are the best in SFO. Compared to many other carriers who offer direct aisle access and far more privacy in every seat. You even mention the four across yourself and not being optimal. SQ is probably the best, but NH certainly is up there and much better than UA. Recent paid C on NH has been the same as UA — and I’m not even bringing up the service differences.

  • Guest

    Singapore is West, not East ;)

  • garydpdx

    UA’s new E+ subscription, if it takes off, will likely alienate MP Silvers for whom E+ seats are embargoed until 24 hours before scheduled departure. I can imagine that taller moderate fliers who have been paying for E+ access on a per flight basis might be able to justify it for a few as 6-7 round trips/year …

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