12 wishes for better Bay Area travel in 2014

Looking out at the bowed wing of ANA's 787 to Tokyo and pondering 2014 (Photo:  Chris McGinnis)

Looking out at the bowed wing of ANA’s 787 to Tokyo and pondering 2014 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

1-That airlines come to their senses and strive to be the first to offer low-cost texting during flights instead of feeding the media frenzy over the possibility of inflight phone calls.

2-That Virgin America continues its recent string of quarterly profits so we don’t have to worry about it disappearing and leaving us without an airline that makes us smile. Nonstops from SFO to New York La Guardia would be nice, too!

3-That United is able to smoothly roll out dependable inflight wi-fi on its entire fleet, as some of its competitors have already done. It would also be nice to see United respond to competitors and bring its SFO lounges up to international standards.

4-That airlines quickly dump their uncomfortable “angled lie flat” business class seats, and bring them up to the new “true-lie-flat” standard offered by the likes of United, which now offers one of the best business class seats flying to/from SFO. (Lufthansa could take care of this quickly by deploying its new Boeing 747-8 on SFO-Frankfurt!)

5-That all hotels adopt the reasonable practice of offering basic wi-fi for free to all guests, limiting charges only to those who want to pipes fat enough to stream movies, or send/receive very large files.

6-That competition between Alaska, Delta, United and Virgin America continues to make travel up and down the West Coast cheap, frequent and full of unusual extras.

7-That new planes, new seats and new technology on the busy SFO-NYC corridor helps drive down business class fares, which now hover around $3,000-$4,000 roundtrip.

8-That upstart companies like Uber, Lyft, FlightCar, RelayRides and SilverCar continue to disrupt the staid, overpriced and over-regulated ground transportation business and make it easier and cheaper for us to get to/from airports and around town.

9-That all credit card companies dump irritating foreign transaction fees and add chips to cards to make them cheaper and easier to use overseas.

10-That airlines stop chipping away at their frequent flyer programs, making it tougher to redeem miles, and ticking off their best customers.

11-That San Jose and Oakland International Airports can add frequent and reasonably priced nonstop flights to more key destinations, which will help make them viable alternatives to increasingly crowded and delay-plagued SFO. Norwegian’s new nonstops between Scandinavia and Oakland and ANA’s nonstops between San Jose and Tokyo are a great start.

12-That all our cherished Bay Area Traveler blog readers continue to engage and interact with The BAT and tell at least FIVE FRIENDS to check it out and sign up! 

What would YOU like to see in 2014? Please leave your comments below! 

Happy New Year! – Chris McGinnis

And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

Are you a “data traveler?”

Virgin SFO-LaGuardia + AA’s newest jet + Global Entry delays + more

Best/worst days for holiday trips

New terminal at SFO: hard hat tour (photos)

16 brand new, must see NYC hotels

Update: United p.s. fleet SFO-JFK

Asia on sale + PreCheck newbies + United wi-fi + Free airport parking + Nancy Pelosi

Virgin first class sale + Hilton HHonors downgrade + Chase Sapphire w chip + United dumps ExpertFlyer

More A380s + Cathay discounts biz class + SJC courts Asia + Double Elevate pts

>Southwest FINALLY joins PreCheck

>United to allow handhelds below 10K feet

>Travel advice fit for a Queen (Latifah!)

***

Subscribe to The Bay Area Traveler- The BAT-  via e-mail!

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

 

Best/worst days for holiday trips

(Photo: Bert Kaufmann)

(Photo: Bert Kaufmann)

Holiday travel season usually mimics the peak summer travel season, which this year was very busy and very expensive, so I expect the same for the upcoming holiday season.

Screen Shot 2013-11-30 at 9.26.07 AMWhen’s the best time to buy airline tickets? Due to high demand, there simply are not any real airfare “deals” on the peak days around Christmas and New Year’s this year. Travelers who want the most convenient flights on their preferred airlines should book as soon as possible to get seats on those flights…otherwise they will likely be stuck paying the same high price for “dog flights” that depart super early or late, they’ll have to sit in those dreaded middle seats, or make several stops en route to their destinations. My favorite sites for shopping for air travel this year: Kayak.com and Routehappy.com.

Should I drive or fly this year? I always stick to the five-hour rule: If you can drive to your destination in five hours or less, it’s likely smarter to hit the road instead of the skies during the holidays. This is especially true for families traveling together. Good news this year is that gasoline prices are at their lowest in many years. One of my favorite new smartphone apps for driving trips is Waze, a GPS-based mapping tool that uses information provided by other drivers to help you avoid traffic, road hazards…and speed traps.

Screen Shot 2013-12-01 at 1.18.27 PM

What are the best days for traveling this year? The good news about this year’s holiday season is that it is longer than usual with Christmas and New Year’s falling on Wednesdays– the full season will be over two weeks long, which means more wiggle room for travelers. (Compared to a season when Christmas and New Year’s both fall on say, Sunday, which makes for a much more compact, crowded and expensive season.) Smart travelers will depart on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and return on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day to avoid the biggest crowds and snag the lowest fares.

London in January? Why not? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

London in January? Why not? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Are there any alternatives or hidden secrets to getting good deals this year? If you have the flexibility to travel during the slowest times of year, the so called “dead weeks” of early December and early January, you can save 50%-70% on airfare or hotels. For example, airfares to Europe can be remarkably inexpensive during winter months. The best sites to shop for these dead week deals: Hotwire.com, Priceline.com and TravelZoo.com. It’s also a good idea to check out airline or hotel social media streams on sites like Twitter or Facebook to look for short term, last minute sales.

Screen Shot 2013-11-29 at 4.25.17 PM

The Chase Sapphire Preferred card now comes with an embedded microchip for easier use overseas

Is now a good time to redeem points or miles for trips? It’s nearly impossible to use airline frequent flyer awards during the blacked out, heavily restricted peak holiday season. Instead of dealing with those frustrations, focus on your credit card points! For example, the when redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you are not subject to blackouts or other restrictions. If a seat is available on any airline, you can get it!

What about airline baggage fees? If possible, avoid checking bags during the holidays– the risk of your bag getting lost and ruining your trip is just too high. Try to learn to live out of a carry on. If you have too much for a carry on, ship your bags ahead of time, but do so at the “ground” rate at UPS, FEDEX or the Postal Service. Shipping a 25 lb bag via next-day or two-day express is just too expensive.

What’s a good way to avoid holiday travel stress? Always try to book nonstop flights because you double your chances of a delay or cancellation with a one stop flight, even though you might save a few bucks. Another stress-busting move: Consider staying over in a hotel when visiting families during the holidays– rates at new hotels like a locally owned Best Western in or near suburban office parks hit annual lows during holidays (due to the lack of business travelers), and facilities are usually new and nice. Having your own space at a hotel is a big relief for both the traveler and the host during the stressy holidays.

Doesn't that look more appealing than a lumpy sofa bed? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Doesn’t that look more appealing than a lumpy sofa bed at the in-laws? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

‘Tis the season for Holiday Travel and I’m pleased to announce that I’ve teamed up with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card to produce a series of travel tips and advice for those heading over the river and through the woods this year. 

Chris McGinnis 

 

And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

New terminal at SFO: hard hat tour (photos)

16 brand new, must see NYC hotels

Update: United p.s. fleet SFO-JFK

Asia on sale + PreCheck newbies + United wi-fi + Free airport parking + Nancy Pelosi

Virgin first class sale + Hilton HHonors downgrade + Chase Sapphire w chip + United dumps ExpertFlyer

More A380s + Cathay discounts biz class + SJC courts Asia + Double Elevate pts

>Southwest FINALLY joins PreCheck

>United to allow handhelds below 10K feet

>Travel advice fit for a Queen (Latifah!)

***

Subscribe to The Bay Area Traveler- The BAT-  via e-mail!

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

16 brand new, must-see NYC hotels (slideshow)

A brand new Marriott Courtyard AND Residence  Inn open in this skyscraper near Central Park (Photo: Marriott)

A brand new Marriott Courtyard AND Residence Inn open in December in this skyscraper near the SW corner of Central Park (Photo: Marriott)

New hotels are sprouting up throughout New York City like mushrooms after a storm—New York has added more than 5,000 rooms in the last two years, and by the end of 2014, it will boast over 100,000, according to NYC & Company, the city’s tourism organization.

See my Google slideshow of new hotels here- photos and captions 

In December alone, Marriott will open two brand new hotels inside the same building: a 378-room Courtyard and a 261-room Residence Inn. The soaring steel and glass tower near the southwest corner of Central Park is now the tallest hotel building in the western hemisphere. Also in December, Hyatt opens the brand new-from-the-ground-up 487-room, 54-story Hyatt Times Square.

Check out the view from this room at the brand new Viceroy Hotel on 57th St. (Photo: Viceroy Hotel)

Check out the view from this room at the brand new Viceroy Hotel on 57th St. (Photo: Viceroy Hotel)

While heavy demand is keeping hotel prices high, many of Manhattans newest hotels are in the less expensive category—for example, in an area between the Empire State Building and Herald Square (just south of Times Square)… there is a concentration of brand new mid-priced, big brand hotels such as Best Western PremierHilton Garden InnHoliday Inn Express or Marriott Courtyard  (among others). These hotels offer relatively good deals, new (but small), modern rooms, free wi-fi, breakfast and points in your favorite hotel loyalty program– definitely worth checking out.

While most business travelers have likely spent the night at hotels in the popular, central Midtown or Times Square areas, demand has prompted a hotel building boom across all five boroughs of the city, providing a slew of brand new, upscale options in areas like the Upper West Side (NYLO hotel), Greenwich Village (The Jade Hotel) Brooklyn (Wythe Hotel) or Queens (Z Hotel).

Despite all the new construction, upscale hotels in NYC are expensive. It’s difficult to find a decent hotel room for less than $400 per night. Of course there are some times of year when rooms go for much less than that (like early January) but for the most part, you are going to have to part with a lot of cash for a nice room in NYC.

See my Google slideshow of new hotels here- photos and captions 

A few more highlights:

New Triplex Suites atop the New York Palace hotel have huge outdoor decks w Jacuzzis (Chris McGinnis)

New Triplex Suites atop the New York Palace hotel have huge outdoor decks w Jacuzzis (Chris McGinnis)

The opulent 909-room New York Palace hotel (ion Madison Ave in Midtown) just completed a major $140 million re-do of all rooms and suites. Its triplex suites (see photo) are unlike anything I’ve ever seen in NYC. Wowza!

The mod, eclectic 178-room Hyatt Union Square opened in April 2013 one block south of Union Square Park on Fourth Ave and 13th St.

Hilton devotees should be pleased to know that  the new 463-suite Conrad New York hotel in Battery Park City (near Freedom Tower) took the place of the one time Embassy Suites in the same building. It’s now much more upscale, and full of downtown financial types from Wall Street or the Goldman Sachs building next door (which incidentally owns the hotel.)

The chic 240-room Viceroy New York opened in October 2013 on West 57th Street near Carnegie Hall– and right next door to the Le Parker Meridien.  The urbane 208-room Quin hotel opened down the street last earlier this month.

The new 60-room High Line Hotel (on the west side of town in Chelsea) is part of a mixed-use block that is part hotel, part Episcopal seminary and part residential building.

It’s fashionista central at the new 197-room Refinery Hotel, located in the garment district near Bryant Park.

See my Google slideshow of new hotels here- photos and captions 

Have you visited New York City recently? Where did you stay? Please leave your comments below

Chris McGinnis 

 

And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

Update: United p.s. fleet SFO-JFK

Asia on sale + PreCheck newbies + United wi-fi + Free airport parking + Nancy Pelosi

Virgin first class sale + Hilton HHonors downgrade + Chase Sapphire w chip + United dumps ExpertFlyer

More A380s + Cathay discounts biz class + SJC courts Asia + Double Elevate pts

>Southwest FINALLY joins PreCheck

>United to allow handhelds below 10K feet

>Travel advice fit for a Queen (Latifah!)

>New landing procedure at SFO should help w delays! Hallelujah!

>Big, bad United MileagePlus surprise 

>Virgin’s new Safety Dance

***

Subscribe to The Bay Area Traveler- The BAT-  via e-mail!

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

Virgin first class sale + Hilton HHonors downgrade + Chase Sapphire w chip + United dumps ExpertFlyer

Virgin's cushy first class seats look like big white marshmallows (Virgin America)

Virgin’s cushy first class seats look like big white marshmallows (Virgin America)

BIG SEATS, BIG SALE ON VIRGIN. To keep the those posh seats at front of the plane full during Thanksgiving week, Virgin America announced a flash sale today— those normally pricey first and main cabin select seats are on sale at 50% off, but only for bookings made by midnight tomorrow night (Nov 20) for trips between Friday, Nov 21 and Sunday, Nov 30. Get the deal by booking at VirginAmerica.com and using the promo code: BESTSEATS. These are VERY good deals… esp first class to Vegas for $300 round trip!

Sample roundtrip fares from SFO:

Main Cabin Select / First Class:

New York JFK: $600 / $2028
Newark: $580 / $1548
Washington DC $488 / $1346
Los Angeles: $210 / $248
Seattle: $254 / $460
Las Vegas $232 / $300

HiltonHHonorsLogoHILTON HHONORS NIXES POINTS AND FIXED MILES OPTION…Hilton has been unique among major hotel brands for allowing hotel guests to “double dip” by earning both hotel points and a fixed number of airline miles for their stay (typically 500 miles). Effective Jan. 6, 2014, guests can continue to double dip with airlines, but miles will be earned at a rate of one mile per dollar spent—no more fixed rates. This significantly downgrades the mileage earning option, and most travelers would be wise to switch to the “points and points” option allowing bonus Hilton HHonors points instead of “points and miles.” This is, yet another, indication of travel companies adjusting their loyalty programs to award travelers based on revenue.

Subscribe to The Bay Area Traveler- The BAT-  via e-mail!

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 12.29.19 PMCHASE SAPPHIRE PREFERRED ADDS MICROCHIP TECHNOLOGY… The popular Chase Sapphire Preferred Card can now come with an embedded chip like those found in cards issued outside the US. Many retailers and travel suppliers overseas have difficulty accepting the traditional magnetic strip card used in the US so the addition of the chip should help with global acceptance. To get a card with a chip, just call the number on the back of your Chase Sapphire Preferred Card . Chase will send the new card (same # and expiration date) via UPS to you for free. Important: This is a chip and signature card, not a chip and PIN card, which means that a human being must still be present for you to sign for your purchase. Since it’s not a chip and PIN card, it will not work at unmanned European train station ticket kiosks—you’ll still have to go to the window and sign for tickets. When I called for mine, the Chase representative told me that if asked for a PIN at point of purchase, the user should just press “cancel” which will prompt the merchant to obtain a signature. Chase Sapphire Preferred also waives foreign transaction fees and provides points with Ultimate Rewards, which can be redeemed on airlines like United, British Airways, Korean Air, Marriott, and Hyatt among others. It’s also currently offering a nice sign up bonus of 40,000 points.  This is what puts this card at the top of nearly every list of top cards for frequent travelers. Apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card  here. (Disclosure: The BAT earns a small commission when you apply via links posted here.)

EXPERT FLYER LOSES STAR ALLIANCE AWARD DATA…ExpertFlyer.com, a popular tool used to research flight availability and search for award seat space, has lost the ability to access award space data to Star Alliance carriers. This seems quite suspicious considering United just slashed its award chart making it more expensive to book tickets effective Feb. 1, 2014—and no doubt more travelers are making award ticket reservations between now and that date. Could United have played a role in the removal of this data from ExpertFlyer to make it harder to find space? Not all Star Alliance airlines appear in award searches via United.com. Luckily, travelers with an All Nippon Airways frequent flyer account can still log in to see complete Star Alliance award availability and then phone United to make their reservations.

EMIRATES/VIRGIN AMERICA BECOME LOYALTY PARTNERS…Members of Emirates and Virgin America’s frequent flyer programs can earn and burn their miles on each other’s flights. Until now, the only other easy way to earn and redeem miles on Emirates (without flying Emirates directly) was by using Alaska Airlines miles, which provides a similar partnership. Virgin Elevate now partners with two of the worlds finest airlines.. Emirate and Singapore. Not bad! 

Chris McGinnis 

And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

More A380s + Cathay discounts biz class + SJC courts Asia + Double Elevate pts

>Southwest FINALLY joins PreCheck

>United to allow handhelds below 10K feet

>Travel advice fit for a Queen (Latifah!)

>New landing procedure at SFO should help w delays! Hallelujah!

>Big, bad United MileagePlus surprise 

>Virgin’s new Safety Dance

>Riding the Red Carpet Route to London! 

>Double Miles on United & Southwest

>$100 hotels in NYC 

>Two posh new lounges coming to SFO 

***

Subscribe to The Bay Area Traveler- The BAT-  via e-mail!

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

Chris & Queen Latifah talk holiday travel (VIDEO)

Queen Latifah called for holiday travel advice last week and we delivered!

She flew BAT editor Chris McGinnis down to LA (Delta Shuttle), met him at the airport with Mercedes SUV transfers, and put him up at the Hotel Palomar in Westwood for one night.

Chris McGinnis and Queen Latifah on the Queen Latifah Show set in Los Angeles

Chris McGinnis and Queen Latifah on the Queen Latifah Show set in Los Angeles

On show day, more limo transfers to the Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City for the taping of the seven-minute segment. The Queen provided my own private green room, with a small sofa, desk, snacks, bathroom. Other guests that day included Cloris Leachman and the Irish band Kodaline.

We taped the segment in front of a live audience from two first class airline seats in the middle of the set! the Queen was warm, personable and a LOT of fun (I expected no less!). Did you know that Queen Latifah’s real name is Dana Owens? That’s what everyone behind stage was calling her. (I just called her “your Majesty!)

Then a rush to LAX (thankfully the day before the incident at Terminal 3) and back to San Francisco.

What a fun day!

See part of the segment above…. or check out the show notes I sent prior to appearing on the show.

Holiday travel- Holiday travel season usually mimics the peak summer travel season, which this year was VERY busy and VERY expensive, so I expect the same for the upcoming holiday season

·         Best time to buy tickets- Due to high demand, there simply are not any “deals” on the peak days around Christmas and New Years this year. This year, travelers who want the most convenient flights on their preferred airlines need to book by Nov 10 to get seats on those flights…otherwise they will likely be stuck paying the same high price for “dog flights” that depart super early or late, middle seats, or multiple stops on non-preferred airlines. My favorite sites for booking air: Kayak.com and Routehappy.com

·         Alternative travel options that people don’t think about- If you have the flexibility to travel during the slowest times of year, the so called “dead weeks” of early December and early January, you can save 50-70% on airfare. Best sites for deadweek deals: Hotwire.com, TravelZoo. Another alternative is to consider staying over in a hotel when visiting families during the holidays– rates at new hotels in or near suburban office parks are at annual lows during holidays, and facilities are nice. Having your own space at a hotel is a big relief for both the traveler and the host during the stressy holidays.

·         Best days/times for traveling- Good news about this year’s holiday season is that it is LONGER than usual with Christmas and New Years falling on Wednesdays– the full season will be over two weeks long, which means more wiggle room for travelers. (Compared to a season when Xmas and New Years both fall on say, Sunday, which makes for a much more compact season)

·         Luggage issues– Do not check bags during the holidays. If you have too much for a carry on, ship ahead of time, but do so at the “ground” rate at UPS or FEDEX. Shipping overnight or two-day is too expensive.

·         Rewards. It’s nearly impossible to use airline frequent flyer awards during blacked out peak holiday season, so this is the time of year to focus on using credit card rewards such as Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards which do not have blackout dates. Also, hotel programs like Best Western Rewards offer non travel awards such as gift cards to big stores like Sears or Target that are perfect gifts

·         How to make holiday travel less stressful– see above– stay at a hotel instead of on the lumpy sofa bed of your relatives. Rates are dirt cheap during holiday season. Also, always try to book nonstop flights because you double your chances of a delay or cancellation with a one stop flight, even though you might save a few bucks.

Chris McGinnis 

And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

>New landing procedure at SFO should help w delays! Hallelujah!

>Big, bad United MileagePlus surprise 

>Virgin’s new Safety Dance

>Riding the Red Carpet Route to London! 

>Double Miles on United & Southwest

>$100 hotels in NYC 

>Two posh new lounges coming to SFO 

>Airline cat fight benefitting Bay Area Travelers 

***

Subscribe to The Bay Area Traveler- The BAT-  via e-mail!

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

Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard – $89 Annual Fee Card     Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard - $89 Annual Fee Card

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more on purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. 40,000 bonus miles equates to $400 off your next travel redemption!
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months after account opening. After that, variable APR, currently 14.99% or 18.99%, based upon your creditworthiness
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • No mileage caps or foreign transaction fees
  • Get 10% miles back when you redeem for travel statement credits (i.e. redeem 25,000 miles for travel and get 2,500 miles back)
  • Use your card to book through any airline, hotel or discount travel engine with no blackout dates or seat restrictions
  • Easily redeem your miles for statement credits towards all or a portion of your travel purchases within the last 90 days
  • Complimentary online FICO® Score access for Arrival cardmembers

Double miles on United, Southwest + $100 hotels in NYC

Flying down the coast on a fine fall day peering down at Pacifica & Devil's slide (Chris McGinnis)

Flying down the coast on a fine fall day peering down at Pacifica & Devil’s slide (Chris McGinnis)

When demand for air travel declines during the fall and winter months, airlines and hotels roll out promotions to keep us on the road and in the sky, which helps build up those banks of loyalty points.

For example, yesterday United MileagePlus launched a double miles promotion valid during the very slow weeks leading up to Thanksgiving– from now through November 21 only. But the promo is full of catches and limiting loopholes.

For example, you’ll only earn double miles on domestic US flights in the contiguous 48 states, which is a clear sign that this promo is a reaction to Southwest’s double points offer (see below).

It only applies to flights booked and flown between now and Nov 21.  So for example, if you already have a reservation to fly United next week, you won’t earn double miles on it.

Finally, and most irritatingly, it also does not apply to the lowest fare classes. And as usual, the double miles are BONUS miles and do not count toward your annual PQMs.

Registration is required and you’ll find full details here.

Subscribe to The Bay Area Traveler- The BAT-  via e-mail!

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards kicked off the double points promo last week, good for all flights booked and traveled between now and Nov 21.

What’s nice is that this DOES apply to Southwest’s cheapest Wanna Get Away fares, where you’ll earn six bonus points per dollar spent. More expensive Anytime fares earn 10 bonus points and Business Select fares earn 12 bonus points.

Registration is required and you’ll find full details here. 

Virgin America is offering double Elevate points through Dec 31 to those booking more expensive (and roomy) Main Cabin Select or first class fare. Details here.  Virgin has also slashed fares for trips during the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Check out the deals here. 

Subscribe to The Bay Area Traveler- The BAT-  via e-mail!

It’s not just airlines trying to pump up the volume during slower months…. hotels are getting in on the act, too.

For example, Best Western is offering up to 20% off its standard rates for those booking on its website and selecting “Internet Only” rates for stays between now and Nov 24. It’s also offering a nice bump of 1,000 points to members of Best Western Rewards. Details here. (Disclosure: I’m a contributor to Best Western’s YouMustBeTrippin.com blog.)

Anyone who has traveled to New York recently has felt the pain of some of the highest hotel rates in the country. But that will change during the cold dark weeks of early January.

Newly renovated lobby at Affinia Manhattan hotel (Affinia)

Newly renovated lobby at Affinia Manhattan hotel (Affinia)

From Jan 3-12, you’ll find rates of $100, $200 and $300 available at a variety of properties, (many of which currently go for nearly $500 a night), so the savings can be substantial.

For example, the popular Affinia Manhattan is going for $100 per night; the hip and brand new Refinery Hotel (garment district) and Jade hotel (Greenwich Village) are going for $200 per night. For $300 you can squeeze in the trendy new Thompson LES (Lower East Side) for $300.

For a full listing of participating hotels and how to get the discount see this. 

Chris McGinnis

 

Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard - $89 Annual Fee CardSPONSOR: HOW TO GET A $400 AIRLINE TICKET FOR $89…and help out The BAT?: Want to snag an easy 40,000 bonus miles? Earn 2x miles on all purchases? Avoid obnoxious foreign transaction fees? Get TripIt Pro for free? Check out the new Barclaycard promo here or at the bottom of this post. Easy peasy! Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard – $89 Annual Fee Card We earn a small commission when BATs sign up, so if you are in the market for a new card, help us out and sign up! It’s quick and easy.

And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

>Two posh new lounges coming to SFO 

>Airline cat fight benefitting Bay Area Travelers 

>8 things to like about Delta’s new California Shuttle

>Clock is ticking on latest Fall/Winter nationwide fare sale

>United’s newer, thinner seat

>Delta dumps SFO-Tokyo flight

>Slideshow of the swish new Star Alliance lounge at LAX

***

Subscribe to The Bay Area Traveler- The BAT-  via e-mail!

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

 

Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard – $89 Annual Fee Card     Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard - $89 Annual Fee Card

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more on purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. 40,000 bonus miles equates to $400 off your next travel redemption!
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months after account opening. After that, variable APR, currently 14.99% or 18.99%, based upon your creditworthiness
  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • No mileage caps or foreign transaction fees
  • Get 10% miles back when you redeem for travel statement credits (i.e. redeem 25,000 miles for travel and get 2,500 miles back)
  • Use your card to book through any airline, hotel or discount travel engine with no blackout dates or seat restrictions
  • Easily redeem your miles for statement credits towards all or a portion of your travel purchases within the last 90 days
  • Complimentary online FICO® Score access for Arrival cardmembers

 

 

 

 

 

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

A Delta Embraer 175. Photo: Christopher Ebdon

A Delta Embraer 175. Photo: Christopher Ebdon

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

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

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

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

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

A United 737-900 in Orlando (DolceLuxury)

A United 737-900 in Orlando (DolceLuxury)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

United's new Scimitar split winglet (United)

United’s new Scimitar split winglet (United)

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

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

 

Chris McGinnis

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United’s silver sedans + iPads inflight + Virgin fees up + RelayRides SFO + more

Sorry for the recent lag in updates! Let’s catch up on Bay Area Travel (BAT!) news right now! Due to the info overload, I’ve split this post into two parts… Part One today, Part Two arrives tomorrow!

United has deployed two silver Mercedes at Houston IAH to shuttle arriving passengers. (Photo: United)

United has deployed two silver Mercedes at Houston IAH to shuttle arriving passengers. (Photo: United)

UNITED PERKS INCLUDE MERCS. If you have Global Services status or fly in first class to or through Houston, United might pick you up in a new Mercedes sedan at the jet bridge when you land and then drive you to your next flight. The new service is similar to what Lufthansa offers first class passengers at its super elite first class terminal in Frankfurt. It’s also very similar to the Porsche rides Delta has been surprising its super elite with at Atlanta airport. Currently United is using silver S or GL class models “to surprise and delight our top customers who may be anxious about missing a connecting flight.” Right now it’s only in Houston, but United is saying that it could add it at “another United hub” in the future. Have you received this rock star treatment yet? What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

Here's my view of the Asiana 214 crash as I flew in from Atlanta on a Delta 767 on July 11. What a sight! (Chris McGinnis)

Here’s my view of the Asiana 214 crash as I flew in from Atlanta on a Delta 767 on July 11. What a sight! (Chris McGinnis)

ASIANA AFTERMATH. Asiana will re-number its daily flight between Seoul and SFO in light of the recent crash. What was Asiana flight 214 will become Asiana flight 212 from Seoul and flight 211 for the return SFO-Seoul flight according to the AirlineRoute.net website. It also reports that United has quietly canceled its code share agreement with Asiana on this route only due to the ongoing investigation of the accident. United has its own 747 deployed on the SFO-ICN route every day. In similar news, in light of the Asiana accident, the FAA will no longer allow foreign carriers to touch down side-by-side with other airlines as they sometimes do on clear days at SFO. Domestic carriers will still be able to touch down in tandem.

IPAD OR KINDLE IN FLIGHT? Remember hearing that the FAA was convening a passel of experts to determine if it was okay for us to use our iPads or Kindles during take off, landing and taxi? The group was to have made their recommendations this week. But they didn’t. They’ve asked for an extension on a decision until Sept. 30. Bah!

RelayRides come-on to SFO travelers-- avoid airport parking fees, get a free car wash.

RelayRides come-on to SFO travelers– avoid airport parking fees, get a free car wash.

ARRESTING DRIVERS AT SFO.  NBC Bay Area reports: “In the past month, San Francisco International Airport officials have been citing and arresting drivers from mobile-app enabled rideshare companies that pick up and drop off passengers. Airport spokesman Doug Yakel said there have been seven citizen arrests issued to various offenders since July 10.  The airport had issued cease and desist letters to several rideshare companies, including Lyft, Sidecar and Uber, in April. Since then, Yakel said airport officials, in conjunction with airport police, had been ‘admonishing’ drivers that came to the airport. Yakel said the companies are not permitted to offer their services at SFO and they are now being arrested for unlawful trespassing.” While the situation sounds increasingly bellicose, yet another company, Relay Rides has opened up shop down by the airport. Relay Rides (with services similar to FlightCar) is hoping to get around airport rules by operating out of the Aloft SFO airport hotel parking lots and having its customers use existing hotel shuttles to get to/from the airport. An SFO spokesperson told The BAT: “Relay Rides contacted us to request the information to get permitted to operate with SFO. They’re not permitted yet, but we have provided the information to them.” What do you think? Is it fair to let this new and disruptive breed of “sharing” services operate without paying its dues at the airport? Would you consider renting out your car parked at SFO to avoid $18/day parking fees? Please leave your comments below. 

VIRGIN AMERICA ALTERS UPGRADE FEES. Upgrades to Virgin’s Main Cabin Select up to 24 hours before flight time now range from $39 (short haul west coast flights) to $159 (transcons). Upgrade fees to first from Main Cabin Select are up significantly– now $50 to $240, up from the previous $39 to $169. Upgrades from standard coach to first class are now $89 to $299. While higher fees and fares are painful for travelers, they could spell salvation for our hometown carrier, which has struggled to post profits in its five years of existence. Stay tuned for Virgin’s financial reporting for summer quarter due out next week.

PS FLIGHTS SFO-JFK UPDATE. United’s new TV spot for transcon p.s. flights seems a tad early considering there are only four of 15 refurbished p.s. flights flying between SFO, New York and LAX. It’s tough to tell, but I’m hearing that LAX is seeing more refurbished planes than SFO. Have you been on one? Thoughts or observations?  

United's 757-200 refurbished

United’s 757-200 refurbished– the one to look for when booking SFO-JFK in biz class

HOW TO BOOK A REFURBISHED 757? How to tell if the plane/flight you are booking is refurbished?  Go to united.com to book a flight. Before selecting a flight, click on the “View Seats” link and look for the 757 that has 28 business class seats. Keep in mind that United reserves the right to swap around planes, so you may not always get what you think.

JETBLUE SUITES TO JFK? As the battle for the premium transcon passenger heats up, JetBlue is apparently considering adding four enclosed “mini-suites” on its transcon A321 aircraft. While JetBlue remains hush-hush on the topic, the blogosphere lit up last month when plans for the plush new seats were uncovered in a filing with the FAA and revealed by the APEX Editors Blog.

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ALASKA AIR FEES UP. Starting October 30, the fee to change an Alaska Air ticket within 60 days of departure will cost $125, up from $75. Gold or 75K MVP members will continue to have the fee waived. Checked bag fees on Alaska are now $25 each for the first or second bag, and a steep $75 for the third. Elite level members of Mileage Plan, Delta SkyMiles and American AAdvantage get can check two bags for free.

The world's first "edgy" hotel: Radisson Blu Royal hotel in Copenhagen (Chris McGinnis)

The world’s first “edgy” hotel: Radisson Blu Royal hotel in Copenhagen (Chris McGinnis)

COPENHAGEN ON BIZ? Remember when I wrote a trip report about my flight to Copenhagen on the SAS inaugural SFO-CPH run last spring? Here’s part of the result of that trip, my BBC Business Trip: Copenhagen story. I think the Danish city might be one of the best in the world for business travelers. Check out the story (and slideshow!) and see if you agree.

MORE CLEAR. Clear expedited security lines will open this fall at Houston’s Intercontinental and Hobby airports. The service also recently opened at San Antonio. Clear operates at every entry point at SFO. Do you use Clear? What do you think? How does it compare to PreCheck? Please leave your comments below.

SILVERCAR RENTALS FOR FREE? Silvercar, the new rental car company with a fleet of silver Audi A4s (only) is giving away two free rental days in Dallas or Austin between now and August 15. Catch: you must fly Virgin America by Aug 15 and book by tomorrow, July 31! Details here.

SINGAPORE AIR OVERHAUL. Singapore Airlines will overhaul eight of its Boeing 777-300ER jets starting this September. Those nice wide sofa-like biz class seats will get new 18-inch inflight entertainment screens and more stowage space. Best of all, the planes will get the newest version of Singapore’s excellent Krisworld in-flight entertainment, which will feature touch screen hand controllers. Economy class passengers will have access to the same content (1000+ movies, programs) on larger seatback screens. Plus, economy class seats get a revamp adding an extra inch of knee room and more cushioning. CNN asks if it could be the “world’s best economy class.” However, there is no firm date set for the arrival of Singapore’s overhauled 777s at SFO. Stay tuned.

Chris McGinnis

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

10 things about new Aloft hotels

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Over the last year, I’ve been hearing a lot about the new Aloft hotel brand from Starwood. Since I have not had the chance to sleep over in one yet, I asked for a tour of the Aloft San Francisco Airport, one of the three Aloft hotels in the Bay Area—all of which have opened in the last year.

With my camera and notepad I met up with hotel sales & marketing manager Janfred Agarao who showed me around the hotel located on Millbrae Ave just south of SFO.

(click here for my Google+ slideshow of the Aloft at SFO)

Here’s what I saw and learned.

>The Aloft brand is billed as “A Vision of W Hotels” and it’s clear that the W is from where the new chain’s quirky and colorful spirit comes. The SFO property was the 62nd Aloft hotel to open—Starwood expects to have 80 by the end of this year. The other Bay Area locations the Aloft Silicon Valley, located in Newark, which used to be the old W Silicon Valley, and the Aloft Cupertino, near the Apple campus.)

>Most Aloft hotels are built new-from-the-ground-up, but this building started out in the 60’s as the Thunderbird Hotel (which starred in the film, Bullitt), and most recently was a Clarion hotel. Starwood came in and took the building down to the studs and added brand new space, so the look and feel is brand spanking new.

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>The six story Aloft at SFO opened last September with 252 rooms. Its average rate is about $239 per night. Occupancy is healthy—the hotel regularly sells out on midweek on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but struggles to fill up on weekends (which is when rates take a tumble to the $150 range).

(click here for my Google+ slideshow of the Aloft at SFO)

>Most Aloft hotels are located in suburbs, near airports or on the fringes of major downtown areas. For example, New York City locations are in Harlem and in Brooklyn.

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>The lobby of the Aloft at SFO is big, bright and lively—the hotel calls it the “remix area” and there’s room for small groups to gather, communal tables, an unusual blue pool table, free wi-fi, and electrical outlets all over the place. Stationary iPads are available for browsing or making reservations via OpenTable. There are also two desktop computers and a printer.

>Food service is “grab and go” with a wide variety of snacks, such as prepared salads and sandwiches Butterfingers, trail mix or Doritos, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream or It’s It bars are available for sale. Guests who want a full service meal can walk across the parking lot to the Westin hotel.

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>Agarao said that the busiest time in the lobby is morning and during happy hour, from 5-8 pm when there’s live acoustical music and discounts on snacks, beer and designer cocktails at the WXYZ bar– muddled watermelon martinis anyone?

(click here for my Google+ slideshow of the Aloft at SFO)

>While Starwood is clearly trying to cater to a younger crowd with the Aloft brand, Agarao said guests generally range from 20 to 50 years old.

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>Beds in nearly every room at the Aloft are placed opposite the window instead of lining up along side it as they do in most hotel rooms. Good feng shui? Who knows? But rooms appear modern, comfortable and well appointed with Bliss bath products, coffee makers and quirky touches like retro-clocks.

>Rooms located on the hotel’s 6th floor offer excellent views of planes taking off and landing on SFO runways…a hypnotizing sight…and only minimal rumbles from jet blasts.

(click here for my Google+ slideshow of the Aloft at SFO)

Have you stayed at an Aloft hotel yet? Let us know what you think! Please leave your comments below! 

Chris McGinnis

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United + Marriott: Reciprocity cuts both ways

JW Marriott & Ritz-Carlton tower over the LA Live complex in downtown Los Angeles (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

JW Marriott & Ritz-Carlton tower over the LA Live complex in downtown Los Angeles (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

United and Marriott have launched a  new program called RewardsPlus (a clever combo of each loyalty program name), which offers reciprocal elite level benefits in both programs.

This means that starting today, United Premier Gold, Platinum, 1K and Global Services members (who are not already elite with Marriott) will get elite Gold level benefits in the Marriott Rewards program, including concierge lounge access, automatic room upgrades, late checkout, free internet, free breakfast, among other bennies. Starting August 1, all Premier members (including Silvers) will be able to convert their miles into Marriott Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio, up to 50,000 miles per year.

That’s great news! But reciprocity cuts both ways.

So this also means that elite level Marriott Rewards members (who now get automatic Mileage Plus Premier Silver status) will have access to United Economy Plus seats at check in, domestic upgrades, priority check in and boarding lines. They will also get one free checked bag.

Marriott Rewards is one of the largest and richest hotel loyalty programs out there with 43 million members.

While Marriott won’t reveal how many of its members are elite, let’s estimate it at 3%. That means an additional 1,290,000 Premier Silver flyers competing for EP seats and shorter lines reserved for MileagePlus Premier members.

Marriott Rewards elite members who have long complained about overcrowded concierge lounges and fewer opportunities for upgrades are already moaning about the new program on FlyerTalk. MileagePlus Premier Silver members who have seen a significant dilution in benefits over the years will now have to compete for space with a lot more travelers with the same status.

This program is identical to Crossover Rewards, a reciprocal program between Delta and Starwood launched last winter.

Effective immediately,  you can link your accounts here United RewardsPlus  or Marriott RewardsPlus and your benefits are good through January 31, 2014. After that, benefits will apply on a yearly basis if you maintain elite status.

What do you think? Is this a good thing, or not? If you are a United Premier beholden to another hotel brand, will this make you consider a move to Marriott? Please leave your comments below!

Chris McGinnis

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