Archive for the ‘Travel Deals’ Category

Psychedelic new planes and summer surcharges

A special San Francisco edition of a SWISS A340. Groovy!

(Stay tuned for more about those new SWISS flights that begin on June 2. I just wanted to get that psychedelic San Francisco themed plane up on my blog for all to see! Can you believe they painted a plane just for us? For now, let’s take a look at summer travel.)

I’ve spent most of this week doing radio and TV interviews about summer travel trends. (Check ‘em out! Good Morning America. KCBS. Bloomberg/BusinessWeek.)

As usual, the stations want me to peel off a list of all the great travel deals out there.

But the reality is that nearly all the good airfare deals are gone. That’s right. If you want to travel during peak summer travel season, those dirt-cheap deals you might be hoping for are, well, dust in the wind.

Here are a few sound bites I’ve been tossing around:

>Over the course of this week, most major airlines raised fares $20 to $60 dollars round trip during the peak summer travel season, which runs from mid-June to mid-August. These are some of the most aggressive fare increases for peak summer travel season that I’ve ever seen.

>When airlines are aggressive like they’ve been this week, it means that it’s very clear to them that people are willing to pay higher fares. They would not raise fares if they were not confident we’d buy them.

>Airlines are calling these fare increases “surcharges” for technical reasons. However, when you are fare shopping online, those surcharges are already added into the fares you see and compare. Don’t get tripped up by semantics. Surcharges = fare increases.

>If you’ve been waiting around hoping you might luck into a great fare, I’m afraid your luck has run out. If you find a summer peak season fare that seems somewhat reasonable, book it now, because I’m afraid it’s only going to go up from here.

>People who last week may have found a pretty good fare but thought they would wait a week were greeted with surcharges this week. A fare that was $400 last week is $460 this week.

>Travelers have had a lot of cabin fever now because they’ve shunned vacations due to recent financial worries. If they did go out, they took shorter trips or they maybe stayed at less expensive hotels or they stayed with friends. But now the summer is here. They haven’t taken a vacation in a while and they’re ready to go. And they seem ready to pay more.

>Some lower prices: While airfares are up, hotel rates are on par with last summer (which means historic lows.) Also, after a year of sharp increases, rental car rates could be down as much as 15 percent compared to last summer. In addition, travelers headed to Europe will find that a stronger dollar will lead to lower prices.

>There are two windows of opportunity for good deals this summer. The first two weeks of June and the last two weeks of August. If you have the flexibility to travel during these windows, you’ll pay less than during the peak (roughly June 15-August 15).

>Other strategies for lower fares (but higher potential for hassles): Take a one-stop flight instead of a nonstop. Take an overnight flight or a very early or very late night flight or fly on an off-peak day. Monday and Tuesday are going to be the slowest days this summer- that’s when you are going to find those surcharges the smallest.

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Summer fares soar out of SFO

I’ve been predicting a busy, expensive summer when it comes to air travel for a few months now. That’s because airline capacity is down, but demand is increasing as the economy continues to strengthen. When you combine those two factors, the result is higher prices. Which is exactly where the airlines want us to be.

So now that it’s time for me to start booking my summer trips, it looks like those predictions of high prices are coming home to roost.

Here’s a sampling of what I’m looking at…and what you’ll find, too. Ouch!

$500 to New York City. I need to be in New York in early June to meet with a large international airline. I need to take a morning departure from here to arrive in New York in the evening. The cheapest midweek nonstop fare I can find is $513 on American. There are a few one-stops or red-eyes in the $400 range, but I’m not willing to do that for $100 in savings.

$520 to Boston. I’m taking a work/vacation trip to Massachusetts straddling the July 4 holiday weekend, which means peak prices, so there’s no getting around high fares- in this case $520 round trip on United. Again, I can get a slightly cheaper fare for a one-stop or red eye, but I’m not willing to take that much time out of my holiday to save less than $100.

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$380 to Atlanta. I own a rental house in Atlanta that I like to go check on each summer. The cheapest nonstop coach fare on AirTran in June is running $377. Delta wants $409. Not horrible, but I’ve paid as little as $220 on this route in recent years.

$450 to Houston. In August, the National Business Travel Association is having its annual convention in Houston. I try to hit this one up each year because it’s so important to my business. But that $450 fare is making me think twice. This might be a case where I’d be willing to take a one-stop flight on Frontier or Southwest where the lowest fare is running about $340.

$1500 to Europe. Since I’m going to Massachusetts for my summer vacation, I won’t be hitting Greece in August. But I still like to THINK about going to Greece in August (despite the recent unrest). But not this year. With airlines reducing frequencies across the Atlantic, and demand increasing, fares are soaring. The least expensive one-stop flight from SFO to Athens in mid-August is now $1520. It’s like that all over Europe this summer. London nonstops are already about $1200 round trip. Frankfurt nonstops are $1500 in August. If you find anything under $1000, book it now!

(Note: I did a quick scan of fares on on Tues. May 11. Fares will undoubtedly change…but I doubt they will decrease much!)

Where are YOU going this summer? Have you checked fares yet? Please leave a comment below and let us know what sort of fares you’re looking at.

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Big discounts on transpacific biz class (video)

Korean Air is offering super low business class fares (about $3600 roundtrip midweek) between SFO and Seoul- but you must act fast. The booking window for this deal closes on April 30.

This represents a great value since the lowest round trip transpac business class fares are normally in the $6000-$7000 range. It’s a great deal if you are going to Seoul or beyond, since KAL operates an outstanding hub at Seoul-Incheon with easy connections to cities across China and throughout Asia. Here are full details of the offer.

Earlier this month, Korean Air invited me to give its business (“Prestige”) class a try between SFO and Seoul. I made a short two-minute “Flight Check” video of my experience. Please take a look!

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Higher airfares, but lower hotel rates on the way

Good news for the travel industry is not always good news for bargain hunting frequent travelers.

Growing demand on the part of both leisure and business travelers means . . . you guessed it . . . higher prices. Those dirt-cheap deals the travel industry has used to keep us on the road and in the skies over the last couple years will get tougher to find in coming months.

Here’s why:

>FARES: In February, the average price to fly one mile in the U.S. increased 5 percent says the Air Transport Association. Fares are rising because airlines have been able to reduce their supply of seats by parking planes in the desert. Now that competition among travelers for the remaining seats is heating up, fares will rise accordingly.

>FEES: In addition to higher fares, airlines will continue to tack on extra fees to help firm up their mushy bottom lines. In January alone, airlines pulled in half a billion dollars in “ancillary revenue,” a term used to describe just about any airline charge other than fare [such as fees for baggage, ticket changes, upgrades, food, etc.],” said Kevin Chrissey, an airline analyst with UBS who was speaking at the Strategic Travel Symposium, a recent conference to which I was invited by the National Business Travel Association.

>AIRLINE GROWTH: Delta Air Lines, now the largest airline in the world, had to adjust its profit forecast for this quarter based on a 30+ percent jump in corporate travel volume and revenue in February. Also, Delta just announced that it’s jumping back into the hyper-competitive California Corridor with four daily round trips between SFO and LAX using both B737 and regional jets. Last week, Virgin America announced new flights from SFO to Toronto and Orlando starting later this year (but it’s dumping service to Orange County).

>SUMMER: It’s going to be a busy summer. Remember last summer nearly every flight was full and/or oversold? UBS’s Chrissey warned it could happen again this summer now that demand is rising along with the economic outlook. If you’ve got plans to fly on peak days (Memorial Day, July 4, most of August and Labor Day) you should start looking at fares now and go ahead and book.

>HOTEL GLUT: For hotels, it’s a bit of a different story. There’s been a huge boom in hotel construction over the last five years. For example, United’s Hemispheres magazine this month includes a colorful article about a handful of the snazziest of the 59 (yes, 59!) new hotels that have opened in NYC in the last 18 months. So, with a lot of extra supply out there, and only a slow return in demand, hotel rates should remain relatively flat over the next year.

>BOOKINGS UP: With all the great hotel deals out there, demand is starting to pop. For example, advance bookings at the Best Western chain were up 16.4 percent during the second week in March compared to the same time last year. (They were up over 6 percent for the month of February.) That’s significant considering Best Western’s the largest hotel chain in the world. Disclosure: I write a blog for Best Western.

>BUYER’S MARKET: The buyer’s market for hotel rooms should continue over the next year, said hotel analyst Bjorn Hanson at the symposium in New York. “For many years, I’ve advised consumers to call the hotel directly and ask for a lower rate, and they’d get one about 20 percent of the time. These days, they are getting a lower rate 50 percent of the time,” he said.

>RATES: To further illustrate his point, Hanson said that rates at luxury hotels in New York City were down a whopping 40 percent in 2009 compared to a high in 2006. And he referred to three different forecasts showing nationwide rate declines of 2-3 percent for 2010.

So folks, I’m eager to hear about your observations and plans for travel this year. Have you noticed that prices are increasing? Are you planning to travel more this year than last year? When do you plan to firm up your summer travel plans?

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Summer Hotel News (and a review: Palomar Atlanta)

RATES CRASHING. Hotel rates are WAY down, too. That’s because hotels can’t just go park excess hotel rooms in the desert like airlines can park planes. This means there are a LOT of unsold hotel rooms going at bargain basement prices—- and we are talking some of the most popular destinations in the country like Las Vegas, New York, San Francisco and Hawaii. European rates have tanked, too!

Examples of average hotel rate declines this summer
In US:
•    Las Vegas: -25%
•    New York: -25%
•    San Francisco: -23%
•    Honolulu: -18%

In Europe:
•    Barcelona: -35%
•    London: -25%
•    Rome: -23%

TOUGH TIMES. The first half of 2009 was brutal for the hotel industry. According to Smith Travel Research, occupancy fell 11% in the first six months of 2009. The average daily rate dipped below the bellwether $100 mark to $98.66. Revenue per available room slipped 19%. Ouch. However, the outlook for hotels is improving as the economy seems to be warming up.

CANDLEWOOD SUITES HITS NYC. We always love a NEW hotel in NYC and here’s the latest from InterContinental: “Candlewood Suites is bringing a full-scale apartment experience at a midscale hotel price to business and leisure travelers at a prime location just one block from Times Square. Guestrooms are all-studio suites with wide rooms, including a full kitchen with full-size refrigerator, stove top, dishwasher and microwave, and stocked with pots, pans, plates, glassware and utensils; comfortable recliner; large workspace with desk chair; and deluxe bedding.  Unlike most New York City midscale hotels, the Candlewood Suites offers amenities typically found in apartment buildings, including a complimentary 24-hour fitness center, complete with cardio and weight machines, and complimentary onsite laundry for guests. Location: 339 West 39th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues—over near the Port Authority. Rates in August start at about $220 per night. When we checked rates for Sept and Oct, the hotel was already sold out most nights!

AN ALTERNATIVE TO TRIPADVISOR. Check out this very helpful new hotel review site where hotel guests post their own VIDEOS of hotel stays. Very revealing!

MORE FREE INTERNET. So here’s a positive trend that we are hearing about more frequently: Many full-service hotel brands are FINALLY getting the message that guests are tired of paying for wi-fi when they can get it free at most limited service brands. For example, Hyatt now offers free wi-fi in all hotels to platinum and diamond members of its Gold Passport program. InterContinental Ambassors get it free, too. We are hearing that many west coast luxury properties, such as Ritz-Carltons are also offering it for free. Let’s hope the trend continues!

DISINTEREST IN LOYALTY PROGRAMS? Membership in hotel, airline and car rental loyalty programs has declined 31.2 percent since 2007, according to a new study from the loyalty research company Colloquy. The results, based on interviews with 2,152 U.S. consumers, indicate there still is interest in loyalty programs, but travelers are picking fewer carriers and hoteliers with which to invest their time and money.

Between our business trips, press trips and personal travel, we stay at a LOT of hotels. We’d like to share our experiences with BAT readers here in the Hotel Category. 

HOTEL PALOMAR-ATLANTA. A few months ago, the new Hotel Palomar in Midtown Atlanta hosted us for one night. The 21-story, 304 room hotel is just off I-75/85 which runs north/south through the center of downtown. It’s a brand new-from-the-ground-up hotel at 12th and West Peachtree. Rates generally run in the $150 range, but we’ve seen specials as low as $99 per night.

We stayed there on a Saturday night in late May. Having had many positive experiences at other Kimpton Group hotels scattered around the country, we had high expectations, and we are pleased to report those expectations were met this time around.

For a hotel that had only been open a few short months, we did not detect the slightest bit of just-opened jitters. All the staff, from the bellhops who greeted us on the street, the front desk staff, housekeepers…everyone was completely on their game. We are used to giving a wide berth to the staff at brand new hotels as they work through opening kinks, but that was definitely not necessary at the Palomar.

We really liked the modern, yet comfortable design of our room. Lots of ambers, browns, grays and tans in both wood and stone with a splash of red and orange here and there. Nice desk with an Aeron-like chair. Wi-fi is free for members of Kimpton’s In-Touch loyalty program. Flat screen TV. A nice bright and modern bathroom with a big tub-less shower.

Overall, it had the mod feel of a W Hotel without the disco-y dark corridors throbbing to a deep beat which always strain us when traveling on business.  We had an outstanding meal in the hotel restaurant called Pacci and then spent several hours on the rooftop deck, complete with its own screened in porch (nice southern touch amidst all the steel and glass towers of Midtown).

The only downside was the enforced valet parking @$30 per night (plus tip). There’s no self-park option, which is too bad considering that the hotel parking lot is located right next to the hotel…and about 100 feet from the valet stand. Next time we’ll ditch the car and take MARTA!

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