Archive for the ‘Mileage Plus’ Category

What United + Continental means to YOU

The new United livery keeps the Continental look, but changes the name. (Photo: United Airlines)

United and Continental boards have approved a merger of the two carriers, which is expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year.

What does all this mean to Bay Area Travelers?

FARES: While consolidation and fewer competitors ultimately leads to higher prices, the reality is that Continental and United never really competed with each other out of Bay Area airports. And there are few routes from here that are dominated by the two. For example, nonstop flights between SFO and Houston on both United and Continental have always been expensive- expect them to stay that way. Those who want a deal on the route should consider a one-stop flight on low-fare carriers Southwest or Frontier.

FREQUENT FLYER PROGRAMS: Since it appears that United will be the surviving entity, Mileage Plus members should not expect any huge changes. If you’ve got any extra Continental OnePass miles lying around, those will be added to your Mileage Plus balance. Good news: OnePass has always been one of the best rated frequent flyer programs out there, so maybe Mileage Plus will cherry pick the good parts? Time will tell.

EARNING, BURNING MILES: Mileage Plus members already have access to the Continental network due to its recent inclusion in the Star Alliance, which added nice earning and burning opportunities where Continental is strong, such as in Mexico, Central and South America as well as the South Pacific (on Air Micronesia). See Continental Route Map.

ECONOMY PLUS: United is the only legacy carrier to offer its frequent flyers roomier coach class seats. Continental does not offer the equivalent of United’s Economy Plus seating (which I really appreciate on the long haul) so I hope the concept survives.

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P.S. FLIGHTS: I’m wondering if we’ll see those nice P.S. flights between SFO and New York-JFK shift to Newark where Continental has a large, efficient hub operation and better club space… at least nicer than United’s minor presence at JFK.

SFO AIRPORT: The combination of United and Continental will mean Continental will leave Concourse 1 and operations will move to United’s hub at Concourse 3, which will get even MORE crowded than it already is at peak times.

BRAGGADOCIO. SFO will also get bragging rights for being a hub of “the world’s largest airline” which will result when United and Continental merge. The new United will take that title away from the new Delta, which when it merged with Northwest, enjoyed a short life as the biggest player.

WHO NEXT? American and US Airways are likely entering a major flirtation stage at this point. They are the remaining two legacy airlines and will be dwarfed by the new United and new Delta.

More info from United on the merger here.

It’s a little early to tell, but here are my initial thoughts. I’d be eager to hear what you think about the merger and how it might affect your flying. Please leave your comments below.

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A new private check-in/security area at SFO (video)

follow this link to the 1.5 min videohttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nRHRzSzaBU4

[The BAT is now on SFgate! Check it out here.]

(Do you like what you are reading and watching?? Then SIGN UP for The BAT today!)

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A Mixed Bag of Newsy Nuggets: United VERY On-Time, Big New Plane Order, Vegas Packed for CES and more

Boeing's New "Dreamliner." Squint and look at that coach section at the back. Familiar?

UNITED ORDERS NEW PLANES. While they won’t be touching down at SFO until at least 2016, United recently announced that it’s placed orders for 50 new wide-body aircraft. It split the order 50/50 between the Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” and the Airbus A350. Both are about the size of current Boeing 767 or 777 aircraft and will eventually replace them.

NOT SO DREAMY. We’ve got an issue with the whole “Dreamliner” name… and get irritated when we see reporters get all wistful and dreamy-eyed thinking that everyone’s going to get a massage and a flat bed for sleeping (and dreaming) on every flight. Sorry folks—the plane is a dream to the airline, because it purportedly uses about 20% less fuel. But it’s not so dreamy for passengers sitting in coach- it’s just another twin-aisle, wide-body plane…okay, with bigger windows, maybe, but still…. (See photo above. Look beyond those dreamy first class seats!)

LOOK RIGHT>>> AND CHECK OUT OUR NEW ADVERTISER! Cavallo Point, located next to the Golden Gate Bridge (down and to the right if you are headed north) has been on our list of must-see Bay Area hotspots since it opened last year. While it’s a gorgeous, historic and luxurious resort, locals should visit to sit in the winter sun on the veranda at it’s Farley’s Bar, soak in the rays and the views, have a great meal and a bottle of wine….and look for your BAT editor! I’ll be there! Really, folks, if you like what you are reading on The BAT, please support our advertisers! It helps us help you! -cjm

UAL: BEST ON TIME PERFORMANCE—EVER? Yep, it’s true. According to the DOT, United was on time 91% of the time this past November, its best performance since the government starting tracking it in 1987. How did this happen? It’s all about the money according to gadling.com. Since last winter, United has offered all employees a $100 bonus each month the airline tops the DOT on-time ranking. They get $65 for second place.

MORE JETBLUE TO THE BAY. Starting May 13, JetBlue will add new nonstop flights between San Jose and Boston. (Introductory fares start at $99 each way.) JetBlue already offers nonstops from San Jose to New York-JFK. It also offers nonstops between Boston and SFO and Oakland.

CONNECT IN THE BART TUNNEL…EVENTUALLY. If you take BART to/from the airport or to/from work, you’re gonna like this: AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint/Nextel and Verizon flipped the switch on their wireless networks in the Transbay Tube on Dec 20. However, the Chronicle reports that despite the announcement, the service did not work as well as expected, so seamless use of mobile devices in the tunnel could take a while…

FLOWN LOW COST LATELY? Did you know that just 10 years ago, 90% of all air travel in the U.S. was on so-called “legacy carriers” like United, Continental, Delta, etc. Only 10% was on low cost carriers such as Southwest, AirTran or JetBlue. Well, what a difference a decade makes. Legacy dominance has declined to just 74% of the market this year…low-cost carriers have 26% of the market and low-cost giant Southwest owns 64% of that market.

NO MORE THAN THREE. Lengthy tarmac delays are a rarity at Bay Area airports, thank goodness! But they do happen (but mostly back east and most often due to snow and ice or de-icing.) Nonetheless, the feds have enacted new rules (effective later this winter) that will force airlines to provide food and water after two hours on the tarmac and a mandated return to the gate if they’ve been on the tarmac for more than three hours. If they don’t, they are fined $27,000 per passenger (that’s $5.5 million for a planeload of 200 pissed off passengers). Ouch! While the airlines are saying that the new rule will do more harm than good, the reality is that when faced with a fine like that, they will be forced to make operational changes that, in the long run, will prevent the horror stories we’ve all heard about folks stuck in stinky planes for hours on end. Your BAT editor has a comment about the whole brouhaha in this ABCNews.com article.

NEW MEMBERSHIP REWARDS PARTNER. Got a big bank of American Express Membership Rewards points that you are aching to redeem? You’ve got a new option: British Airways Executive Club recently became the 17th participating frequent flyer plan in the program. BA flies to 150 destinations worldwide from SFO via its two flights a day to London. (Stay tuned for a first hand BAT report later this winter from the Maldives…BA’s newest, and perhaps sexiest destination ever!)

VEGAS WILL BE PACKED. All indications are showing that this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (Jan 7-10) is going to be full to overflowing. Why? Pent up demand. This time last year we were all in economic shock. Attendees for CES and many other conventions were forced to cancel their plans. With things looking up this year, everyone wants to go back. So expect FULL flights between the Bay and Vegas, full hotels, and the necessity of restaurant reservations. The city is expecting in excess of 100,000 visitors for this, the city’s largest event of the year.

NEW ARRIVALS TAX IN ARGENTINA. Effective immediately, all U.S. citizens arriving at Buenos Aires Ezeiza Airport must pay a one-time “reciprocity fee” of USD $131.00 upon arrival. Why? Because that’s the amount the U.S. charges Argentines applying for entry into the U.S. (Several other South American countries such as Chile, Brazil and Bolivia already require such fees.) While the fee might make travelers wince, the Argentine government stands to pull in a cool $52 million from the 400,000 or so Americans that arrive each year.

REGIONAL UPGRADES ARE BACK FOR 1K’s. United is getting very good at listening to their best customers. After the backlash surrounding the elimination of regional upgrades, this announcement recently appeared on the UAL site: “Sometimes no change is good news. After our last announcement, we heard from our 1K members how much they value their Regional Upgrades. To thank them for their ongoing loyalty, we’ve decided to continue issuing regional upgrades to 1Ks, even after the unlimited domestic upgrades program launches.” Regional upgrades are considered more valuable than the newer “unlimited upgrades” because they can be applied at the time of reservation.

HILTON HHONORS—GOOD AND BAD NEWS. First the good. Members of Virgin America’s Elevate program can now earn miles for stays at Hilton’s family of hotel brands. Now the bad: Hilton is increasing the number of HHonors points required for award redemptions starting on January 14. Most reward categories will require an additional 5000 points for a free night stay. Stays at Hilton’s poshest brand, the Waldorf=Astoria Collection, are now pretty much standardized at 50,000 per night in the low season and 60,000 in high season.

SOUTHWEST BUMPS UP AT OAK—REINSTATES NASHVILLE. In May, Southwest will restore a single daily nonstop service between Oakland and Nashville, Tennessee. It will also add frequency between OAK and the cities of Albuquerque, Denver, and Seattle-Tacoma.

WHICH BAY AREA AIRPORT DO YOU USE? From a VERY interesting article in the San Jose Mercury News: “Among domestic passengers departing or arriving in the Bay Area, 57 percent use SFO, up from 43 percent just three years ago. By contrast, Oakland’s portion of the region’s passengers has dipped from 33 percent in 2006 to 23 percent now, while San Jose’s share dropped from 24 percent to 20 percent during that span. The analysts contend that the turning point arrived in 2007, when SFO landed low-cost carriers Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Virgin America. Southwest and JetBlue have long been Oakland territory, with nearly six of every seven passengers taking those two airlines, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. About half of San Jose’s passengers fly Southwest. Now, Southwest has quickly become the third-most popular airline at SFO, even though it does not fly international routes.”

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Mixed Bag of BAT News and BAT Tips

MORE $$ FOR MORE SPACE. United says that it will raise the price for annual membership to its Economy Plus Annual Option from $349 to $425 starting Jan 10. This promo is a good idea for someone who does not fly UAL enough to get elite status (and therefore automatic upgrades to more spacious economy plus seating) but would like to have access to roomier seats onboard.  Note: While you get the ability to reserve Economy Plus seats with this plan (for you and a companion), you are not always guaranteed one.

FARES A TWITTER. The new flight search engine Fly.com is now tweeting last minute flight deals from Bay Area airports…as we go to press, some deals:  SFO-Cabo for $294 round trip. Vegas for $99 round trip. Twitterati should follow at: #SFfares

RED CARPET CLOSED AT FRANKFURT. United has closed its Red Carpet Club in Frankfurt and encourages members to use partner Lufthansa’s (distant, but much nicer) clubs instead. (Notefrom BAT reader Mark: “The Lufthansa clubs in Frankfurt aren’t always farther away.  A good number of United’s daily departures leave from the A gates and the new Tower Lounge @ FRA’s A concourse is in the right spot to make relaxing before the flight a breeze.”)

KOREAN AIR TO BRING ON 747. Korean Air will switch out its current 777 flying between SFO to Seoul with a 747 starting next summer.

MILWAUKEE BOUND? Midwest Airlines, which abandoned SFO a while back, will return with new nonstops to Milwaukee, WI using an Airbus A319 starting in April.

UNITED COPAYS. After going back and forth on the issue,  United will begin charging copays for upgrades in January. This pay-to-play move is both good and bad: Good in that you can now score a confirmed upgrade off of any discounted fare, which was prohibited in the past. Bad in that you actually have to shell out some coin to get out of coach. So, BAT readers, what do you think….is this a positive or a negative? Would you rather UAL stick to the old plan, or is this new one a good thing?

SO LONG 737. In case you missed the celebration, United has officially grounded its last Boeing 737. (We’re glad. They were getting a little tatty and worn out.)

MORE FLIGHTS FROM BAY TO HAWAII. Fresh off its inauguration of new flights between Oakland and Hawaii, Alaska Air has announced that it will add new nonstops between San Jose, Sacramento and Hawaii (Kona and Maui) starting on March 11. It will use a two class 737 on the route. Current lowest fares for travel next spring are running at about $350 roundtrip.

SFO TERMINAL 2 TOPS OUT. Workers welded the final steel beam into place on the renovation at Terminal 2 at SFO, which will be the new home of Virgin America flights in about another 18 months. (Scuttlebutt: American Airlines is a possible Terminal 2 tenant as well. This would make sense if United’s new partner, Continental, moves into AA’s space in Terminal 3.) The state-of-the-art, LEEDS certified terminal will have 14 gates, a “slow food” marketplace (more wholesome, locally produced selections), a spa, and two 500-sq foot kiddie play areas. Bring it on! (The terminal is paid in part with stimulus funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Thank you President Obama.)

DOWN HOME WITH SOUTHWEST IN MANHATTAN. BAT editor Chris McGinnis checked out Southwest Airlines “porch” in New York’s Bryant Park. Southwest is using the porch to woo Big Apple business travelers to its new flights to New York’s nearby La Guardia Airport. Would you fly SW to New York? To do so, you’ll have to make a quick stop at Chicago Midway, and sale fares are currently running at about $300 roundtrip.

TRAIN TO/FROM THE PLANE IN SEATTLE. Starting on December 19, the long awaited light rail link between SEA-TAC and downtown Seattle will open! The station will be connected to the airport via walkways through the parking garage. Stops along the 35-minute trip to downtown Seattle Link include: SODO, Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley neighborhoods and Tukwila.

NO UAL PREMIER OR 1K FOR YOU NEXT YEAR? If, like a lot of folks faced less frequent travel due to the recession, you’ve lost your elite status on United, you can buy your way into the perks you’ve grown accustomed to. Depending on flight length, you can pay a premium of anywhere from about $50 to $175 each way for “United’s Premier Travel Package.” With it, you’ll get access to the elite security lines, priority boarding, upgrades to Economy Plus, two-free checked bags and a Mileage Plus bonus. Pay twice that much, and you’ll also get a pass to the Red Carpet Club. (Purchase online or soon at United check in kiosks)

MORE ON TIME. With airlines parking more planes in the desert, airport congestion has become less of a problem at most airports (But not NYC!). In September, airlines had their best on-time performance since 2003, with 86% of flights arriving on time. That’s an improvement over August when just 80% arrived on time. It’s also slightly better than last September when 85% arrived on-time. Alaska Air and Southwest topped the list for best on time performance at about 90% on time.

AA TRANSCONS GET CREAMED. Starting Dec 1, business class passengers of American’s transcon flights out of SFO will get Ben & Jerry’s sundaes.

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Oh, Oh, Oh! The Places You Can Now Go!

Jean Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort

Now that Continental has joined the Star Alliance and has a code share arrangement with United, Mileage Plus members now have 123 NEW destinations where they can earn or redeem their miles flying Continental. Some of these new spots are very sexy, very exotic, very exciting….the ones that interest me the most? Hmmm: Fiji, Antigua, Cairns, Puerto Plata, Micronesia, Edinburgh, Oaxaca, Managua, Anchorage, Key West, Caracas…

PLEASE leave your comments below and tell me which ones interest YOU the most….??

Here’s the list of cities where Continental flies and that United does NOT fly. (Thanks, Continental for providing this info to The BAT!)

ANU ANTIGUA AG
BON BONAIRE AN
CUR CURACAO AN
CNS CAIRNS AU
BDA BERMUDA BM
NAS NASSAU BS
BZE BELIZE CITY BZ
YQM MONCTON CA
YTM MONT TREMBLANT CA
YYT ST. JOHNS CA
BOG BOGOTA CO
SJO SAN JOSE CR
TXL BERLIN DE
HAM HAMBURG DE
CPH COPENHAGEN DK
POP PUERTO PLATA DO
SDQ SANTO DOMINGO DO
UIO QUITO EC
BCN BARCELONA ES
NAN NADI FJ
KSA KOSRAE FM
PNI POHNPEI FM
TKK TRUK FM
YAP YAP FM
BFS BELFAST GB
BHX BIRMINGHAM GB
BRS BRISTOL GB
EDI EDINBURGH GB
GLA GLASGOW GB
MAN MANCHESTER GB
ATH ATHENS GR
GUA GUATEMALA CITY GT
GUM GUAM GU
RTB ROATAN HN
SAP SAN PEDRO SULA HN
TGU TEGUCIGALPA HN
DUB DUBLIN IE
SNN SHANNON IE
TLV TEL AVIV-YAFO IL
DEL DELHI IN
BOM MUMBAI IN
MXP MILAN IT
FUK FUKUOKA JP
HIJ HIROSHIMA JP
NGO NAGOYA JP
KIJ NIIGATA JP
OKJ OKAYAMA JP
CTS SAPPORO JP
SDJ SENDAI JP
GCM GRAND CAYMAN ISL KY
KWA KWAJALEIN MH
MAJ MAJURO MH
ROP ROTA MP
SPN SAIPAN MP
ACA ACAPULCO MX
AGU AGUASCALIENTES MX
CUU CHIHUAHUA MX
CME CIUDAD DEL CARMEN MX
DGO DURANGO MX
GDL GUADALAJARA MX
HUX HUATULCO MX
ZIH IXTAPA/ZIHUATANEJO MX
BJX LEON/GUANAJUATO MX
ZLO MANZANILLO MX
MZT MAZATLAN MX
MID MERIDA MX
MTY MONTERREY MX
MLM MORELIA MX
OAX OAXACA MX
PBC PUEBLA MX
QRO QUERETARO MX
SLW SALTILLO MX
SLP SAN LUIS POTOSI MX
TAM TAMPICO MX
TLC TOLUCA MX
TRC TORREON MX
VER VERACRUZ MX
VSA VILLAHERMOSA MX
MGA MANAGUA NI
OSL OSLO NO
PTY PANAMA CITY PA
LIM LIMA PE
MNL MANILA PH
BQN AGUADILLA PR
LIS LISBON PT
ROR KOROR PW
ARN STOCKHOLM SE
SAL SAN SALVADOR SV
POS PORT OF SPAIN TT
AEX ALEXANDRIA US
AMA AMARILLO US
ANC ANCHORAGE US
BTR BATON ROUGE US
BPT BEAUMONT/PT ARTHUR US
BRO BROWNSVILLE US
CLL COLLEGE STATION US
CRP CORPUS CHRISTI US
DAL DALLAS/FT. WORTH US
DRT DEL RIO US
ERI ERIE US
FNT FLINT US
FLL FT. LAUDERDALE US
VPS FT. WALTON BEACH US
GPT GULFPORT/BILOXI US
HRL HARLINGEN US
ITH ITHACA US
JAN JACKSON US
EYW KEY WEST US
GRK KILLEEN US
LFT LAFAYETTE US
LCH LAKE CHARLES US
LRD LAREDO US
LBB LUBBOCK US
MFE MC ALLEN US
MOB MOBILE AL/PASCAG US
MLU MONROE US
ACK NANTUCKET US
SHV SHREVEPORT US
TYR TYLER US
VCT VICTORIA US
PBI W.PALM BEACH US
ACT WACO US
CCS CARACAS VE

PLEASE leave your comments below and tell me which ones interest YOU the most….??

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What United Mileage Plus Members Need to Know about New Continental Alliance

What do Mileage Plus members in the Bay Area have to gain from the entry of Continental into the Star Alliance and a code sharing deal with United? First off, plenty of new Continental destinations south of the border (Mexico) and in the south Pacific (via a hub in Guam) where you can now redeem miles for award trips.

Plus, Mileage Plus members will have a lot more opportunities the EARN United miles on Continental flights—the code share agreement adds 60 cities previously not served by United.

Here’s Continental’s global route map

The miles you earn on Continental can be accrued in Mileage Plus. And the flight miles you earn qualify toward elite status. You earn one Elite Qualifying Mile (EQM) for each flight mile you earn and one Elite Qualifying Segment (EQS) for each segment you fly.

map from airportterminalmaps.com

However, connecting from a United flight to a Continental flight at any of Continental’s three U.S. hubs is going to be VERY difficult for the time being. For example, most United flights land at Newark’s Terminal A. All of Continental’s operations are in terminal C. This means exiting and re-entering secure space, a transfer between terminals using the airport monorail system and potential delays transferring bags on tight connections. Also, EWR is famously congested and subject to serious air traffic delays. The same goes for connections at Continental’s main hub at Houston Intercontinental Airport. United flights use terminal A while Continental flights use terminal C (primarily) and terminal B (for mostly regional flights). If you’ve ever taken that rickety underground people mover system at IAH, you know it’s going to be a tough connection! (A newer “Terminal Link” train system will eventually connect Terminal A to the rest of the airport. But for now, it’s a slow-go.) When flying from SFO to Cleveland, only Continental offers nonstops, so connections in its Terminals C and D should not be a problem. However, if you arrive from elsewhere on United, you’ll use Terminal B, quite a long walk away.

Small upside: In recent months, Continental has co-located with United in several U.S. airports including Chicago, Frankfurt, Salt Lake City and Cincinnati. (And soon in Paris-CDG and Tokyo-Narita)

Frequent flyer guru Randy Petersen, the father of the mammoth frequent flyer social networking site flyertalk.com says that Mileage Plus members have a lot to gain and little to lose with this new alliance. “First off, Continental is going to force a lot of positive changes on the Mileage Plus program. Second, due to the way the alliance is currently structured, Mileage Plus members will not see any extra competition for Economy Plus seats or upgrades. However, Hawaii-bound travelers are going to be hearing a lot more Texas twang on United flights from the Bay Area to Hawaii as Continental OnePass members from Texas jump on those routes with their miles.”

If you are a Red Carpet Club member (or on a first or business class ticket), you now have access to Continental President’s Clubs at TEN new airports. Here’s what United’s Web site is saying:

United Red Carpet Club members now enjoy full access to Continental President’s Club locations, expanding members’ options to 58 clubs in 36 airports, including 14 lounges in 10 airports not currently served by a Red Carpet Club:
1. Atlanta
2. Austin
3. Cleveland
4. Dallas
5. Houston (five locations)
6. Ft. Lauderdale
7. Las Vegas
8. San Antonio
9. Guam
10. Panama City, Panama

Any Mileage Plus members flying in first or business class on United or Continental can also access the President’s Club lounges. Additionally, Premier Executive, 1K and Global Services members can access these lounges when traveling with a same-day international ticket.

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UC Berkeley Grad Student Thesis About…Us!

UC Berkeley Grad Student Gabriel Leigh

Okay all you mileage-obsessed mileage mavens, mileage junkies, travel addicts, road warriors or anyone who has ever held an elite level membership with a frequent flyer program. You know who you are. This video is for you.

This 20-minute documentary (“Frequent Flyer”) is actually the master’s thesis of Gabriel Leigh, journalism grad student at UC Berkeley. I don’t normally have 20 minutes to devote to an online video, but this was time well spent. (The video is very professionally made and easy on the eyes…)

So sit back, relax, hit the full-screen button and enjoy this….it will be like looking in the mirror for many of you!

Frequent Flyer from Gabriel Leigh on Vimeo.

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AIRLINE NEWS

UNITED SLOWLY ADDING WI-FI ON NYC FLIGHTS. Some (but not all) United P.S. flights between SFO and New York-JFK now offer the Gogo in-flight wi-fi system offered on many other carriers. United promises that ALL P.S. flights will be outfitted my mid-November. (UAL is a little late to the game here…AirTran and Virgin America offer it fleetwide and it’s on about half of Delta’s fleet.) Fees range from $8 (for PDA’s) to $13 (for laptop users). Using it is a breeze…just log on as you would in an airport or coffee shop, pay with your credit card, and voila! High speed internet. Sure makes that five-hour schlep to NYC go by a LOT faster!

FLOOD OF NEW FLIGHTS TO FLL. Virgin America will launch new nonstops between SFO and Ft Lauderdale on November 19 using a two class Airbus A320 (the only bird in its fleet.) And guess what? JetBlue is launching nonstops on the same route on Nov 17! And both depart from SFO’s international terminal. Eastbound flights on both carriers are red-eyes (yuck) but mid-January fares are currently only $218 round trip. Not a bad place to go when its cold and wet here by the bay. Winter in Fort Lauderdale (located about 30-40 minutes north of Miami) is gorgeous, sunny and 70’s for most of the winter. JetBlue pro: more legroom in coach, a free sleep kit, and Dunkin Doughnuts coffee in the morning. Virgin America pro: in-flight wi-fi. Which one would you choose and why? Leave your comments below.

ECLECTIC EATS. Virgin America’s got a new fall menu that offers a virtual puu-puu platter of choices. Some of the more interesting-sounding fare for sale onboard: Banh mi flat iron beef sandwich: “A traditional street-vended Vietnamese sandwich made of grilled Asian marinated sliced flat iron steak with shaved cucumber, green leaf lettuce, baby frisée, fresh sprigs of cilantro and topped with a Vietnamese slaw of julienne carrots, daikon radish and red onion. Asian ginger dressing served on the side.” ($10)

HE’S A GOOD GUY! Your BAT editor recently spotted Virgin America CEO David Cush on a San Diego-SFO flight sitting in coach! With the traveling masses. Back there with the rest of us! Apparently Virgin employees, including the CEO, are forbidden from riding in those big white seats up front. Soon after witnessing this display of humility, we heard from a reader who spotted Delta CEO Richard Anderson in coach on a flight to Atlanta. Are we on to something here?

DELTA BATTLES ON SFO-JFK RUN. Delta is now flying 757’s equipped with international business class “cradle” seats on all nonstops between Los Angeles and and New York-JFK. By the end of October, the cradles will be on all JFK-San Francisco flights. Big seats are a nice addition and should do well competing against similar internationally configured nonstops from American and United P.S. as well as the swanky first class on Virgin America. Bad news is that chances of upgrades in DL flights are now slimmer— previously, the 757’s had 24-26 first class seats while the new ones will have only 16 business class cradles. (PLUS: All Delta’s 757 flights offer inflight wi-fi.)

NEW USE FOR UNITED MILES. Maybe. United is now allowing Mileage Plus members to redeem airline miles for hotels and car rentals. I’d say that this is only a good deal for folks desperate to dump miles because the redemption levels are quite steep. It also might work if you are faced with otherwise exorbitant rates. For example, if I wanted to redeem miles for a one-night stay at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago later this month, it would cost me 24,500 miles! (The best available rates are about $300/night incl tax.) That’s nearly enough for a domestic round trip award. Car rentals in Chicago are running 10,000 miles for a compact for one day.

ALASKA AIR BRINGS BACK THE NERD BIRD. Last month Alaska Air picked up where American Airlines left off, launching a new nonstop between San Jose and Austin. A second daily flight is planned starting in March. Both flights use a two class Boeing 737. Current fares are running just $219 round trip for mid-Nov departures. (JetBlue offers non-stops between Austin and SFO for about the same price.)

SJC SKIERS DELIGHT. Horizon Air will fly nonstop from San Jose to Mammoth Mountain starting Dec 17. It will use a propjet on these flights, but fares are now running just $168 roundtrip for mid-January flights.

FLYING TO NYC ON THE CHEAP. Here’s a nifty nugget from our friends at airlineweekly.com: “Q1 of 2007—before Virgin America arrived on the scene—United passengers flying between New York JFK and San Francisco paid an average of $620 each way. In Q1 of 2009, those same passengers in that same market paid only $421 each way.” Thanks, Virgin America!

LESS OF A SWA CATTLE CALL FOR $10. If you frequently end up forgetting to check in for your Southwest flight exactly 24 hours before departure, and then ending up stuck in a middle seat at the back of the plane or having to gate check your carry-on, there’s a new fix. With its new Early Bird Check-In, you pay Southwest a $10 premium (each way) when you make your reservation. Then you don’t have to play the 24-hour check-in game and you are allowed to board before everyone else, but AFTER A-Listers and those flying on Business Select fares. I personally don’t have a problem paying $10 for a nearly guaranteed good seat and space for my carry-on. But Southwest has taken a lot of heat for this new fee since it prides itself as being a fee-free airline.

NEW OAKLAND-HAWAII FLIGHTS. Picking up where Aloha left off last winter, Alaska Airlines will fly nonstop between Oakland and both Maui and the Big Island (Hawaii) on Nov 9 using a two-class Boeing 737. Mid-January round-tip fares are currently running about $500-$550.

TOILET KITSCH. Leave it to our hometown carrier Virgin America to spice up the toilet kit. For $10 you can order up a “How Could I Forget Kit” from the seatback of your next Virgin flight. (Just in case you forgot your own, or the one you had got nabbed by TSA screeners.) Contents include shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, lotion, lip balm, night cream and breath mints all packed up in a nifty little quilted kit. There’s a similar red-eye flight kit selling for $12 that includes a blanket, pillow, eyemask and ear plugs.

MORE GOOD NEWS. SORTA. Worldwide airline passenger traffic dipped just 1 percent in August compared to the same month last year. That’s the smallest year-over-year drop in 2009, says the International Air Transport Association. The biggest decline this year was in March, when traffic dipped 11 percent year-over-year. Despite the recent improvements, airlines are still having a very tough time withpricing—economy class ticket prices are down 18 percent; first and business class fares are down 22 percent.

AIRLINES BAGGING BIG BUCKS. Those irksome new baggage fees are helping to keep a lot of airlines afloat in these lean times. According to the DOT, it’s the low-cost carriers that are bagging the most fees as a percentage of their overall revenues .The top four fee earners in q2 are (in descending order) Spirit, Allegiant, AirTran and Frontier. Nearly 9 percent of Spirit’s revenue was baggage fees. AirTran earned 7 percent of its revenue that way. Delta came in at 3 percent. Southwest, which does not charge for the first two checked bags, bagged less than one percent of its revenue that way.

FULL NAME AND BIRTHDATE, PLEASE. The TSA now requires airlines to book your ticket under the EXACT name as it appears on the ID you will be using to check in for your flight. IMPORTANT: Check your online booking profiles to be sure that your profile name matches your ID and modify it if necessary.  Airlines are also now required obtain your birth date. Why? Supposedly this should help folks mistakenly placed on terror watch lists.

Like what you are reading? Then be sure and SUBSCRIBE to The BAT so you don’t miss a single nugget of info. Look to the right>>>> and click on the SUBSCRIBE links! RSS or email! Thanks! Tell all your friends to do the same! –chris

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Double Miles De Rigueur

Most of the Bay Area’s biggest carriers are piling on the miles for frequent flyers this fall, making it easier than ever to attain or maintain elite status for next year. American gets the credit for kicking off this latest mileage bonus trend, followed by United. Then today, Southwest joined the party. Here are the various deals:

>Southwest: Rapid Rewards members who book and travel between Sept 17 and Oct 31 get one bonus Rapid Rewards credit per one-way flight in addition to normal earnings. This means you’ll earn four credits for every round trip, so if you make four round trips during the promotional period, you’ll earn 16 credits, enough for a free flight. Business Select customers will REALLY like this offer because they’ll earn 4.5 credits per round trip for flights less than 750 miles and six round trip credits for longer flights. Registration is required: www.southwest.com/rrbonus

>American AAdvantage members get double elite qualifying miles now through Dec 15. Register at www.aa.com/elite

>United Mileage Plus is offering double miles OR double segments, but not both through Dec 15. Register for double miles here: at www.united.com/offer/mpw049. If you typically fly more short-stage flights, go for the segments. Register here: www.united.com/offer/mpw059.

Also on the mileage front…..

Elite bonuses: United is making a special offer to Elite members who will earn at least 35,000 miles by the end of the year. They’ll get to choose between a one-time Red Carpet Club pass ($50 value) and 7,500 bonus miles. If you are Premier Exec and earn at least 75,000 by the end of the year, you get two Red Carpet passes ($100 value) or 15,000 miles. 1K Members who earn at least 125k miles get two systemwide upgrades or 25,000 miles. (You must sign on to your Mileage Plus account to register.)

American’s making a similar offer to it’s elite flyers: Gold members who fly between 40,000 and 50,000 miles by year’s end will be able to choose between two 500-mile upgrades, a one day Admirals Club pass or 7,500 bonus miles. Platinums who fly 75,000 to 100,000 miles choose four 500-mile upgrades or two Admirals Club one-day passes, or 15,000 bonus miles or one-year Gold status for a friend. Executive Plat members who fly 125,000 EQMs by year’s end can choose two one-way systemwide upgrades, a one-year Admirals Club membership, 25,000 bonus miles or the ability to gift a friend AAdvantage Gold status for a year.

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Summer Airline News: Bag fees, AA shrinkage, nerds, Wi-Fi, more

BAG FEES CONTINUE TO RISE. Virgin America has increased its bag fee to $20 for every checked bag. Meanwhile, nearly every major carrier has quietly raised fees for checked bags to $25 for the first, and $30 for the second (that’s an additional $110 round trip if you check two bags…). Some airlines will knock off $5 per bag if you pay the fee online. For international flights, the new custom is one bag free, then $50 for the second bag. (As usual, fees don’t apply to first/business or elite level frequent flyers.) Southwest remains the only major carrier not charging for checked bags.

AA SHRINKS IN THE BAY. American has eliminated the once popular “Nerd Bird” flights between San Jose and Austin, (is the techie crowd switching over to more teleconferencing? Or is it the economy?) It’s also cut its RJ flights between San Jose and San Diego and reduced frequencies between SJC and Orange County.  With Virgin America, Southwest, United and American all offering nonstop flights between SFO and Orange County, you just knew that one of them had to pull the plug. American will stop flying the route on Nov. 18. We think it’s only a matter of time before the great, shrinking United does the same.

HEY NERDS: YOU CAN STILL GET THERE FROM HERE. About the time American announced it was dumping the Nerd Bird flights, Alaska Air swooped in and announced a single new daily nonstop between SJC and Austin. The flight originates in Portland.

JETBLUE: MORE SFO, LESS OAK AND SJC. Hat tip to the fantastic Cranky Flier blog for this tidbit: “JetBlue will kill one JFK and one Washington/Dulles flight from Oakland. Those airplanes will now become a second daily flight from SFO to both JFK and Boston. JetBlue will also add two more daily flights to Long Beach from SFO and a single additional daily flight from Oakland to Long Beach. Those new Long Beach slots are coming from the three daily Long Beach – San Jose flights which are going away.”

MORE CREDIT CARD OFFERS FROM UAL. Chase is now offering United customers some new credit card flavors. The one that tempts me the most (since I lost Premier status) includes access to EconomyPlus seats ($275/yr). Another provides includes membership to the Red Carpet Club ($375/yr). Another gives Mileage Plus bonuses (such as triple miles for United purchases, double miles for everything else), paving the way to faster free flights ($130/yr). Details here.

UNITED CUTS REDEMPTION FEES. United has unilaterally dumped those obnoxious $75 fees for last minute Mileage Plus redemptions. Good move! Seemed mighty unfair to charge a fee for something that did not cost the airline a penny! (Interesting….other airlines have not matched this move.)

MY WI-FI EXPERIENCE. Your BAT editor has used in-flight wi-fi twice so far and was very satisfied with the experiences (The Gogo Inflight Wi-Fi system is now available on all Virgin America and AirTran flights and on about 60% of Delta planes. It’s also on American’s flights between SFO and JFK and should be on United’s PS flights at some point later this year.)  Signing on is simple. The connection is as good as the one I have at my office (except when streaming video.) The only downside is that wi-fi hogs battery power  (and the only carrier that offers in-seat power at ALL seats is Virgin America.) So my laptop shut down a couple hours into the four-hour AirTran flight between SFO and ATL—so I’m not sure I got my three-hour’s worth for $12.95.

ON-TIME PERFORMANCE CONTINUES TO IMPROVE. The DOT says that 76.1% of the flights operated by the nation’s 19 largest airlines arrived on time in June, compared with just 70.8% in June 2008. There’s a combination of factors at play here, including less congestion and more padding of schedules on the part of airlines. HOWEVER, NYC airports are still in the pits. Despite on-time improvements nearly everywhere, New York’s three airports are STILL stuck at the bottom of the list for major airports. JFK, Newark and LaGuardia airports ranked 29th, 30th and 31st, respectively, for on-time arrivals at the nation’s 31 largest airports.

PLANES ARE STILL FULL. Don’t’ think that the down economy means you might find an empty seat next to you on the plane this summer. Airlines are pulling their large planes out of the skies, parking them in the desert, and using smaller planes instead. They are also cutting back on flight frequencies. As a result, most major carrier planes are running 80-90 percent full this summer…about the same as last summer.

HOW MUCH ARE THEY MAKING IN LUGGAGE FEES? According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, airlines are raking in the bucks when it comes to those obnoxious new checked luggage fees. American leads the pack at $108 million. Delta’s earned $103 million in fees. Which airline has made the LEAST on baggage fees (since it does not charge for the first two bags)? Southwest, of course, at just $6 million. And it even managed to turn a profit in the second quarter!

AMEX HONORING CLEAR CARD DISPUTES. If you charged your Clear Card on AMEX and disputed it, it looks like you should be getting your money back. BAT reader D. Cumpston was the first to email us with the good news: “I got a very welcome letter from AMEX last week saying, ‘We would like to advise you that the status of your claim on your account from Verified Identity Pass Inc. We suspended the amount of $179 and advised you we would contact the merchant on your behalf. Outcome: This dispute has been resolved in your favor. The merchant has not yet provided the information necessary to resolve your claim. Therefore we have issued a credit to your account and removed the previously suspended amount…’ NICE!” Thanks, Amex!

SPEAKING OF CLEAR CARD. After several recent Sunday afternoon flights and LOOOONG lines at SFO security (which looked much worse than they ended up being….they actually  moved very fast) your BAT editor is still missing his CLEAR card fast track. It was such a nice insurance policy against security line disaster. Anyway….There are some rumors floating around about the possibility of a resuscitated program. Stay tuned as we sniff these out! But don’t get your hopes up.

NEW TERMINAL B AT SAN JOSE: The new Terminal B at San Jose International opened last month for Southwest Airlines flyers (only) since the carrier has laid claim to its first five gates. Delta and Alaska Airlines will move in when six new gates open in Terminal B next summer. For now, all other airlines use Terminal A, which is also under renovation, part of a much needed $1.3 billion makeover of the Silicon Valley airport.

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Like what you are reading? Then be sure and SUBSCRIBE to The BAT so you don’t miss a single nugget of info. Look to the right>>>> and click on the SUBSCRIBE links! RSS or email! Thanks! Tell all your friends to do the same! –chris

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