Business Travel

Virgin’s 2-day sale kicks off fall travel season

Virgin America launched a systemwide airfare sale today- but it only lasts 2 days. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Election-year uncertainty and a weak US economy combined with higher gasoline prices, airfare and hotel rates have not deterred American travelers this summer, and healthy demand should carry on into the fall months.

Even though summer does not officially end until September 21, the fall travel season starts this week and extends through mid-November when demand begins to rise in anticipation of a relatively early Thanksgiving (Thursday, November 22).

Business travel “season” also starts this week as executives head back out on the road after summer breaks to visit clients they missed over the summer, or to attend meetings and conventions, which peak during the fall months. While there will likely be fewer visitors from economically embattled Europe, healthy demand in the US and Canada, as well as an influx of visitors from Asia are helping to counterbalance that decline.

Best Western is not a publicly held company, so it’s the only major hotel player (2,000 hotels in US) that releases valuable forward-looking data. Looking ahead, its advance bookings in the US and Canada for September, October and November are up 10% compared to this time last year. Advance bookings at airport hotels in North America, where guests tend to be predominately business travelers, are up 18%. Similarly, advance bookings at hotels located in intown areas are up 13%. (Disclosure: I write for Best Western’s youmustbetrippin.com blog)

Gasoline Prices: The recent spike in gasoline prices is having minimal impact on travel plans in the US. In early June, the average price of a gallon of gasoline was $3.52. It then dipped to a low of about $3.30 in early July. By the end of August, it had increased rather dramatically to $3.72 according to the US Energy Administration. However, the price jump at the pump did little to keep Americans off the road for Labor Day—according to AAA, travel volume over the long holiday weekend was 3% higher than last year—up to the highest level since the recession began in late 2007. As demand for gasoline declines during Autumn, prices will hopefully decline, too.

Airfare: As the price of a barrel of oil approaches $100 again, airlines are feeling the impact of rising fuel costs, and in August they raised fares across the board for the fifth time this year. However, during fall months, travel demand declines compared to peak summer travel season, so travelers can expect some relief from high fares in coming months. However, the days of broad across-the-board fares sales are long gone—so smart bargain-focused travelers need to keep their eyes peeled for sales of very short duration between specific markets instead. For example, Virgin America launched a two-day fare sale this week good for trips up until October 31- fares are quite good, i.e., less than $300 for transcon trips to NYC or DC. But they are not available on Sundays or Mondays.

In the second half of 2012, airlines will offer seven million fewer seats, and nearly 3% fewer departures than in 2011, according to The Boyd Group. These reductions in airline capacity (down some 11% since 2005), combined with steady demand on the part of consumers, means that airfares during peak holiday travel seasons (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years) should remain painfully high.

Advance bookings for fall are up 10% at Best Western hotels like this one near SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

But as always, heavily discounted shoulder season fares in early November, early December or early January should be available for those with the flexibility to take advantage of them. Tip: If possible, schedule business trips to coincide with these dips in demand.

Hotel Prices: Due to steady demand, hotel prices are rising, but the increases are uneven across the US. For example, travelers can expect to see significantly higher rates in large coastal cities such as New York, Boston, Washington, San Francisco or Seattle—especially during the fall months when meeting and conventions peak. However, rates in smaller, interior cities have remained mostly flat, or even declined in some cases. This variation means that average rates should increase less than 5% this fall. Tip: During fall months, travel suppliers reach out to business travelers with special deals and bonuses tied to their loyalty programs—keep an eye on blogs like The BAT and program websites for the deals.

Rental Car Prices: Rental car prices have remained mostly flat in recent years, but that could begin to change. This is due to consolidation in the industry, with only three major players left—Avis/Budget, Hertz (which purchased Dollar/Thrifty in August for $2.3 billion) and Enterprise (which now owns Alamo and National brands). Additionally, with airlines cutting service to smaller towns, demand for rental cars will increase as business travelers fly to the nearest airport, and then rent cars to drive to their appointments in smaller towns.

What about YOU? Are you planning to travel more, less or about the same amount this fall compared to last fall? Please leave your comments below. 

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SFO gets United Boeing 787 Dreamliner after all

United’s new baby: The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is coming to SFO! (Photo: United Airlines)

United will deploy its shiny new Boeing 787 Dreamliners on get-acquainted runs between domestic hubs and Houston for two months this fall, including one route to/from San Francisco International. Eventually, the planes will fly off on previously announced international routes. But in November and December, they’ll be making calls here at SFO.

From November 4 through December 2, a United Dreamliner will depart SFO at 12:15 am, arriving Houston at a painful 5:41 am five times per week. The return flight from Houston will depart at 5:45 pm, arriving SFO around 8 pm. From December 3 through January 3, the flights will be daily.

Yes, you read that correctly, United is positioning its shiniest, newest plane on a red-eye flight from SFO to Houston. Yuck. The upside is that there will be plenty of room in business class to lie flat and sleep (if you get upgraded to one of the 36 true lie flat seats). But if you are sitting in the back, looking out of those 30% larger windows, all you will see is the black of night. The same goes for the return flight from Houston… at that time of year, the sun has set by 5:45 pm.

A United spokesperson did not have a ready answer when I asked about this owly-bird scheduling for SFO flights. Dreamliner debut flights between Houston and Los Angeles (LAX), Chicago (ORD), Cleveland, Denver and Dulles are all during daylight hours, so it seems odd that SFO’s are all at night. Too bad. (United’s release does say that scheduling is subject to change, so maybe we’ll get lucky…)

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Nonetheless, the allure of the new 787 is definitely going to draw interest among die-hard aviation geeks. However, flying between SFO and Houston is not cheap- mid November round trip fares are currently running about $480. For those interested in booking a seat on the new bird, these 787 flights will go on display on United.com starting September 1.

United has 50 Dreamliners on order- it will get five of them by the end of this year.

Below is an interesting infographic about United’s new bird.  Will you go out of your way to fly on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner? Please leave your comments below. 

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United reveals routes for new Boeing 787 Dreamliner

You’ll be able to spot United’s new 787 by the serrated edge of its jet engines. (Photo: United Airlines)

But unfortunately, none of the new routes are to or from United’s big hub at San Francisco International.

Here’s the statement from United about where it’s positioning its shiny new bird:

United Airlines today announced the first international routes for the airline’s newest addition to its fleet, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. In addition to the previously-announced service from its Denver hub to Tokyo Narita, starting March 31, 2013, the airline will operate nonstop 787 service five days a week between its Houston hub and Lagos, Nigeria, beginning Jan. 7, 2013. United will also operate daily, nonstop 787 service between its Los Angeles hub and its Narita hub, beginning Jan. 3, 2013, and Los Angeles to Shanghai, beginning March 30, 2013.United will also operate daily, nonstop 787 service from its Houston hub to Amsterdam and London Heathrow on a temporary basis. Houston to Amsterdam service begins Dec. 4, 2012, and Houston to London Heathrow service begins Feb. 4, 2013.

Gosh, why do B.A.T.s (Bat Area Travelers) feel so left out? As it stands right now, SFO is not scheduled to get Dreamliner service from ANY airline as of today. As I reported here earlier this week, ANA has announced that it will bring the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to the Bay Area when it introduces new flights between San Jose and Tokyo Narita in January 2013.

When The BAT called United and asked, “Hey, what about SFO?” spokesperson Mary Ryan said, “Please keep in mind that today’s route announcement is only the first of several routes that will ultimately be flown using the 787. We also have yet to announce 787 domestic service…With 50 787s on order, United customers around the world can expect to see the aircraft on both existing and new long-haul routes in the future.”

Business class onboard United’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliner- note the “dimmer switch” under the window? (Photo: United Airlines)

Of course, most frequent travelers from the Bay Area would love to give the new bird a try. It’s got much larger electrochromatic windows that dim like sunglasses if there’s a glare… they can also be electronically blacked out if you want to sleep. There’s mod LED lighting. It also has larger overhead bins. Because of the Boeing’s use of composite materials, cabin pressure can be set at about 6000 feet- most other aircraft are only able to set cabin pressure at about 8000 feet- Boeing says that on those long hauls, the pressure difference along with better ventilation will help reduce passenger discomfort and jet lag. However, after an overnight 787 flight in Asia a Wall Street Journal reporter wrote that the ride was “a modest improvement, not dramatic difference.”

In terms of size, the Boeing 787 is about the size of a Boeing 767…the plane only holds 219 passengers and is configured with 36 seats in BusinessFirst, 72 seats in Economy Plus and 111 seats in Economy. By comparison, United’s internationally configured Boeing 777 holds about 250 passengers. A big Boeing 747 holds 374.

For a detailed view of United’s rollout of its new B787 earlier this month, check out this slideshow from USA Today. 

What’s your favorite long haul aircraft? Why? Would you fly a United Boeing 787 Dreamliner from SFO? Please leave your comments below. 

Bay Area gets its first Boeing 787 Dreamliner flight

All Nippon Airways (ANA) today announced the new nonstop service between Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) and Narita International Airport (NRT) in Tokyo will start January 11, 2013.  (ANA announced in 2011 that the flight was coming, but did not commit to a firm start date until now.) The inaugural flight will bring the first Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft to the Bay Area. Good news: ANA is a partner in the Star Alliance, so United MileagePlus members will be able to earn and burn miles on the route.

The new flight will depart San Jose at 11:45 a.m. and arrive in Tokyo at 4:10 p.m the next day.  The return flight will leave Tokyo at 5:35 p.m. and arrive at SJC at 10:10 that  morning.  The service is expected to start with five flights per week, excluding Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The afternoon arrival in Tokyo is timed to allow connections to destinations throughout Asia, including Beijing, Hong Kong,Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei, Delhi, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Bangkok, and Manila.  The new route will be available for booking August 30.

ANA will use its new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft on the Tokyo Narita-San Jose route.  Built mainly from carbon fiber composite material, the 787 features increased fuel efficiency and passenger comfort- with larger windows, better cabin pressure and larger overhead bins. ANA was the launch customer of the 787, ordering 55 of the aircraft in 2004 and taking delivery of the inaugural aircraft this year.

American Airlines operated a Tokyo-San Jose route from 1990 to 2006.

Would you use SJC instead of SFO for your flights to Tokyo? Is a chance to fly the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner enough to get you to switch? Please leave your comments below!

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United revamps popular PS flights to New York

The new United PS business class seat will be identical to Continental BusinessFirst seat pictured here. (Photo: United Airlines)

United’s super-popular “Premium Service” (PS) flights on the business-travel-heavy route between SFO and New York-JFK (as well as LAX-JFK) are about to undergo a radical re-do. To me this is great news because the current PS interiors have been tatty and worn out for a while…

Last week United revealed details of the new PS to The BAT, so here’s what you need to know:

>Reconfiguration of all 13 United Boeing 757s offering PS service will begin this October and should be complete by summer of 2013. All seats, walls, floors, bins, lavatories and galleys will be replaced, so they will feel like brand new planes. (No word yet on when you will actually be able to book a new PS flight.)

>The reconfigured aircraft will have business class, Economy Plus (EP) and standard economy seats.

>There will be no first class seatson the new PS aircraft. (Currently, there are 12.)

United’s current PS business class seat. (Photo: United Airlines)

>Reconfigured aircraft will have 28 true-lie-flat business class seats, up from the current 26 cradle-style seats. The new business class PS seat will be the same as Continental’s flatbed BusinessFirst seat on its internationally configured 757s. (See photo above) United says it will call this class of service United BusinessFirst.”

>Each business class seat will have an individual 16-inch video monitor connected to and audio-video on-demand (AVOD) system, a three prong universal 110v electrical outlet and USB port. (No more Dig-E-Players!)

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>In-flight service in business class will be the same—you’ll still get pre-flight cocktails, warm nuts, and two hot towels. (There will still be the peachy Bellinis and other featured cocktails served.)

>There will be 48 Economy Plus seats on the new PS flights, down from 72 in the old version. The downside is that there are fewer EP seats, but the upside is that EP seat pitch on the new PS flights will be 36 inches. (Current PS flights have 34 inches between each coach seat. And as we all know, two inches can make a big difference!)

>There will be 66 standard economy seats on the new PS flights with 31-32 inches of pitch—current PS flights offer EP only.

>Both EP and standard economy seats will have individual 9-inch seatback video screens with access to the AVOD system. (No more fuzzy overhead screens!)

>All PS flights will be getting an upgraded Gogo in-flight wi-fi system that a spokesman said should be faster (9.8 Mbps, up from the current 3.1) and better able to meet the high demand on these flights.

Mock up of American’s “Transcontinental Series” business class seat. (Photo: American Airlines)

>On the competitive front, American has announced that starting in late 2013 it will dump its current 767’s flying between SFO and JFK and replace them with much smaller, but specially outfitted, stretch versions of the Airbus A321 with first, business, Main cabin Extra and standard coach seats. Delta and Virgin America offer the same first class Recaro seat on the route, and have not made or announced any recent changes. (Here’s our post and video about a recent Delta Business Elite flight to JFK.)

How do YOU like to fly to New York? Are you pleased with the changes coming to United’s PS flights? Are these changes a net gain or loss for BATs - Bay Area Travelers? Please leave your comments below.

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Two exotic new hotels in Paris (Slideshow)

Earlier this month in Paris, I had a chance to swing by two of the city’s newest hotels: The W Paris- Opera and the Shangri-La.

Wow! The city of lights hotel scene has got it going on.

The W hotel is so new that the cab driver from the Gare du Nord did not know what I was talking about when I said,  ”S’il vous plaît me prendre à hotel W.” (Thank you, Triplingo!) I had to find the Google map on my mobile phone to show him the way.

This brand new 91-room hotel is located in the center of the city near the famous old Opera House. As in most W hotels, there’s always a scene in the lobby (spilling out onto the sidewalk in summer), with DJ’s, models, wannabe models and assorted poseurs. 

Rooms are small and unusually appointed… for example, there are stickers on the wall and pillows on beds with caricatures of famous French men and women. Throughout the hotel are walls of black enameled sheet metal punctured with holes through which lights sparkle— I was told this sparkle was supposed to represent the melding of New York and Paris.  In the less expensive rooms, bathrooms are separated from the room by a sink and mirror- not a wall or a door. This offers a bare minimum of privacy- the small, black-walled closet-like room for the toilet is separated from the rest of the room by only a sliding door. (See slideshow above) That’s no problem if you have the room to yourself… but not great if sharing with another.

On the upside, the hotel is brand new…and new is good in a popular city like Paris where much of the hotel stock is overused and outdated. Basic wi-fi is free. It has a super-convenient location in the center of the city with easy access to several metro lines. There’s a clean, bright fitness studio on the top floor. Speaking English is no problem, and the young, toned, well-coiffed  staff is eager to please— not a hint of French snootiness. High demand is keeping base rates this fall in the $500 per night range.

The chic new Shangri-La hotel opened in late 2010 and is giving established 5-star hotels like the Four Seasons Georges V or the Le Meurice the jitters. It took four years to restore this building- which was once the home of Napoleon’s grand nephew Roland Bonaparte- located in the Trocadero, a posh neighborhood of embassies and mansions between the Arc d’ Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower.

You’ll find a comfortable blend of Asian hospitality (hot tea delivered to rooms at check in, congee on the breakfast menu) and chic French design.  It’s not a huge hotel- only 81 rooms- about half of which offer dramatic views of the Eiffel Tower. Elegance like this does not come cheaply… room rates start at $900 per night. The Shangri-La suite in the penthouse fetches a cool $23,000 per night. (Flip through the slideshow above for a peek of this spectacular suite!)

And it’s not just the Shangri-La that is giving luxury hoteliers in Paris heartburn… a new Mandarin Oriental just opened near the Place Vendome this summer- just a few blocks away from the famous Paris Ritz hotel, which is closed for the next two years for a complete re-do.

What are your favorite Paris hotels? Please leave your comments below. 

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United: 2 new long-haul routes from SFO

BusinessFirst seats configured 2-1-2 on United’s 767-300ER

This morning United Airlines broke news to The BAT that it will add new nonstops from San Francisco International (SFO) to Paris and Taipei starting next April.

PARIS:

United has not offered nonstops between SFO and Paris-CDG since it shelved the route in October 2005.

“The Bay Area is doing very well right now and we’d like to capitalize on that good fortune, and the Paris route is a good example of how we are doing that. Our corporate clients have been asking for this service,” said Greg Hart, United’s SVP of Network.

Starting April 11, 2013, United will deploy Boeing 767-300ER aircraft in a two-class configuration on the 11.5-hour, 5,600-mile flight to Paris.  The revamped 767-300 will offer 30 true-lie-flat BusinessFirst sleeper seats, 49 Economy Plus seats and 135 standard coach seats, but no first class.

Passengers will enjoy United’s new AVOD system, which offers individual seatback video entertainment systems in both business and coach, with hundreds of choices of movies, TV shows and games. All business class seats on the 767 have electrical and USB outlets for charging personal electronics. There’s one electrical outlet per row in coach.

“All of these 767’s were originally configured for mainland-Hawaii and hub-to-hub flying. With the reconfiguration currently under way, the airplanes are getting new seats, new (and larger) overhead bins,” said Hart.

Currently, only Air France offers year-round nonstops between San Francisco and Paris. XL Airways offers summer seasonal flights. Interestingly (and perhaps not coincidentally) just last week United announced that it would shelve its Houston-Paris nonstop in October, which observers say is part of an ongoing spat United has with Houston’s city leaders.

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TAIPEI

United will begin daily year-round nonstop service to Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei on April 9, 2013, its eighth nonstop Asian destination from SFO.  Currently, United flights from SFO to Taipei stop over in Tokyo for about two hours making for a grueling 15-to-17-hour journey.

The new nonstop flights will operate using Boeing 777-200ER aircraft with 269 seats – eight in first, 40 in business (both front and rear-facing, true lie-flat), 104 in Economy Plus, and 117 in coach. As in the recently revamped 767s flying to Paris, all seats in all classes get their own seatback entertainment system on this 777.

There are 40 front and rear facing business class seats on United’s 777-200ER (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Currently there are two carriers, China Air and Eva Air, offering nonstops between SFO and Taipei. Neither of these carriers are members of the Star Alliance, so United will have a strong competitive advantage among hard-core Mileage Plus fans on the 6,500 mile, 13-hour route. [Update: EVA will soon be a full fledged member of the Star Alliance.]

Have you had a chance to fly on one of United’s revamped B777s yet? If not, take a peek at what The BAT saw at SFO’s maintenance base where these 11-13 year-old 777’s are getting their makeovers.

In related news, United announced this week that it will take delivery of its very first Boeing 787 Dreamliner this September, but has yet to divulge a specific inaugural route.Unfortunately, Hart told The BAT that there are no current plans to deploy the much anticipated Dreamliner at SFO this year.

Where would YOU like to see United fly nonstop from SFO?? Please leave your comments below. 

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✈ Bypassing security lines with CLEAR at SFO

CLEAR lanes are fast lanes at SFO security (Photo taken June 25)

Did you know that July is the busiest month of the year for air travel? As summer crowds begin to swell at SFO, frequent travelers are increasingly facing longer than expected lines at security… except for those who subscribe to the $179 CLEAR card, which cranked up operations at SFO in May.

From the looks of this photo, regular security lines during peak summer season are becoming reliably long, while CLEAR lines are reliably short…or even non-existent.

CLEAR is not revealing how many new subscribers it has in the Bay Area right now- the only number I could coax out of them was that members had used CLEAR lanes 600,000 times since the service re-started in 2010. The company also claims that 80% of its users in Denver and Orlando have returned since the company re-opened CLEAR lanes at airports in those cities. Prior to shutting down in 2009, CLEAR had 40,000 members in the Bay Area.

See the quiet CLEAR line at the bottom of this photo?

Currently, CLEAR has cranked up service in Orlando, Denver, San Francisco and just this week at Terminal E at Dallas Ft Worth. While it says it is working on getting back into other airports, it won’t name names.

To convince more of us to jump for the $179 annual subscription, CLEAR has started to layer on extras meant to appeal to frequent travelers. For example, they are offering a free one-year gold membership to the Regus network of workspaces and offices around the world. New members can also get a free three-month trial of of TripIt Pro, a service that helps travelers consolidate and keep track of their travel reservations. They are also offering free two-month trial memberships to those who have never been CLEAR members before.

Even with airline elite status, security lines are still rather unpredictable, especially in airline hub cities with a lot of frequent flyers (i.e. United hubs here at SFO or in Denver) so CLEAR execs are heavily promoting how having a CLEAR card provides predictability and no surprises when it comes to airport security. For a busy business traveler, this means leaving for the airport at the last minute and knowing that you won’t face a long wait at airport security.

Is that peace of mind worth $179 a year? Are airport security lines still a hassle or headache for you? Have your tried or re-activated your CLEAR membership? I’m waiting to renew mine until my heavy travel schedule kicks in this September. What about you? Please leave your comments below! 

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Messier at T1, new flights to Europe, UAL leaves OAK, PreCheck at SFO

(Photo: Rolling Thunder / Flickr)

MESSIER AT SFO T1. The BAT has learned that UAL has quietly expanded the list of cities it serves from Terminal 1 at SFO to at least two more than we reported in early June. This week we’ve heard from surprised readers on flights to or from Denver, Los Angeles LAX and Portland PDX using Terminal 1.  There’s little rhyme or reason…or transparency… about this from United, which makes the situation all the more frustrating. Just remember: If your boarding pass says gate 87 or 92A-F, United will tell you to enter at Terminal 3, go to the gate and take a shuttle bus under the airport to Terminal 1. But BAT readers know that if you have no luggage to check, you can enter directly at Terminal 1. If your plane arrives SFO at Terminal 1 and you have no checked bags, you exit at Terminal 1. If you have checked bags or a connecting flight, United will direct you to the shuttle for a ride back over to Terminal 3. Have you experienced this merry-go-round yet? If so, please leave your comments below.

UAL SEZ BUH-BYE OAKLAND. United took its very last flight out of Oakland on Sunday, June 4 with a flight to Denver. United had served Oakland for more than 75 years, and the airport gave the final flight a ceremonial spray from a fire truck. Over the years, Southwest has made its mark at OAK, and this undoubtedly had an influence on UAL’s declining fortunes there.

(Photo: Virgin America)

PORTLANDIA. Virgin America inaugurated new flights to Portland earlier this month—and celebrated by naming its newest A320 “Mount Hoodie.” Clever!

AIR FRANCE’S LARGEST LOUNGE. Fly to Paris much? Then you should check out this slideshow of Air France’s chic new business class lounge at Paris CDG—it’s the largest lounge in the system and open to business, first and SkyTeam partner passengers.

GIMME FREE WIFI. Seeking free hotel wifi? Silicon Valley based hotel booking site Room77 allows users to filter hotels by availability of free wi-fi. Smart!

STOLEN LAPTOPS. Some airports are worse than others when it comes to laptop theft. A recent study found that Atlanta-ATL is #1 for laptop theft in the US. SFO ranks fifth worst after Miami-MIA, Chicago-ORD, Orlando-MCO. Frankfurt is #1 outside the US.

MORE CLEAR. The CLEAR card, which is back at SFO with its popular expedited security screening service, expanded to Terminal E (serving UAL, Delta, Virgin, etc) at Dallas-Ft Worth airport last week. CLEAR is now available at all terminals at SFO. It’s also in operation at Denver and Orlando airports. If you had a CLEAR card in it’s previous life, whatever time you had left on it when the company shut down is now valid at SFO—so get bring your old card to SFO and give it a try. The service costs $179 per year.

Photo: Olivier Cabaret / Flickr

EURO-AIR. Are you aware of all the new airlines flying to Europe from the Bay Area? To make hay while the summer sun shines, airlines such as XL Airways (SFO-Paris CDG), Arkefly (OAK-Amsterdam AMS), Air Berlin (SFO-Dusseldorf) and Sata (OAK-Azores) now offer nonstops across the pond. All are offering roundtrip fares in the $1500 range—not much different than what you’ll currently find on more mainstream carriers. Note: These carriers do not offer daily service—it’s more like 1-3 times per week. Also, we don’t hear much about these carriers here since they are more focused on European business than US business—which becomes immediately evident when you try to search for fares on their balky websites.

EURO-CHEAPO? If those fares seem high, here’s some good news: The US dollar gaining rapidly on the euro, making trips across the pond a little easier on American wallets. Currently, you can buy a euro for about $1.25, and from the looks of this chart, it could be closed to $1.10 by this fall.

PRECHECK COMING TO SFO. Eventually. United has (finally) joined American and Delta as airline partners with TSA for it’s popular PreCheck expedited security screening program. However, United only has PreCheck at Chicago-ORD for now. The TSA’s western region spokesperson Nico Melendez told The BAT that while the agency expects to have PreCheck at SFO this year, there is still no formal date for introduction.

DELAY AT ANA FOR SJC. ANA has quietly pushed back the introduction of new nonstops between San Jose International and Tokyo using a new B787 Dreamliner into 2013. Last fall ANA said that service would start in 2012. Hmmm.

MORE BIZ CLASS ON UAL. United has revamped the first of 14 Boeing 767-300s with its new lie-flat business class seat—all facing forward, unlike the forward/rear facing seats on its B777s. United spokesperson Charles Hobart told The BAT that the newly configured 767’s won’t be flying internationally out of SFO but will be doing occasional domestic turns.

Bedroom at Las Alcobas, my fave hotel in Mexico City (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

MEXICO CITY. Got business in Mexico City? Check out my latest BBC Business Trip: Mexico City column for my take on latest, greatest and newest business class hotels, restaurants, airport lounges. Surprise: Mexico City has cut its pollution in half, and its downtown is safe, cosmopolitan and a lot of fun. Factoid: The city’s elevation is 7,200 feet—that’s 2,000 or so feet higher than Denver!

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Deal ALERT: Late summer/fall fares sales start early

If peak season fares will keep you grounded this summer, here’s some great news: This morning,  Southwest.com and AirTran.com kicked off a decent late summer/early fall fare sale, but you’ve got to act fast. That’s because the sale only lasts 72-hours and only a handful of seats on each plane are selling at the discounted prices. Here are the specifics:

>Travel dates: Travel must take place between Monday, August 13 and Wednesday, November 14.

>Roundtrip fares range from $100 to $280 roundtrip (all in), based on flight length. For travel up to 500 miles, fares are $100 round trip. For travel 501 to 1,300 miles, fares are $200 round trip. For travel 1,301 or more miles, fares are $280 round trip. (Fares are available one-way.)

>This is a 72-hour sale, so tickets must be purchased online at Southwest.com or AirTran.com between today and midnight Thursday, June 14.

>Sale fares are NOT available on Fridays or Sundays.  Blackout dates: Aug. 18, Aug. 30, Sept. 3, and Sept. 4, 2012.

>I expect United, Delta and other carriers to match most of these fares by later today, so shop around if you don’t find the fare you want.

>Based on what we’ve seen fare-wise this summer, these are some great deals. Sample roundtrip Southwest or AirTran fares from SFO/OAK/SJC include:

$100: Burbank, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Ontario, Orange County, Reno,  San Diego

$200: Albuquerque, Denver, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle

$280: Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Houston

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