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A special charter to London for Bay Area techies

A screenshot from BA's UnGrounded campaign.

A screenshot from BA’s UnGrounded campaign.

When airlines hold press conferences, they usually want to show off how passengers can get a good night’s rest in a business class seat that converts to cozy flat bed. Or they will announce their latest celebrity chef-inspired meals or big seat back video screens to keep travelers entertained on long haul flights.

That was definitely not the case at a British Airways presser in downtown San Francisco last night.

In a total about face, BA’s press conference was all about how they are going to ask 100 big shot Bay Area and Silicon Valley innovators to work during an 11-hour, chartered Boeing 747 flight from SFO to London.

And as soon as they arrive, they’ll have to present their findings to a like-minded group of global thought leaders.

Huh?

BA called the presser at to announce UnGrounded a new “innovation lab in the sky” that is designed to get Silicon Valley thought leaders, entrepreneurs, VCs and academics together in the confines of a jumbo jet to help solve global problems.

UnGrounded is the evolution of a business networking concept BA launched during the dark days of 2009 called Face-to-Face, which brought together hundreds of entrepreneurs hoping to expand their businesses overseas on free networking flights to London. (See The BAT report about BA’s Face-to-Face flights here Below is a video shot during that 2009 flight).

“Great innovation only happens face-to-face and our airline facilitates that,” said BA’s EVP, Simon Talling-Smith.

The first UnGrounded flight will depart SFO on June 12. The 100 industry leaders onboard will be tasked with coming up with a platform to help match tech talent with tech opportunities around the world.

“The talent crunch is a real issue for companies in major tech hubs around the world. We need to give more people the opportunity to discover and be discovered,” said Amir Dossal, a special representative from the UN on hand at the event. He said the gap between tech talent and tech opportunity is widest in the “STEM” fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

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BA 747 at SFO (Photo: AngeloAngelo / Flickr)

BA 747 at SFO (Photo: AngeloAngelo / Flickr)

To come up with an innovative way to solve that problem, 100 thought leaders will be holed up on a big 747 that can hold up to 345 passengers. BA has hired Palo Alto’s well-known design firm IDEO to help orchestrate this very special flight—and get the job done.

To help them find and invite those 100 bright minds, BA tapped into the networks of several Bay Area big shots such as Leor Stern of Google, Gerald Brady of the Silicon Valley Bank, Celestine Johnson of Innovation Endeavors, Marguerite Gong Hancock of Stanford, Rhonda Abrams of The Planning Shop, Duncan Logan of RocketSpace, and Todd Lutwak at Andreesen Horowitz. BA has also partnered with the UN and the Decide Now Act (DNA) Summit in London.

I asked if there was any way my readers could apply to be one of the chosen few for this flight. The response was sort of a “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” The special 100 will be “hand selected and curated” by the UnGrounded Advisory Board. Or you could try explaining why you’d be perfect for this flight by sending an email to: ba.ungrounded@ba.com

Interested? Here’s more.

-Chris McGinnis

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United refreshes PS flights SFO-JFK [infographic]

Business class on United's "refreshed" B757 P.S. flights to JFK (Photo: United Airlines)

Business class on United’s “refreshed” B757 P.S. flights to JFK (Photo: United Airlines)

Today United launched its first “fully refreshed” Boeing 757 P.S. (Premium Service) class flight between Los Angeles LAX and New York JFK. The newly refurbished plane could appear on the San Francisco-JFK run as soon as this week.

United says that there is no way to choose a newly configured flight just yet- but by June, seatmaps on its website will be updated to show which flights are new…or not.

United has 13 P.S. configured Boeing 757s and offers 46 PS flights each week between SFO and JFK… but it’s going to be a while until all are refreshed. Here’s United’s disclaimer:

United anticipates launching more reconfigured aircraft into service in June. Until then, most flights on these routes will offer the traditional p.s. service. United expects to reconfigure the entire p.s. fleet by the end of the year. Until the project is complete, the airline will operate these flights with a mix of aircraft.

The fully refreshed interior offers 28 flat-bed business class seats, replacing the 12 angled lie-flat and 26 reclining seats in the premium cabins on the traditional p.s. fleet. The new configuration also features 48 extra-legroom Economy Plus seats and 66 seats in United Economy. In the older aircraft, all economy seats were Economy Plus- this means that coach travelers without status will have to pony up cash or miles to get into the roomier seats.

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The reconfigured p.s. aircraft will offer travelers:

  • New Seats:In business class, 180-degree flat-bed seats, which offer up to 6’4″ of sleeping space and more storage.
  • Inflight Entertainment: Access to personal on-demand entertainment featuring a newly designed interactive touchscreen and more than 150 hours of programming. Individual monitors are 15.4″ in  business classand 9″ in United Economy.
  • Inflight Dining: New dining optionsand wine selections recommended by Doug Frost, United’s Master Sommelier.
  • Inflight Connectivity:  Gogo inflight Internet service. The aircraft also features power outlets and USB ports in every seat.

Here’s an infographic about the new interiors created by United:

UnitedPremiumService-Infographic-FINAL-original

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Top 10 countries that have the most fun

Argentines party for the new Pope (Photo: AP)

Argentines have fun celebrating the new Pope (Photo: AP)

When traveling for business or on vacation, do you notice that people in some countries seem to be having a lot more fun than others? Maybe even more fun than us fun-loving Americans?

Young Americans have fun on an average of 12 days month – more than Canadians, most Europeans and even Brazilians, according to the world’s first study to rank nationalities by how often they have fun.

The U.S. ranks sixth of 17 countries in the global fun league compiled by Badoo.com, a social networking site that bills itself as a place “for chatting, flirting, dating and meeting new people, with over 170 million users across 180 countries.”

The real secret to having fun, however, appears to be living somewhere hot, ideally in Latin America and preferably Spanish-speaking. Argentinians and Mexicans top Badoo’s global fun rankings, while Poles and Russians rank last, with neither having much fun at all.

Badoo asked 17,000 people in 17 countries and four continents, “How often do you really have fun (such as when going out socially or seeing friends)?” Those polled were mainly in their twenties and thirties.

Here are the results of that poll:

Question: Approximately how often would you say that you really have fun and a good time?

Rank Country Days fun/month % Having fun “most days”
1 Argentina 14.8 41.6%
2 Mexico 13.7 36.8
3 Turkey 13 35.1
4 Spain 12.9 34.2
5. Germany 12.1 31.1
6. USA 11.7 30.8
7. Italy 11.6 29.6
8. UK 11.3 29.2
9. Netherlands 11.2 28.5
10. Brazil 10.9 26.1
11. Switzerland 10.3 23.5
12. Thailand 10.2 26.1
13. Canada 9.9 22.7
14. France 9.7 20.9
15. Belgium 8.8 19.5
16. Russia 6.7 12.9
17. Poland 5.3 9.0
Source: Badoo.com

Badoo found that Americans have less fun than the Germans, who, Munich’s famous Octoberfest beer bash aside, are better known for hard work and efficiency than as legendary funsters.

Fun: Germany's outdoor beer gardens (Photo: Eigenadam / Flickr)

Fun: Germany’s outdoor beer gardens (Photo: Eigenadam / Flickr)

If the Germans are having more fun than the world thinks, the French are having less. They rank a lowly 14th out of the 17 countries in Badoo’s study; even the Swiss and Canadians have more fun.

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The Spanish top the European fun rankings and rank fourth globally. In spite of Spain’s current economic problems, the Spanish have not forgotten their roots as the country that gave the world flamenco and fiestas, as well as the Hispanic culture and heritage that powered Argentina and Mexico to the top of the world rankings. Could this mean that the most prominent Argentine, the brand new Pope Francis, might bring a little more fun to the Vatican?

Pity the young Poles! While the average young Pole has just fun five days per month, the average young Argentine has three times as many: 15 days a month; one day out of every two.

Based on your travels, do you agree with the finding of Badoo’s study? Which countries do you feel have the most fun? In which countries do YOU have the most fun? Please leave your comments below. 

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Top tweeters for business travelers

twitter_london

Let’s face it, Twitter can be overwhelming for time-pressed business travelers. Who has the time to sort through the millions of #travel-related tweets?

Finding truly useful business travel information can be as tough as finding that free drink coupon at the bottom of your carry-on bag.

To help you out, here is a list of those I feel are the top Tweeters when it comes to business travel.

As matter of fact, since no one else has done it yet, I hereby announce the first Best Business Travel Twitter Awards—the BBTTs! Be sure to follow these road warriors, or add them to your lists!

(Listed in alphabetical order)

@adelmantravel - Social-media savvy corporate travel agency  Adelman Travel does a great job of posting important biz travel headlines every day.

@ausbt - The Australian Business Traveller tweets from down under with news and advice that that doesn’t just apply to Australians.

@barbdelollis - It’s smart to follow USA Today’s super-connected hotel blogger Barbara Delollis, who keeps us up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in at hotels—every business traveler’s home away from home on the road.

@cjmcginnis - That’s me. Having covered the business travel beat since 1991, I’ve developed a good nose for what’s important to frequent travelers, and provide links to top travel news as well as my posts on BBC.com, SFgate and elsewhere.

@econbiztravel – Official postings from Gulliver, The Economist’s excellent business travel blog—a good mix of US and European coverage.

@executivetravel – The twitter feed from Executive Travel Magazine, “which supports the affluent, executive lifestyle of the world’s business leaders.”

@frequentlyflyin – The feed from LA-based Darren Booth, who is CNBC’s Road Warrior editor, and also writes the FrequentlyFlying.com blog.

twitter-floowme@garyleff – The prolific Washington, DC-based Gary Leff writes the popular View From the Wing blog, and primarily tweets news and strategies for managing loyalty points.

@globetrotscott – New York-based Scott Mayerowitz is the airline reporter for the Associated Press, and frequently breaks important business travel news with his tweets.

@johnnyjet - LA-based John DiScala is the travel industry’s social media master, and supplies a steady stream of useful links and updates from his frequent jaunts around the world.

@sean_oneill – Travel techies should follow London-based Sean O’Neill, who covers travel tech for BBC.com and Tnooz.

@skiftnews – Skift.com is a slick and sophisticated new travel news site that’s taken the industry by storm, and its twitter feed provides an excellent, frequently updated stream of travel industry intelligence that leans heavily in the direction of business travel.

@smartwomentrav – Don’t let her twitter handle fool you—Orlando-based author and blogger Carol Margolis tweets a helpful stream of business travel “pearls of wisdom” that apply to both sexes.

@stuckatairport – Business travelers spend as much time in airports as they do on planes. If there’s something going on at an airport in the US or around the world, blogger Harriet Baskas is one of the first to know about it…and tweet about it.

@thepointsguy – I get dizzy watching Miami-based Brian Kelly, aka The Points Guy, masterfully keep up with the frequent changes in airline, hotel and credit card programs, and then tweet out smart strategies for earning and burning.

@todayinthesky – Washington, DC-based Ben Mutzabaugh writes USA Today’s popular Today in the Sky blog, and is frequently the first to know… and tweet… important airline industry news.

@travelfoodguy – Vermont-based bon vivant Larry Olmsted provides business travelers a helpful stream of all-important dining, golf and travel advice, along with links to his work on Forbes.com, Cigar Aficionado and USA Today.

Who did I miss? Please add your favorite business travel tweeters below! 

Catching up on Bay Area Travel News (March 10 2013)

Virgin America wingtip over downtown San Francisco (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Virgin America wingtip over downtown San Francisco (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

AIRLINES (OVER) REACT TO VIRGIN MOVES? It’s interesting to see how other airlines have reacted to Virgin America’s recent, and relatively minor expansion plans.

>For example, a day after Virgin’s announcement of plans to serve the San Jose-Los Angeles LAX market, Delta announced it would jump on the route, too, but with regional jets versus mainline aircraft offered by Virgin and Southwest. Alaska serves the route with a turboprop.

>Within days of Virgin’s announcement of a single daily nonstop between SFO and Austin, United countered with the addition of TWO more nonstops on the route, for a total of six daily (beware, most of those 3-4 hour hauls are on United’s regional jets). JetBlue also jumped into the fray with one additional daily SFO-AUS flight with continuing service to Ft. Lauderdale.

>Anchorage? After Virgin announced a single daily flight, United came back by increasing its daily summer season flights from just one to two daily.

>Back in December, Virgin announced new nonstops (3x daily) to United’s fortress hub at Newark starting on April 2. Notice how United (over) reacted to that? It increased daily SFO-EWR nonstops to 16 each way (!) from the current seven per day starting June 6. (Hat tip to routesonline.com for staying on top of all these changes!)

VIRGIN CONTRACTING TOO. Despite new routes, Virgin, which is still struggling to get into the black, is trimming schedules to cities it already serves. Examples: Starting May 1, SFO-Cancun is reduced to once weekly; SFO-Ft Lauderdale reduced to once daily instead of twice; SFO-New York JFK down to four daily instead of five. Orlando down from daily to just 4x per week. Philly: once daily down from twice. Washington Dulles down to three daily from four.

A China Eastern Airbus A330. (Photo: Kentaro / Flickr)

A China Eastern Airbus A330. (Photo: Kentaro / Flickr)

NEW NONSTOP TO SHANGHAI. Currently, only United offers nonstops (on a B747) on the red-hot route between SFO and Shanghai. But China Eastern Airlines cranks up new daily nonstop service between SFO and Shanghai (PVG) on April 26 using an Airbus A330. Currently, it’s US website is down and its San Francisco office is just getting established, so stay tuned for more information as we get it. SFO-PVG Fares are already declining—coach is down to just $1100 round trip compared to about $2,200 prior to MU’s arrival. Business Class is now about $4,500 round trip. China Eastern recently joined the SkyTeam alliance. Last year it won “World’s most improved airline” from the SkyTrax World Airline Awards. Have you flown China Eastern? How was it?

TIPS FOR USING PHONES OVERSEAS. One of the most-viewed posts on The BAT over the last year was our primer on saving money when using smart phones overseas. CNN liked it, too, and interviewed BAT editor Chris McGinnis about it at SFO. Check it out here:

VIRGIN AMERICA, SINGAPORE RECIPROCATE. Starting this month, members of Virgin’s Elevate program can earn and burn their points when flying Singapore Airlines. Since Virgin’s program is revenue (points)-based…and Singapore’s is miles-based, it gets complicated. Here’s a helpful breakdown of the deal from The Wandering Aramean blog. To celebrate the launch of the partnership, Virgin America is offering the chance for one Elevate member to win two round-trip economy class tickets on Singapore Airlines to Hong Kong or Seoul.  You’ll earn 500 Elevate points just for entering the Win a Stylish Ride on Singapore Airlines contest on Virgin’s Facebook page.

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NICE WORK, UNITED. Did you catch this bittersweet tale about how United held a flight for a San Francisco man whose mother was dying in Texas? He made it to Lubbock just in time, thanks to the work of United crews.

NO HASSLE TRAVEL TRIFECTA ON KCBS. My post last week about how using the “no hassle travel trifecta” could alleviate worry about impending slowdowns at airport security and immigration lines due to the sequester received a ton of play locally. KCBS called BAT editor Chris McGinnis for a chat about the strategy. You can listen in here!

BRITISH AIRWAYS A380. British Airways is deploying its first big Airbus A380 to California on October 15. Alas, it’s going to LAX instead of SFO. But nonetheless, BA’s Executive VP Simon Talling-Smith reached out to The BAT with some interesting info:  When it comes to configuration, BA is putting all premium class seats (14 in first and 97 in business) at the front of the plane, on both the main and upper decks—this makes for a quieter flight, and faster boarding/deboarding. (Most other carriers have business class on the upper deck—front to back.) BA says that it knows that premium passengers don’t like to fly at the back of the plane, even if in a business class seat. BA’s move represents the first time an A380 will be deployed between the US and London. LAX is BA’s second largest market after NYC. Introductory roundtrip business class fares between LAX and London will be just $3,800 round trip. Premium economy is $1380; coach is $830. Currently, BA does not have plans to bring its A380 to SFO. Would you add an extra leg from SFO to LAX in order to jump on this big new bird?

BritishAirwaysA380SeatMap

 

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Have you ever heard about The Bay Area Traveler—The BAT- for frequent travelers? It’s a free local travel blog that I subscribe to. It’s full of helpful news and advice for frequent travelers who live in the Bay Area…just like us. For example, I first learned that PreCheck was coming to SFO, or that Virgin America was matching United Premier status from The BAT. I think it’s definitely something you could use. See “Subscribe” in the upper right margin of the blog, or just sign up right here. Thanks! ADD: *Your signature*

 

 

787 issues affecting United SFO flight plans

United's  Boeing 787 Dreamliner (Photo: United Airlines)

United’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner (Photo: United Airlines)

The ongoing technical issues and grounding of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner are having multiple repercussions for Bay Area Travelers (BATs).

In addition to the cancellation of ANA’s flights between San Jose and Tokyo (currently through at least May 31), United is having to alter its plans to add new transoceanic nonstops from San Francisco International (SFO) this spring due to the grounding of its six 787s.

Last year, United announced that it would add new nonstop flights between SFO and both Paris and Taipei this spring. Initially, its Boeing 777-200ER nonstops to Taipei were to have started on April 9. Nonstops to Paris (using a 767-300ER) were to have started April 11.

Since the aircraft United was planning to use on those routes are being used to plug holes in its flight schedule due to the 787 grounding, those dates have been pushed back to April 26 for Paris, and June 6 for Taipei.

In a statement to The BAT, United said, “While the grounding of Boeing 787 aircraft worldwide is delaying the launch of United’s service from San Francisco to Paris and Taipei as we reallocate aircraft, we remain committed to that service and believe they will both be successful when they launch on April 26 and June 6, respectively. We will work to offer alternate flight options to ticketed customers.”

Currently, the period to take advantage of United’s 50%-100% Mileage Plus bonus offers on these new flights reflects the original start dates…United has not yet made any changes to effective dates on the promotional pages, but told The BAT:  ”We will be adjusting the promotions and will accommodate those that have already registered accordingly.” Keep an eye on that here:  Paris bonus page.   Taipei bonus page.

We also asked United if the start dates for this service could be pushed back again if the 787 is still not flying by late April or May- so far, no response.

Have you been inconvenienced by the grounding of the 787 yet? Please leave your experiences or comments below!

-Chris McGinnis

 

 

Catching up on Bay Area Travel News, Feb 24

FREE PARKING AT SFO? Last week a new service called FlightCar soft-launched an innovative new car sharing service at SFO. FlightCar lets people parking at the airport rent their vehicles out to other travelers. Every rental is insured up to $1 million, and every renter is pre-screened. Depending on the size, age and condition of your car, you can also make up to $10 per day in gas credits. (And you avoid having to pay for airport parking.) Airport valets are at SFO to pick up and drop off cars to renters. They even wash your car. If you are a renter, FlightCar valets meet you at the airport with your rental. Rates are about 30% less than what you’d pay the big guys like Hertz or Avis. Watch the video above to see how it works. Would you do this? Please leave your comments below!

NEW UNITED FLIGHT BONUSES. Remember last year when The BAT broke the news about United’s new flights from SFO to Paris and Taipei? Those inaugural flights are coming up soon, and United is offering mileage bonuses on both runs. To Paris (11,000 miles roundtrip), you’ll earn 50% to 100% bonus award miles for flights between April 11 and May 31. Register here. For Taipei (13,000 miles round trip), United is also offering 50% to 100% bonuses for flights between April 9 and June 30. Register here. (UPDATE 2-25-13: United has confirmed that dates for the launch of these flights has been affected by the grounding of the 787 Dreamliner. Tentative new start dates: SFO-Paris: April 26; SFO-Taipei: June 6.)

Chris McGinnis inspecting ANA's maintenance hangar at Haneda Airport on the day before the 787 was grounded. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

BAT-man Chris McGinnis inspecting ANA’s maintenance hangar at Haneda Airport on the day before the 787 was grounded. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

787 UPDATE: If you didn’t get a chance to jump on one of those shiny new Boeing 787 Dreamliners when United had them at SFO, or when ANA was flying them from San Jose to Tokyo, it sounds like it might be a while until you get the chance to do so. United announced this week that it was dropping the 787 from its schedule through at least June, and has put off new routes set to use the plane, such as Denver-Tokyo. ANA announced today that it has canceled all 787 flights, including San Jose-Tokyo, through at least May 31.

STARWOOD SPG TEAMS WITH DELTA. Delta and Starwood have launched a unique new program called Crossover Rewards, which offers reciprocal benefits in both programs. This means that starting March 1, Starwood Preferred Guest elites get access to Priority lines when checking in and can board Delta flights early. Delta Diamond and Platinum Medallions will get elite level benefits in the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program, including 4 pm checkout, free internet, and one SkyMile per dollar spent on room rate in addition to Starpoints. They will also get one free check bag. Details and registration here:delta.com/crossoverrewards or spg.com/crossoverrewards. Insiders tell The BAT that a Starwood brand will team up with Delta later this spring with some trendy inflight amenities or other promotions. Have you flown Delta from the Bay Area recently? What did you think?

HILTON HHONORS DEVALUED: Effective March 28, Hilton HHonors will play under a new set of rules. Instead of the current seven award tiers, there will be 10. The highest tier will now require a whopping 95,000 points per night, up from just 50,000. You’ll pay more during high season, and less during low season. This is indicative of a travel industry trend I’ve been following—when paying with cash or with points, peak season prices are rising through the roof due to rising demand from travelers. The only way to get the best deals at rates that feel reasonable is to fly or stay during low or so-called “shoulder” seasons. How do you feel about this? Angry enough to dump Hilton and move to a competitor? Well, not so fast…This week Starwood rolled out its adjusted list of hotel award categories, with more hotels moving up than down—not as severe as Hilton’s, but still. Thoughts?

Screen shot 2013-02-24 at 9.50.06 AM

Atop the shiny new $7 billion Marina Bay Sands complex in Singapore (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

SWEATY IN SINGAPORE. Your BAT editor recently traveled to Singapore to research and write his latest BBC Business Trip Column: Business Trip: Singapore. If you haven’t been there recently, check out this column to learn about the city’s newest hotels, hottest tables, and how those new casinos are affecting the local economy.

STREAMING MOVIES ON SOUTHWEST. Last week Southwest announced that it would offer more on demand TV and movies on all wi-fi equipped aircraft (75% of its fleet). Movies cost $5 per device. Wi-fi access (via Row 44) costs $8 per day. Most Southwest flights I take are so short that movies aren’t really an option. What do you think? Have you tried using Southwest’s in-flight Row 44 wi-fi product, which seems to get about as many complaints as the Gogo system used by other carriers? Please leave your comments below.

Harvey Milk San Francisco International Airport?

Harvey Milk San Francisco International Airport?

HARVEY MILK AIRPORT. Despite the lukewarm reaction to the idea (among BAT readers and others) the campaign to add Harvey Milk’s name to SFO continues. SFgate’s City Insider blog said, “Privately, politicos say they’ve heard from plenty of local constituents, including gay and lesbian residents, who like the brand name of SFO, don’t think it’s worth the cost, fear the embarrassment of losing at the ballot or just don’t think it’s worth getting worked up over either way.” The Harvey Milk Foundation has donated $4,500 to a campaign to get the measure on the November ballot, and there’s a slick new website promoting the cause. Have you voted in our poll yet? Please do!

How do you feel about renaming San Francisco International Airport?

View Results

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Please leave any additional comments you have about renaming SFO in the comments box below.

- Chris McGinnis

 

 

Spring travel could be pricey & dicey

Spring breakers hanging out at South Ponto Beach near San Diego. (Photo: BrutalSoCal / Flickr)

Spring breakers hanging out at South Ponto Beach near San Diego. (Photo: BrutalSoCal / Flickr)

Combine a long, cold winter, spiking gasoline prices, and an improving economy. Then fold in a very early Easter and you have the recipe for what could be a very crowded and expensive spring travel season. To avoid the highest prices and the possibility of sold out flights, hotels or rental cars, those planning March trips should make reservations as soon as possible- especially if headed to popular spring break destinations from the Bay Area such as Southern California, Arizona, Mexico, Hawaii, and Rocky Mountain ski resorts.

This year, the peak spring travel season will be compact-only about three weeks- beginning on Friday, March 8 and lasting until Monday April 1. Already, advance bookings for March at Best Western’s 2000+ hotels in the US are up 8.9% compared to this time last year.

Due to an unusually early Easter (Sunday, March 31), March is going to be a month when college students, families and business travelers converge on the nation’s airports, highways and hotels. Collegiate spring break will peak in mid-to-late-March during mid-semester break. Family spring break will peak during the last week of March when most elementary and high schools close prior to Easter weekend.

Rowdy spring breakers whoop it up in Mexico (Photo: EytonZ / Flickr)

Rowdy spring breakers whoop it up in Mexico (Photo: EytonZ / Flickr)

To avoid the biggest crowds at airports, try to avoid traveling on weekends during the peak collegiate spring break period-from roughly March 8 through April 1. If you are flying on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays during March, you’ll find airports in or near college campuses and warm weather destinations packed with vacationing students, creating longer lines at airport security. Also, beware of crowding and possible delays on highways and skyways on the days leading up to and shortly after Easter Sunday, March 31.

In addition, St Patrick’s Day falls smack in the middle of spring break on Sunday, March 17 this year. Travelers should expect extreme vigilance on the part of police and highway patrol when it comes to drinking and driving.

Peak spring break travel season should end on about Tuesday, April 2. From April 3 through May 23 there will be an earlier-than-normal “shoulder season”-of the best times of year to save money and avoid crowds-and one of the smartest times time to schedule business trips. During shoulder season, demand for travel (and prices) drops significantly from the highs you’ll see during the spring and summer peaks. (The summer travel season kicks off on Memorial Day-May 27- weekend.)

TIP: If you are a business traveler staying over in a resort or beachside area, ask for a quiet room away from the pool or other public areas, which may attract a rowdy spring break crowd.

Are you signed up for travel updates, deals and news from The BAT blog for Bay Area Travelers? Subscribe today! It’s free.

Airfares:
Since January 1, airlines attempted three across-the-board fare hikes. The first two failed. The jury is still out on whether or not the third one will stick. But don’t think that this means prices will not rise. Over the last several years, airlines have reduced the number of seats flying. At the same time, improvements in the economic outlook and consumer confidence are translating into more demand for air travel— and when you have high demand and limited supply, prices rise. Therefore, spring travelers should budget for higher airfares (up 5-10% compared to last year), and more fees.

TIP: To get the lowest fares, try to plan trips during non-peak times, such as April or May known as the “shoulder season.” Also, travelers who can travel mid-week-on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays are also more likely to find lower fares.

Hotels:
While demand for hotels is increasing, average rates have only crept up about 5% compared to this time last year. This should be a relief for travelers who are finding that they are spending more than they’d like to at the gas pump or when buying airline tickets.

Over the last two years, hotel rates have jumped the most in large coastal cities in the US such as Boston, New York, Washington DC, San Francisco and Seattle. Rates in smaller, interior US cities remain about the same as this time last year.

Nonetheless, with the compact nature of this spring’s peak month of March, expect higher rates than normal, especially in popular warm-weather regions

Last Minute Deals:
Waiting around for last minute deals or flash sales rarely results in significant discounts during peak travel periods such as spring break.

Those who have their heart set on a specific destination in March should make reservations early in order to get the best deals. Waiting around for last minute deals is only advisable if you really don’t care where you go…you just want to get away.

On the other hand, waiting for a last minute deal makes much more sense if you plan to travel during periods of lighter demand, such as April or May, when travel providers are more likely to unload their excess inventory at big discount.

-Chris McGinnis

This item appeared first on Best Western’s youmustbetrippin.com blog for which I write.

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American + US Airways: mmeh!

American's nice Admirals Club at SFO's Terminal 2 to see more action. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

American’s nice Admirals Club at SFO’s Terminal 2 to see more action. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

What’s the impact on Bay Area Travelers (BATs!) of the proposed merger of American Airlines and US Airways? Minor at best. Here’s why:

Neither carrier has a major presence at any the Bay Area’s three airports.

For example, at San Francisco International, American has been cutting back for several years now, dumping flights to Honolulu in 2011 and Boston in 2010. Currently, it has about 30 departures per day from SFO to (Los Angeles, Dallas Ft Worth, Miami, Chicago and New York) which is a drop in the bucket when you consider SFO handles some 600 departures every day.

When SFO recently revealed its top airlines in terms of market share for 2012, American and US Airways didn’t even show up. For 2012, AA and US took the  5th and 6th place positions for airline market share at SFO, with 6.9% and 3.5% shares respectively. However, combining the two carriers “as-is” would result in an airline about the same size as Virgin America, which has only about 9% of the market at SFO.

American walked away from Oakland in 2008. It stopped flying to Tokyo from San Jose in 2006. Its famous “nerd bird” flights between San Jose and Austin disappeared in 2009, but it still offers a handful of nonstops between SJC and Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas Ft Worth.

US Airways operates just 14 daily departures to three cities from SFO’s Terminal 1: Phoenix, Charlotte and Philadelphia. From San Jose and Oakland, it only flies to Phoenix.

A spokesman at SFO told the BAT that based on current usage at Terminal 2 by American and Virgin America, flights to cities currently served by US Airways could be folded into American’s operations there. That means American’s swishy, but relatively quiet Admirals Club at T2 (complete with pine trees and a fireplace) could soon see a little more action from former US Airways Club members.

On the upside, there are likely many Bay Area Travelers who still have large banks of American AAdvantage miles from back in the day when American was a major player here. Now, they will have the opportunity to use their miles to fly nonstop to cities served by US Airways.

And if anyone out there has a few stray miles in both AAdvantage and Dividend Miles accounts, those will now be combined into a merged program and could amount to something.

On the downside, United Mileage Plus members who earned and burned miles on Star Alliance partner US Airways will lose that option in the deal.

In any case, despite the media hew and cry this week over this merger, don’t expect change to come fast—the deal will have to go through regulatory approvals first, which could take at least six months or more. Then begins the long painful process of trying to merge two unpopular old airlines into something new and attractive.

Do you think they can pull it off? How will the American-US Airways merger affect you? How do you feel about having just four major US carriers: American, Delta, Southwest and United? Where does this leave our hometown carrier Virgin America? Please leave your comments below.

-Chris McGinnis

Virgin announces 2 new routes from SFO

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Virgin America’s #Nerdbird N941VA (Photo: InSapphoWeTrust / Flickr)

Virgin America will fly from San Francisco International (SFO) to Austin, TX and Anchorage, AK starting this May. The new Austin flights will be year round, but the Anchorage flights are only seasonal (June-Sept).

Both new routes are pretty thin, however, with only one flight daily in each direction, which makes the flights only mildly attractive to business travelers.

JetBlue and United also offer nonstops from SFO to Austin—but currently neither offer wi-fi onboard, which should be a strong selling point for Virgin. (Both United and JetBlue have said more planes will be outfitted with wi-fi later this year…we’ll have to wait and see about that…) Only Southwest flies nonstop from San Jose to Austin- and from what I’ve heard from BAT readers, Southwest has been good about keeping a jet with its Row 44 wi-fi deployed on the route.

From SFO, the Austin flight will depart at around 10 am and arrive at around 4 pm. Returning from Austin, the flight will depart at 5 pm and arrive SFO at 7 pm. (Compared to United which offers four flights in each direction per day. JetBlue has only one.) Virgin’s introductory fares start at $180 roundtrip.

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In 2011, Virgin named one of its aircraft “#nerdbird” – in a nod to the prevalence of wired travelers on its flights. American Airlines’ flights between San Jose and Austin were at one time referred to as “nerdbirds.” Virgin says its Elevate members have routinely named Austin as a ‘most wanted’ new destination.  In addition to being the Texas capital, the Austin area is home to the University of Texas at Austin and a robust technology and innovation sector – many Bay Area employers including Apple, Google and Intel have significant presence in the Austin area.

Virgin will fly to Anchorage six days per week, with introductory fares starting at about $400 round trip. United also flies to Anchorage once per day, and it’s current coach fares for June are closer to $600 round trip.