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Mileage Plus ranking + new 787 @ SFO + PreCheck + Airport standoff

In This Issue: New 787 Dreamliner flight at SFO, Mileage Plus ranks highly, Sour Milk, SFO Airport Tiff, Virgin America loss, Tito’s vodka, dream of a new Terminal 1 at SFO. Sorry for the recent lag in updates! Let’s catch up on Bay Area Travel news right now>>>

A Japan Airlines 787 Dreamliner at San Diego Int'l Airport.

A Japan Airlines 787 Dreamliner at San Diego Int’l Airport- soon at SFO!

MORE 787 DREAMLINERS.  Starting September 1, Japan Airlines will fly a new Boeing 787 Dreamliner between SFO and Tokyo’s close-in Haneda Airport, replacing the current B777 service. ANA will re-start Boeing 787 flights between San Jose and Tokyo-Narita on June 1. (Did you see the slideshow from my ANA flight from SJC to Tokyo?) Currently, United has no plans to fly Dreamliners from SFO.

UNITED EASIEST TO REDEEM. Among major legacy carriers, United ranks highest when it comes to redeeming awards online, according to a survey by Ideaworks. The report says that United had award seats available 80% of the time. By comparison, American had award seats available only 49% of the time. Delta and US Airways are the most parsimonious with awards, with seats available only 36% of the time. Only AirTran/Southwest and JetBlue ranked higher than United. Full report here.

VIRGIN AMERICA NARROWS LOSS. Our hometown carrier is still struggling to climb into the black, even as many of its competitors are showing relatively healthy and consistent profits (except United). In the first quarter of this year, Virgin America lost $46 million, which is not good. But it’s better than the loss of $76 million during the same period a year ago. It’s expanding, too, adding new flights between LAX and Las Vegas, and from SFO to Newark and Austin, and between San Jose and LAX. Based on that sorta good news, the carrier is flirting with the idea of an IPO. Would you invest in Virgin America if it manages to go public? Please leave your comments below.

Rendering of proposed Terminal 1 at SFO

Rendering of proposed Terminal 1 at SFO

DREAMING OF A NEW TERMINAL 1. Check out this interesting proposal for a massive re-do of SFO’s Terminal 1. It’s many years away, but it looks super cool. And tatty old T1 could use some help, that’s for sure.

PRECHECK NEWS. Have you noticed that United has started printing your PreCheck status on your boarding pass? Nice to know before you go whether or not you’ll get those glorious three beeps! Another good thing about PreCheck: It’s now available for those traveling on “select international flights.” Has anyone out there been able to use PreCheck internationally yet? SFO officials say that there are no PreCheck lanes at the international terminal yet—so is it smarter to use the PreCheck lanes at T3, and then walk to your international flight?  Please leave your comments below.

INFLIGHT WI-FI POLL. Last winter we visited Gogo headquarters in Itasca, Illinois and took a fun ride on their in-flight lab for a look-see at a new system called ATG-4 that is designed to improve Gogo’s connections and speed. That was six months ago and we are wondering… Have you noticed a difference? PLEASE ANSWER! (The “Vote” button might appear clear, but you must click it to VOTE and see the results)

Have you noticed an improvement with in-flight wi-fi performance?

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FlightCar

FLIGHTCAR UPDATE. By now you’ve likely heard of FlightCar, a new online service that offers air travelers free parking by SFO, plus the opportunity to earn some cash when they rent your car to other passengers arriving at SFO. Sounds like a good “sharing economy” deal, but the airport is not at all happy about these unlicensed interlopers (including other services like pink mustachioed Lyft).  Earlier this year, SFO issued a cease and desist order, forbidding these new companies from operating at the airport. To get around the C&D order, FlightCar hired a licensed black car service to shuttle its customers between the airport and their private parking lot. FlightCar’s Shri Ganeshram told The BAT: “We’re operating within the legal bounds of the system using independent licensed liveries to drop off and pick up passengers at the airport.” He says that FlightCar is now renting about 80 cars per week, despite the SFO cease and desist order. So we contacted SFO spokesperson Doug Yakel to find out if FlightCar is operating legally. He said, “As a public agency, we need to ensure a level playing field for all providers of ground transportation, and FlightCar must sign a permit and provide proof of insurance like every other off-airport rental car company.  This is a matter of basic fairness. FlightCar has yet to meet the obligations, including insurance, required for an SFO permit that would certify them for safe and legal operation at the airport. Their method of transportation to/from the offsite location does not change the fact that they are attempting to operate at SFO without a proper permit. It remains an issue of safety and fairness for us.” How do you think this will all shake out? Have you, or would you use FlightCar? Please leave your comments below!

6 MONTHS FREE AND CLEAR. Starting later this month, CLEAR card holders will be able to use their cards for expedited security screening at San Antonio International Airport. And starting this month, Visa Signature is working with CLEAR to bring the uninitiated a free 6-month CLEAR membership — and $60 off the annual rate of $179 when membership automatically renews. Do you have one of the many Visa Signature cards? Then check this out.

WE NEED YOUR HELP! Dearest Bay Area Travelers: The BAT needs more readers. Can you help us out? Please forward this link to frequent traveling friends, travel agents, travel managers, travel bloggers and tell them why you love The BAT and encourage them to sign up! THANKS!

CLOUDY MILK. The campaign to rename San Francisco International after Harvey Milk has come to a vague close with only a promise to name an as-yet unnamed terminal at SFO after him. I’m glad the whole contentious issue is (mostly) behind us. What about you? Please leave your comments below.

New 76-seat Embraer 175 from United

New 76-seat Embraer 175 from United

MORE BARBIE JETS. United will add 30 Embraer 175 regional jets to the United Express fleet starting next year. The 76-seaters will replace the less efficient 50-seat RJs currently in use. United says, “The aircraft will be configured with 12 United First, 16 Economy Plus and 48 United Economy seats. The design of the aircraft will result in more personal space for customers with wider seats and aisles than those on the 50-seat aircraft. The aircraft can accommodate standard carry-on bags, resulting in more convenience for customers.”

BETTER VODKA. Starting in June, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, made in Austin, TX, will replace Absolut vodka on all United flights. Did you know that vodka is the most-served spirit on US flights?

Join Chris McGinnis & JohnnyJet for the #travelskills chat on Friday mornings!

Join Chris McGinnis & JohnnyJet for the #travelskills Twitter chat on Friday mornings!

SEEKING SUMMER TRAVEL DEALS? Join in the #TravelSkills chat with @JohnnyJet and me this Friday at 9 am PDT. Our new chat has been trending in the US on Twitter on nearly every Friday, so stop by and join the fun. And learn something, or uncover a summer travel deal! See www.travelskills.com/chat

MORE MEXICO AT SFO. Aeromexico will add a second daily round trip to Mexico City on July 15. Check out BAT editor Chris McGinnis’ recent Business Trip: Mexico City for BBC!

San Francisco  Mexico City

Flight Number Departure Arrival Frequency
AM 0665 01:00 am 07:14 am Daily
AM 0669* 01:25 pm 07:53 pm Daily

Mexico City  San Francisco

Flight Number Departure Arrival Frequency
AM 0664 08:26 pm 11:25 pm Daily
AM 0668* 09:30 am 12:07 pm Daily

*New flights schedules available starting July 15th, all in local time and subject to change without notice.

SEEKING SASSY WHEELS in Dallas or Austin? High end Silvercar (which rents only silver Audi A4s) is offering four Virgin America Elevate reward points per $1 spent, 2,500 bonus points with your first rental, and another 2,500 points for your fourth rental through November 30. Have you tried Slivercar? What did you think?

-Chris McGinnis

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New SFO flights + United fee hike + SFO Terminal video + 787

Catching up on Bay Area Travel news: New flights to France & China; United hikes fees; video inside new SFO Terminal; flirt on Virgin America flights from San Jose; 787 Dreamliner update, new Routehappy booking site; FlightCar is back.

China Eastern's A330-200 at SFO (Photo Peter Biaggi)

China Eastern’s A330-200 at SFO (Photo Peter Biaggi)

HUANYING AND BON VOYAGE. Last Friday (April 26) was a busy day at San Francisco International.

At 9:30 am, the first China Eastern A330-200 arrived from Shanghai to a water cannon salute and a welcome celebration at the airport. For now, here’s what we know: The Airbus A330 departs SFO at 11:30 am and arrives at Shanghai Pudong airport (PVG) the following day at 4 pm. On the return, the flight departs Shanghai at 1 pm and arrives at SFO at 9:30 am. Three days a week, the flight offers continuing service to Wuhan (pop 10 million), a central Chinese city many refer to as “the Chicago of China.” At the festive inaugural dinner at the Westin St Francis, I learned that China Eastern offers two types of business class seats on its Airbus A330-200—one type is the angled lie flight, the other is a true lie flat (180 degrees flat). China Eastern’s San Francisco manager Charlie Gu assured me that the San Francisco flight will always get the newer plane with the true lie-flat seats. It has to, if it plans on competing for business travelers with United since the deployment of its excellent new business class product on SFO-PVG nonstops. Every seat on China Eastern’s A330 (coach and business) has personal seatback entertainment systems and access to AC plugs. China Eastern is the second largest carrier in China (after Air China), and flies a relatively young fleet—with an average age of just seven years. SFO joins New York, Los Angeles and Honolulu as the fourth US city served by China Eastern—although, oddly, the airline does not have a US website. China Eastern is a member of the SkyTeam alliance, which offers Delta flyers a new way to earn and burn points on flights to burgeoning China. We’ll provide an in depth look at the new China Eastern flight to Shanghai in a future post.

Passengers on United's inaugural Paris flight greet by a 12-ft Eiffel Tower & free French inspired food & drink. (Photo: United)

Passengers on United’s inaugural Paris flight greeted by a 12-ft Eiffel Tower & free French inspired food & drink. (Photo: United)

On Friday afternoon, United recommenced nonstop service between SFO and Paris-CDG. (United discontinued SFO-CDG nonstops in Oct 2005.) Flight 990 departs San Francisco daily at 2:45 p.m. and arrives at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport at 10:45 a.m. the next day. For the return, flight 991 departs Paris at 10:05 a.m. and arrives in San Francisco at 1 p.m. the same day. United operates this new service with Boeing 767-300 aircraft, which offer 30 flat-bed business class seats, 49 seats in Economy Plus and 135 seats in standard economy. The BusinessFirst cabin (configured 2-1-2) includes 15.4-inch touchscreen monitors for personal on-demand entertainment, electrical and USB outlets, iPod jacks and five-course meals. Each seat in Economy features a 9-inch touchscreen with personal on-demand entertainment, and all rows (configured 2-3-2) include access to electrical outlets. Book and fly United to Paris by May 31, and you’ll earn some tidy Mileage Plus bonuses. Air France is currently the only other carrier offering nonstops between SFO and Paris. Paris-based XL Airways offers summer season SFO-CDG flights.

UNITED HIKES CHANGE FEE TO $200. In what appears to be a poorly timed slap in the face to customers just coming off a year a dismal performance by United, the carrier has increased its fee to make changes to nonrefundable tickets by a whopping $50. That means if you want to change a domestic ticket, you’ll now pay $200 (plus any change in fare) for the honor. Want to change an international ticket? That will now be $300, thank you. Shortly after United hiked its fees, US Airways matched, which likely means its future merger partner American will follow suit. That leaves Delta as the hold out, but it’s probably waiting a bit to hike fees after taking so much heat for changing its same-day change fee last week. As we all know, Southwest does not charge change fees at all, but passengers do have to pay any difference in fare if it has increased from the time of purchase. Alaska Airlines and Virgin America still charge a much more reasonable $100 change fee. Is the $200 fee enough to make you switch away from United? Please leave your comments below.

A LOOK AT TERMINAL 3 PROGRESS. SFO has produced a video providing a virtual hardhat tour of the new Boarding Area E at United’s Terminal 3, which is due to open earlier next year. Some interesting facts picked up in the video: The glassy new terminal should be as nice or nicer than SFO’s award winning Terminal 2 (home to Virgin America and American). Expect very wide corridors, high ceilings, giant picture windows with dramatic ramp views, a new “information terrace” at the entryway, environmentally sustainable design and local food vendors.

WE NEED YOUR HELP! Dearest Bay Area Travelers: The BAT needs more readers. Can you help us out? Please forward this link to frequent traveling friends, travel agents, travel managers, travel bloggers and tell them why you love The BAT and encourage them to sign up! THANKS!

MEGA-MILE BONUS SITES GET FUNDING. Remember when we wrote about mega-miles bonus sites Pointshound and RocketMiles last month? Seems like venture capitalists think the sites are on to something. This morning, The BAT received a note from RocketMiles announcing that the six-month old company raised $2 million in its first round of external financing.

GET FLIRTY ON VIRGIN AMERICA. You see that hottie in the boarding area and try to establish eye contact. Bingo! You got “the look” back! You get onboard and see the object of your desire a few rows ahead of you. Instead of posting a “missed connection”  on Craigslist (and hoping for the best), a new service from Virgin America allows you to send a drink to someone via its seatback entertainment and food ordering system. Locate that hottie on the seatmap, choose a cocktail, and then send it over to them, then follow up with a text message via the system’s seat-to-seat communications platform. (Have a few minutes? Then check out this hilarious Asian animation of the new Virgin service.)

SPEAKING OF VIRGIN AMERICA. South Bay and Peninsula dwellers should be happy to note that Virgin America’s new four-times-daily nonstops between San Jose International and LAX crank up on May 1. Why suffer on another carrier’s cramped RJ when you can jump on Virgin’s mod A320 and send the hottie across the aisle a cocktail? Virgin will be entering the very crowded San Jose-LAX run, which is already served by five carriers: Low fare leader Southwest , United (which dominates the Bay Area) as well as American, Delta and Alaska Airlines. Southwest flies a one-class 737 on the hour-or-so long route, Delta, United and American fly regional jets, and Alaska uses a turbo-prop. Virgin is offering a two-for-one sale on SJC-LAX flights through May 31.

STATUS OF SFO’s LONG TERM PARKING LOT? From BAT reader Damian: Chris, I love the BAT!  Have you written about the SFO Long Term Parking garageIt has had floor closures for a couple years and is now empty.  One parks outside or even gets a pass to go to short term parking at the same rate. Does the garage have structural problems?  Seems like it should be a scandal. Perhaps this is old news but in poking around on the Web I didn’t happen to find anything.” Having noticed the same thing…and wondered, we contacted SFO, and spokesperson Doug Yakel helped clear things up. He said, “The level closures in the Long-Term Garage are part of an ongoing, pre-planned schedule to accomplish routine maintenance. This includes pressure washing, restriping of ground markings and light bulb replacements. Only one floor is closed at a time for this work, and the work is scheduled to ensure all levels are open during peak demand periods such as the holiday travel season. We also monitor occupancy rates to ensure the appropriate match of supply and demand, and modify closure schedules if needed.”

ANA's expansive true lie-flat business class seat on its Boeing 787 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

ANA’s expansive true lie-flat business class seat on its Boeing 787 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

787 UPDATE. As you may recall, ANA’s important new nonstops from San Jose to Tokyo-NRT were waylaid by the Boeing 787 Dreamliner grounding, forcing all passengers to fly via SFO. While the FAA and Japanese authorities have given a conditional green light to new flights, ANA says it will begin by “replacing existing batteries with new batteries, changing to new battery chargers and installing new battery containment boxes and venting system. The improvements will require approximately one week per aircraft, with work on all seventeen aircraft scheduled to be completed by the end of May.” After that will be new crew training and a series of heavily monitored “proving flights.” This week, an ANA spokesperson told The BAT that it should have a firm date for the resumption of SJC-NRT by May 9. How would you feel about flying on a Dreamliner across the Pacific? Please leave your comments below.

Screen shot 2013-04-29 at 9.41.54 AMARE YOU A HAPPY FLYER? Just fiddling around with the new Routehappy website makes us feel happy. Why? After a year of  researching, analyzing, and grading aircraft types and amenities, Routehappy applies “happiness factors” most business travelers care about such as seat pitch, width and layout, entertainment, Wi-Fi, in-seat power, plane quality, and trip duration to help you pick the option flight. In addition, it manually gathers complex information about flights from sources like the airline’s website, press releases, staff, industry analysts & influencers, blogs, forums, news stories and reviews from road warriors and “route experts.” It then applies a “happiness score” to each flight to help make the best decision. For example, I’ve always known that Delta’s roomy, jumbo B767 flights between SFO and Atlanta are much more comfortable than those long, narrow torture tubes known as Boeing 757’s. Routehappy exposes that. This sounded very similar to Hipmunk’s “Agony” index, which uses an algorithm to rank flights based on price, duration and stopovers. Routehappy seems to have taken flight ranking a step beyond that with more robust information that includes human input. Take a look at Routehappy and let us know what you think. Leave your comments below.

GET AROUND SFO CEASE & DESIST. The smart guys at FlightCar have found a way around the airport’s recent cease and desist order pushing it and other new-fangled airport transport options such as Lyft off airport property. Now, instead of dropping your car off with a FlightCar attendant at the airport, you drop your car at its off-airport lot, and then a licensed black car brings you to your terminal. When you land, you call FlightCar and the black car is sent to pick you up and brings you back to your car. Have you tried FlightCar? Should unlicensed transportation serviced be allowed at SFO? Leave your comments below. 

-Chris McGinnis

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Ridesharing unwelcome at SFO + Virgin matches SW elite + New arrival from Europe

In this issue: Ridesharing unwelcome at SFO, Virgin expands elite matching, SAS nonstops from Copenhagen land at SFO, United upgrades IAH terminal, Presidential visit, 787 flying (empty), $100K a year to travel and blog?

No more pink moustaches at SFO (Photo: Lyftstagrams)

No more pink moustaches at SFO (Photo: Soy_Fans - Lyftstagrams)

RIDESHARING UNWELCOME AT SFO. San Francisco International has issued cease and desist letters to six car/ride sharing services picking up or dropping off customers at the airport. Uber’s licensed, chauffeured town cars are allowed at SFO, but UberX “community drivers” are not. Sidecar, Lyft, InstantCab and FlightCar (recently included in The BAT) all received the letters. Do you use ridesharing services? What do you think about this? Leave your comments below. 

MORE ELITE STATUS. Virgin America has expanded and enhanced its elite-level status match promo. Now, Southwest Rapid Rewards elites (in addition to United and American elites) can get bumped up to Elevate elite. Virgin has also extended the deadline to enroll until June 30.

NEW ARRIVAL FROM EUROPE. A water-cannon salute awaits SAS’s first Airbus A340 at SFO when it lands this Monday (April 8) between 2 and 3 pm.  SAS will offer flights between San Francisco and Copenhagen six days per week (no Tuesday flights). The Bay Area Traveler-The BAT will be trying out the new service later this month, so stay tuned for a full report. Skål!

How do you get the presidential helicopters to SF? On a C5 freighter like this (Photo: SFO)

How do you get the presidential helicopters to SF? On a C5 freighter like this (Photo: SFO)

ENTOURAGE. President Obama and entourage arrived at SFO last week for some Bay Area fundraisers. In addition to the bright and shiny Air Force One B747, a giant C5 military cargo jet was also stationed at SFO all week (which transported the presidential helicopters, et al). Did you see it? Obama’s helicopters touched down at Crissy Field for Golden Gate Bridge photo ops, and then buzzed down to Atherton for the events.

OAKLINK. Have you noticed the progress on the 3.2-mile AirBART rail line connecting Oakland Airport to BART’s Coliseum station? There is now a 300-ft span over I-880. The project is now 60% complete…and should be operational in late 2014.  Will you consider Oakland Airport more often when the trains start to run?

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

NEW TERMINAL AT IAH. If you fly United via its massive Houston Intercontinental hub a lot, you will be pleased to see the new $152 million Terminal B south concourse opening this month. The new concourse will house operations for all United Express regional flights. It’s about four times larger than the old terminal, with lots of new stores and celeb-chef and regionally inspired eateries.

COOL TRAVEL JOBS. Have you ever dreamed of being a travel blogger? Travel website Jauntaroo (set up to help you decide where to go on vacation) is hiring a “Chief World Explorer” to travel the globe for a year, at $100,000 salary, to blog about their experiences and give back to communities through the site’s “Travel With a Cause” commitment. Details are thin right now, but Jauntaroo says it will open applications later this spring, and has produced this teaser video to build awareness. Tourism Australia has just launched a separate, but similar “Best Jobs in the World” promo, offering six positions at $100,000 each for just six months work. What are you doing reading The BAT? Get that application in now!

DREAMLINER UPDATE. Boeing is now conducting test flights of its beleaguered 787 Dreamliner, and will submit results of those and other tests to the FAA. The New York Times reports that the FAA could approve the changes later this month, and the plane could be flying again in May—just in time for the busy summer travel season. Would YOU jump on a Dreamliner this summer? Please leave your comments below.

IN THE BAT LAST WEEK. United is expanding its operations at SFO’s Terminal 1 while delays have pushed back the completion of Terminal 3 renovations. Also, there are a few new details about United’s new p.s. service to New York.

-Chris McGinnis

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Catching up on Bay Area Travel News, March 17 2013

In this issue: New flights to Newark; free mags at Bay Area airports; new lie-flat seats to Japan; more car sharing at Bay Area Airports; take our POLL about car-sharing!; how to jump in a seat on a private jet.

Jersey in Noe Valley (Chris McGinnis)

Jersey in Noe Valley (Chris McGinnis)

25% OFF JERSEYLICIOUS FLIGHTS. To celebrate its new nonstops between SFO/LAX and Newark, New Jersey (EWR), Virgin America is offering a nice 25% discount on a future flight  to or from EWR. (somewhat restricted- no Fridays or Sundays). To get the discount, you must enter its “Fly Like a Boss” Facebook campaign. You can also win a chance to fly on the inaugural LAX-EWR run with Richard Branson and Mashable’s Peter Cashmore. Details here. Virgin says that since it announced the launch of EWR flights, fares on the EWR-West Coast routes have dropped by as much as 30 percent “and travelers now have an airline option that guarantees Wi-Fi, live TV and new aircraft on every flight.” Current roundtrip fares on the SFO-EWR run for mid-May flights are about $365. Virgin is also offering a double or triple points promo on flights between now and June 30, but you have to register to get the bonus.

FREE PREMIUM MAGS AT SFO/OAK/SJC. Here’s a helpful new app for Bay Area Travelers (BATs) who frequently find themselves stuck at the airport during delays, yearning for a good read, but hesitating to weigh down their bags with heavy magazines. The new Foli iPad app offers free access to premium magazine content (the stuff that’s normally behind a pay wall at glossies like Vogue, Car & Driver, GQ or Bon Appetit)—but it only works at the airport. Foli uses geolocation technology to limit access to Bay Area airports only—as well as a few coffee shops and hotels.  Download the Foli app for free at the iTunes store. It’s definitely worth a download because you never know when the fog will roll in.

Delta's flat bed seating on a 767. (Photo: Delta Air Lines)

Delta’s flat bed seating on its Boeing 767s. (Photo: Delta Air Lines)

MORE LIE-FLAT SEATS TO JAPAN. Starting April 1, Delta will offer business class seats that recline to a full 180 degree flat bed for sleeping on its Boeing 767-300ER flights between SFO and Tokyo Narita. That means that all business class seats on all airlines (United, ANA, Delta) on the heavily traveled SFO-NRT route are now flat.  Japan Airlines flies between SFO and the closer-to-downtown Tokyo Haneda Airport, but offers the less popular “angled lie flat” business class seat.  (Did you know that JAL’s SFO-Haneda flights are numbered 001 and 002?) Headed to Tokyo? Then be sure and check out my latest dispatch from the Land of the Rising Sun for BBC: Business Trip: Tokyo.

Are YOU signed up for BAT updates? If not, why not? Email in the upper right column, please! 

One of BMW's electric DriveNow cars in SF (Photo: DriveNow)

One of BMW’s electric DriveNow cars in SF (Photo: DriveNow)

DRIVING TO SFO. The BAT recently included mention of FlightCar’s car sharing service but we’ve heard from readers about other similar options. For example, DriveNow is a car sharing service that allows travelers to drive all-electric BMW cars from several locations in and around downtown San Francisco to parking lots near SFO or Oakland airports for less than the average cost of airport shuttle services and more than 50% cheaper than cab fares. The first 30 minutes costs $12 and then 32 cents for every additional minute. (There’s a $39 fee to join the car sharing service.) The service is part of BMW’s sustainable transportation initiative and currently only available in the Bay Area. A similar car sharing service for airport trips called Hubber is in the works, too, with locations at SFO and LAX expected to open this April.

DRIVING TO/FROM NYC AIRPORTS. Hertz on Demand has a similar service in New York City—members can drive a Hertz car between airports and several locations in Manhattan for less than half of what you’d pay a cab or car service…and with the Hertz plan, there is no membership fee. (Hertz on Demand has a location in downtown SF, but currently does not offer one-way drop offs at local airports.)

What do you think about new car-sharing options for airport transfers?

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A Gulfstream IV (Photo: Nima Pirzadeh)

A plush Gulfstream IV awaits private-jetsetters (Photo: Nima Pirzadeh)

PRIVATE JET SHARING, TOO. Since we are on the topic of sharing transportation, let’s take a look at a brand new service called Jumpseat, which has been billed as “the Airbnb for private jets.” Since many seats on private jets fly empty, Jumpseat is a new app that connects people looking to share those seats with those looking to fly, producing significant savings for both parties. Shopping is free and takes only a few clicks. Registered members can book a JumpSeat without paying a membership fee. For example, when I recently searched for flights from the Bay Area, I found several flights in March and April from San Jose to Santa Ana, CA available for $1000-$2,250 each way. In March, there’s a nice big Citation X jet flying from LA to Eagle (Vail), Colorado with two seats available at $5000 each. Eight seats on a March flight from New York to Aspen on a posh Hawker 4000 are going for $20,000 each. Flying private is not cheap, but there are few hassles—no airport security, for example, when using private jet terminals. Interested? Then check out this article about it on Forbes.com.

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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?

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

- Chris McGinnis

 

 

Gorgeous optical illusion in Muni tunnel

Thinking about a Rocky Mountain getaway… or an extension of a business trip to Salt Lake City? Then check out this unusual “wrapped” tunnel at SF Muni’s Montgomery Street Station that depicts Utah’s gorgeous Delicate Arch. Or see the video above! Nice job! Does it make you wanna go? During summer, Delta frequently offers lots of very cheap last minute deals between SFO and its hub at SLC. So if this video has got you inspired, keep an eye out for them.

To drive or fly from SF to LA?

(Image: Mapquest.com)The reality of $4 per gallon gas is changing the way Americans travel this summer and there’s plenty of advice and tools out there about how to deal with it. 

One of my favorites is the new Fly or Drive Calculator from BeFrugal.com. This site helps answer the age old question among frequent travelers… Whether it makes more financial since to drive or fly to your destination. What’s clever about this calculator is that it allows users to enter specific data about their trip, which helps it come up with a specific answer.

For example, you enter your origin and destination and number of travelers. For the “drive” calculation, it asks what type of car you drive, how many hours you plan to drive each day, estimated hotel costs along the way. For the “fly” side, it asks for origin and destination airports, number of bags to check, time needed at the airport, and the estimated cost of getting between the airport and the city.

I frequently hear from travelers in San Francisco wondering if it makes more sense to drive or fly to Los Angeles, about 380 miles away. According to the calculator, it makes a lot more financial sense for a single traveler (going next week) to drive ($140) than fly ($332).

But there are some factors to consider. For example, flying there takes a total of about three and a half hours door-to-door (depending of course how far your destination is from the airport). When driving, total time for the trip is about six and a half hours door-to-door.

As a business traveler, where time is money, I’d probably opt to fly instead of drive to LA.

But if I were traveling on a leisure trip to LA with someone else, the money saved by driving is significant.

According to the calculator, two travelers flying from San Francisco to LAX and back next week would cost nearly $500 total — that includes airfare and ground transport to/from both airports. Driving? Just $146.

Next time you ponder the fly-drive question, whether you are traveling to LA or elsewhere (Las Vegas? Portland? Palm Springs? Visalia?), be sure to use this helpful tool to make the best decision.

When you travel to LA, do you fly or drive? Why?

(A post similar to this recently appeared on the YouMustBeTrippin.com blog I write for Best Western.)

(Image: Mapquest.com)

Top 10 predictions for BATs in 2011

(Photo: Garry Knight / Flickr)

It’s that time of year again…when travel pundits and prognosticators do their best to gaze into the future and predict what may or may not happen in the big wide world of travel in the coming year.

Here are my top ten predictions for frequent travelers in 2011:

1-RISING PRICES. Business travel prices will continue to rise, but not enough to dampen renewed demand.

2-AIRFARE. Fares will continue to rise sharply, especially for flights between cities where only one or two legacy carriers operate. From the Bay Area, all you have to do is follow the route maps of Virgin America, Southwest and JetBlue to know where the deals are (or aren’t). Also, prepare for more fuel surcharges if oil hits $100 per barrel- it’s currently about $89 and rising.

3-TRAVEL DEALS. In terms of travel deals, there will be a wider gap between peak season and off-season prices. Those with flexibility to travel outside the peak travel dates will continue to find good deals and more short-term “flash” type sales. Those who must travel during peak periods will face sticker shock.

4-HOTEL RATES. Due to continued overcapacity, hotel rates should remain about the same or slightly up, on average, over the next year. Hotel rates in New York City will rise, but a steady supply of new hotels opening there should keep rate inflation to acceptable levels, especially among mid-tier properties.

5-FREE WI-FI. More upscale hotel chains will join their midscale counterparts to offer free in-room Wi-Fi. We’ll also see hoteliers pay more attention to bandwidth issues on their existing systems. What good is free Wi-Fi if it doesn’t work? In-flight Wi-Fi prices could moderate as Southwest’s $5 flat fee for inflight Wi-Fi expands to more flights.

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6-LONGER STAYS. Hotel chains will offer more loyalty program promotions designed to get travelers to increase the duration of their stays. (Such as “buy two nights, get the third free.”)

7-DRIVING VS. FLYING. Due to recent changes in security screening, the airport hassle factor could return, and more frequent travelers will consider driving instead of flying. The “five hour rule” might change to the “six hour rule.”

8-MOBILE DEVICES. We’ll see more focus on business travelers’ smart phones, which will soon be used to open hotel room doors and will be accepted as payment instead of credit cards. There will be more promotions designed to encourage the use of mobile devices to book and manage travel reservations

Old school Airfone

9-IN-FLIGHT PHONING. In-flight phone calling, now available on several non-U.S. airlines will become more prevalent and might even be considered by a domestic carrier. High per-call rates and peer pressure should keep abuse in check- remember those pricey GTE Airfones that no one ever used because they were too expensive? I expect the same with in-flight cell phone use.

10-MEETINGS & CONVENTIONS. More of us will attend large annual trade shows and conventions this year as pent up demand is released. Many companies banned non-essential travel over the last two years and business travelers are eager to get out of the office and re-establish face-to-face contact with customers and colleagues. However, I think small and medium-sized meetings will face more competition from virtual alternatives.

Traveling home for a feast? Read this first.

(that's my mom's sweet potato casserole.)
(that’s my mom’s sweet potato casserole!)

With Halloween and the election behind us, the next big calendar item is Thanksgiving. If you are hitting the roads or the skies later this month, read up. There’s plenty to know about the upcoming peak season:

FARES UP. In addition to the slew of new airline fees, airfares are higher this year. Farecompare.com reports that holiday airfares are up about 17 percent over last year. According to Travelocity, the average Thanksgiving season fare for domestic trips is running about $378 roundtrip this year. While that may seem high, consider this: Travelocity says that the average Christmas/New Years week fare this year is $457.

FORGET WEDNESDAY. The TUESDAY before Thanksgiving has emerged as one of the busiest travel days for of the peak Thanksgiving week- even busier than Wednesday.

FULL WEEK. In recent years, an increasing number of Americans are taking the full Thanksgiving week off. This means that you should expect the Friday and Saturday before Thanksgiving to be very busy.

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SUNDAY-MONDAY. The Sunday and Monday after Thanksgiving will be the busiest travel days of the season. Sunday’s busy because that’s when everyone wants to get back home. Monday is busy because you’ve got business travelers headed back out for work on Monday morning along with the Thanksgiving laggards headed home. IMPORTANT: Expect big security line back ups on Monday morning; arrive early just in case.

PACKED FLIGHTS AND AIRPORTS. The Air Transport Association expects 24 million travelers during the 12-day Thanksgiving travel season. That’s up from 23 million last year. Despite the increased demand, airlines have been slow to un-park their planes (or buy new ones) so you should expect every flight to be full or even oversold.

DRIVING IT HOME. Despite the focus on air travel, the fact remains that 80 to 90 percent of all trips home for the holiday are by car. Good news: Gasoline is only a dime-per-gallon more expensive than this time last year. As always, traffic-averse drivers should try to avoid high-volume times such at Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving and Sunday afternoon after.

SWEET SPOT. If you want to breeze through the holiday with little or no hassle, try to travel during the Thanksgiving sweet spot: Thursday, Friday and Saturday are the slowest travel days of the week. Smart drivers leave Thanksgiving morning and get back Saturday night. Three days with the family is plenty, right?

AIRLINE FEE FOR ALL. Despite all the media attention, infrequent travelers might be surprised by new airline fees for checked baggage this year. Here’s what you need to know:

>Only JetBlue and Southwest do not charge for the first checked bag. (JetBlue does charge for the second one; Southwest does not.)

>Only one airline, Spirit Air, charges for carry on bags. ($45 for bags that don’t fit under the seat.) Thankfully, Spirit Air does not fly to San Francisco!

>All other airlines charge $50 to $70 round trip per checked bag.

>Bags that are overweight or oversize are subject to crazy-high fees, so beware.

FAT STAT. The U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics says that airlines raked in a whopping $1.6 BILLION in checked baggage fees in just the first six months of this year! (This is a big reason airlines are finally, after years in the red, reporting profits this year.)

BAG FEE REBATE. Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and other hotels in the InterContinental Hotels Group will rebate $50 in checked baggage fees to those who spend two weekend nights with them. Kimpton Hotels is doing the same- but only if you are charged for a second bag.

SHIP BAGS. If you can’t fit everything into a carryon, consider shipping your bags. UPS and FEDEX stores are happy to ship your baggage, but you have to ship them 3-5 days ahead of time via ground, in order to beat the cost of airline fees. Also be aware that distance matters when you ship bags. The UPS Store tells me that a 35 lb. bag shipped via ground from San Francisco to Denver costs about $25; if you shipped the same bag all the way to Atlanta, it would cost close to $50.

LUMPY SOFA OR HOTEL?. One bright spot in the overcrowded, overpriced holiday season is that hotel rates can hit yearlong lows during Thanksgiving. This is especially true at hotels located in or near office parks that cater to business travelers. These properties are dead during holidays, so you can scoop up outstanding bargains. To get the most for your money check out the big spacious rooms (many as big as efficiency apartments) at so-called “extended stay” properties such as Staybridge Suites, Candlewood Suites or Homewood Suites.

DEAD WEEKS. If you have the flexibility to postpone Thanksgiving season trips, consider traveling during what are known in the travel industry as “dead weeks.” During the first two weeks of December and the first two weeks of January, crowds vanish and prices plummet. The main exception to this would be New York City- due to the shopping season, the first three weeks of December are the busiest and most expensive of the year.

Your BAT Editor on CNN Talking Holiday Travel

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It’s almost Halloween and that always means one thing to me: Time for smart travelers to get a jump on the holidays! Check out BAT editor Chris McGinnis’ tips for holiday travel on CNN. (See full Q&A script below)


BAT editor Chris McGinnis on CNN with Holiday Travel Outlook

Here’s the full Q&A script for this segment for those of you who don’t want to or can’t watch the video. It includes much more info that what’s included in this one-minute segment.

TOPIC: Holiday Outlook

Q: Give me a general overview of what the holiday travel outlook looks like:

A: Holiday travel will be cheaper this year than last year.

For example, Expedia data show that average airfares around Thanksgiving are down about 17%.

Q: Why will there be lower fares?

A: Two reasons: less demand due to the ailing economy, and lower fuel costs for airlines, which helps keep fares low.

Q: What will be a good price for a domestic flight to a major city?

A: It depends on when and where you are flying.

Flights on the most popular days around Thanksgiving, such as the Tuesday or Wednesday before or the Sunday and Monday after are always more expensive.

If you must travel on those days, you should expect to pay at least 25% more than if you travel on less popular days.

Flights between major cities where there is low fare competition will be much cheaper than flights to smaller towns dominated by one or two airlines.

Q: What’s a price point travelers should keep in mind?

A: It depends on when and where you are flying and varies greatly, so it’s impossible to state.

Keep in mind that holiday travel is peak season travel, so while prices are lower than previous years, they are still going to be higher than any other time of year.

Q: What will be a good price for rental cars?

A: It depends on when and where you are renting a car.

Since business travel demand for rental cars is down during the holidays, rates tend to be lower than at other times of year.

Q: When should travelers book by in order to get deals?

A: The best time to book Christmas holiday trips is in mid-October—no later.

Q: Why will there be fewer delays?

A: Now that the airlines are flying fewer planes, airport congestion is less of a problem overall.

However, big hub airports like Atlanta and New York still have serious congestion issues.

Weather is always the wild card for delays during the holidays. If a snowstorm hits a major airline hub, delays are unavoidable.

Q: What’s the downside of this travel season?

A: Holiday season is peak season, and flights will be much fuller this year.

This means that if you miss your flight or your connection, the likelihood of getting on the next flight out is slim. You may end up having to wait a day or two.

Q: How can travelers avoid getting caught with no back up?

A: Pad your schedule and don’t be late for your flight this year.

If you miss your flight, you could end up waiting a day or two for the next available seat, which could ruin your holiday.

Q: What’s the bottom line for this holiday travel season?

A: Holiday travel will be cheaper than last year if you book your trips well ahead of time.

Airport congestion and flight delays will remain a problem at some big hub airports, but overall, airline on-time performance is improving.

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