Jet Blue

UPDATE: United cancels East Coast flights; others waiting it out

Due to the threat of Hurricane Sandy hitting the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, a cascade of United cancellations from SFO to affected areas began this morning. (See chart below)

Here’s a link to United’s current waivers/exceptions policies for flights back east.

It appears that the last United flights out to the east coast departed this morning (Sunday) before 8 am. After that, all United nonstops to cities from Washington Dulles to Boston Logan have been scrubbed according to FlightStats. Many American Airlines flights to JFK are showing up as cancelled, too. Flights to other cities are not affected.

On the other hand, as of 9 am on Sunday, Virgin America flights from SFO to Washington, New York, Philly and Boston still are still showing active departure times. Delta and JetBlue  departures from SFO to New York still show active departure times all day today.

Everything is fluid right now…so if you have a flight back east over the next 3-4 days, keep an eye on FlightStats and your airline website.

Flight status for SFO-JFK flights as of 9:30 am Sunday:

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For a limited period, San Francisco passengers will have the opportunity to experience spacious luxury onboard the world’s largest commercial aircraft, the Airbus A380 on flights to Asia.  Between December 28, 2012 and March 24, 2013, Singapore Airlines will pop into town with daily “Pop-Up” A380 flights between San Francisco and Singapore via Hong Kong.  Flip through this slideshow to see its famous Suites and the widest Business Class seats in the sky.

SQ1 departs SFO at 10:50 pm and arrives in Hong Kong at 5:50 am two days later. Flight time is about 13 hours to Hong Kong, and with another 3.5 hours to Singapore, you’ll have plenty of time to soak up the luxury and explore the 1000+ onboard entertainment options.  SQ2 arrives daily in SFO at 7:45 pm on the same day it departs from Singapore and Hong Kong.

 

Late summer fare sales require fast action

Southwest’s California flag-themed B737-one of my favorites- at SFO. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Several airlines have launched a pretty good fare sale for late summer trips- starting as soon as late July and lasting into fall months. However, you must act fast- the good deals are available for the next one to three days only.

For example, Virgin America is offering round trips of $156 (all in) for SFO to LA, San Diego or Las Vegas. Chicago is $378 round trip. Washington, DC and Philly are running at about $400 round trip. The popular SFO-JFK run does not seem to be included in this sale…nearly all fares, even on those awful red-eyes are in the $500 range. The sale fares are only good for travel Monday-Thursday from July 31 through September 12. If you fly on Tuesday or Weds, JetBlue will take you down to Long Beach for $130 round trip. To get these fares, you must book by this Wednesday, July 18 at midnight.

Southwest is offering a pretty good fall fare sale, but the deals don’t kick in until August 20 and are good for travel through December 14 (minus some blackout dates around holidays.) I found SFO-Atlanta for as little as $300 round trip (good on Southwest or AirTran). SFO or OAK to Chicago Midway is about $350. There are plenty of other cities on sale from the Bay Area, so just click on the link above to see them. Sale fares on Southwest or AirTran are available on all days except Sunday, and must be booked by this Friday, July 20.

United has Denver or Austin on sale for about $250 round trip (all in) during August and September. New York JFK and Chicago are in the low $400′s all in. Boston for $360 round trip is not bad for August. You can still buzz over to London (everyone I’ve talked to says that it’s as polished and ready as ever) for just $880 round trip in September or October when the crowds have gone home and the weather is at its best. How about SFO-San Juan, Puerto Rico for just $315 round trip? I’ve rarely seen fares from the Bay to the Caribbean as low as that! Midweek trips from the Bay Area to Honolulu are down as low as $450 which is not bad for mid-August. United has not published an end date for booking, but it’s likely similar to other airlines… which are running for the next 24-48 hours only.

Most other major carriers have matched these fares so shop around if you can’t find what you are looking for. Please keep in mind that I checked these fares on Tuesday morning, July 17, so they are subject to change.

It is interesting to see airlines discounting fares for travel during August- typically one of the busiest and most expensive times of the year for air travel. Clearly, demand for summer trips has not met the airlines’ expectations, which is a signal to me that consumers are becoming increasingly skittish.

What about you? Are you up for a late summer vacation? Or are you making plans for business trips this fall? Are these fares low enough to make you jump? 

 

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Spring-Summer fare sales creep out

Virgin America's new San Francisco Giants bearded livery. Thoughts?

Some good news for travelers… but not such great news for the economy today…

Typically summer fare sales don’t start until AFTER Easter. But this week, and in the weeks leading up to it, we’ve seen airlines kicking off the summer fare sale season a little bit early.

That’s good news for travelers worried that high oil prices that could translate into higher ticket prices, which could put a crimp in their summer vacation plans.

But when airlines put fares on sale early, it’s a signal to me that advance bookings for the summer might be a little weak. To me, this means that consumer confidence is still waning as travelers take a “wait and see” approach to summer vacation.

For the most part, spring and summer fare sales so far have been fairly restrictive- for example, many require travel on slow days like Tuesdays or Wednesdays in order to get the lowest fares. Most sales only last for a few days. Plus, I’ve not seen too many sale fares that go deep into peak summer travel season- most up to this point have been good for trips into mid-June only. A quick scan of peak (July-August) fares still shows a few eye-poppers- with no sales so far during the summer peak.

Here are the details on the current crop of early summer fare sales- they are led by low fare carriers, but majors are matching these deals, too. (All sample fares below are for roundtrips and include all taxes and fees. These fares were available when I checked on the morning of April 3, but are subject to selling out.)


VIRGIN AMERICA: In honor of its partnership with the San Francisco Giants and the newest member of its fleet taking to the skies this week (see the Giants-inspired “Fly Bye Baby” bearded aircraft above), Virgin America launched a “#flythebeard” fare sale. Sample roundtrip fares for travel through June 13 are: $160 to Las Vegas, Los Angeles or San Diego or $280 round trip to New York. A special introductory fare of $218 to Portland is good for flights from June 5 through Oct 17. Sale expires April 5. Details.

JETBLUE has a great one-day sale that expires tonight at midnight tonight, but you can fly all the way through June 20. Not available on Fridays or Sundays. Sample sale fares from SFO: Long Beach $100. Austin $200; New York JFK $240 or to Boston or Ft Lauderdale for $280. Details

UNITED is offering round flights to Seattle for just $200; Austin for $249; Denver $278; Dallas Ft Worth or Newark for $320. Details.

SOUTHWEST is offering a 24-hour sale for flights to/from Chicago Midway. From SFO, you can fly for $287.50 round trip on Tuesdays or Wednesdays or Saturdays through May 23. Details

Are these fares low enough to spur you into action, or are you going to wait and see what else might come along? Please leave your comments below!

 

American Air Bankruptcy: No impact at SFO for now

An American Airlines B737 loads up at SFO (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

American Airlines is filing for bankruptcy protection as they try to cut costs and unload massive debt built up by years of high fuel prices and labor struggles according to AP. The company says that there will no impact on travelers for now. American said it would operate normally while it reorganizes in bankruptcy, but hinted at future flight and staffing cuts. The airline said it would continue to operate flights, honor tickets and take reservations. It said the AAdvantage frequent-flier program would not be affected.

Important: American is NOT shutting down. It’s filed for Chapter 11 protection, which means it will continue to operate while it reorganizes. Chapter 11 protection is a well-worn path taken by nearly every major US carrier at some point in the last 20 years. (Southwest Airlines is the exception.)

American and its Oneworld alliance partners have had a dwindling presence at SFO for a couple years now. AA exited SFO-Honolulu in September and left SFO-Boston last year. Partner QANTAS left SFO-Sydney last year. The carrier walked away from Oakland in 2008. It stopped flying its famous “nerd bird” flights between San Jose and Austin in 2009.

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From SFO, American flies nonstop to only its hubs at New York-JFK, Chicago-O’Hare, Dallas-Ft Worth, Miami and Los Angeles– and in all those markets faces stiff fare competition from low fare carriers like Virgin America, Southwest and JetBlue.

Last year, American inaugurated new service and a posh new Admiral’s Club at  SFO’s swank Terminal 2, which it shares with Virgin America. While that presence won’t be affected in the short run, if the carrier continues to shrink at SFO over time, it will be interesting to watch what happens at T2.

How do you feel about American’s bankruptcy? Will it affect your decision to fly American?

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.

San Jose Airport version 2.0: Wow! (video)

photo: Sherman Takata

(scroll down two view my two-minute video tour of the new terminals)

The sleek new look of Mineta-San Jose’s new airport terminal reminds me of my iPod. Or a space ship. Or a museum. In any case, it’s cutting edge design is now a much more befitting symbol of the Silicon Valley than the version 1.0, which sort of reminded me of my 60’s-era elementary school. (Take my two-minute video tour of SJC)

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

Last month, the Silicon Valley Business Travel Association invited me to their monthly meeting, which was hosted by airport officials. The SVBTA is a 240+ person organization that represents the interests of corporate travel buyers in the South Bay region—to the tune of just over $1 billion per year. (see svbta.org)

San Jose airport authorities brought in SVBTA members for a look-see because they are eager to get support from the business community necessary to attract more flights and more airlines to its fancy new digs. Why? Because the new digs cost a whopping $1.3 billion, and that mortgage will be repaid in large part by the fees airlines pay to fly in and out of SJC. (The airport is self-sustaining and does not rely on local tax funds.)

Despite its location in largest city in the Bay Area and adjacency to some of the world’s largest tech companies that spend billions of dollars each year on travel, San Jose airport handles less than 20% of all commercial flights in the region.

(Take my two-minute video tour of SJC)

The tech bubble burst and recession have had a severe impact on the airport. For example, the number of daily flights at SJC has fallen from 232 in 2001 to just 125 in 2010—that’s a 42 percent decline. The number of destinations served nonstop has declined from 39 to 28 in the same period. International flights to Tokyo and Paris were scrubbed long ago. Passenger numbers have declined nearly 40 percent.

Airport authorities blame a lot of this decline on what they call the “Virgin Effect.” They say that when Virgin America cranked up operations at San Francisco International in 2007, airlines quickly “herded” around the new entrant, concentrating their Bay Area flying at SFO and slashing prices to protect their market share. That means SFO added 83 new flights since 2007 while OAK and SJC have experienced losses in flights and passenger numbers.

However, there are some notable new flights at SJC: Alaska starts flights to Maui and Kona in March; Horizon just added new flights to Mammoth Mountain and will add flights to Spokane next month. In May, JetBlue adds nonstops to Boston.

(Take my two-minute video tour of SJC)

Airport Primer:

If you find your way to San Jose for a flight in the near future, here’s what you need to know:

>All that’s left of the old structure is the current Terminal C, which will be demolished by this summer. Currently, if you fly into Terminal C (Alaska/Horizon, Delta, Frontier, US Airways), your bags will actually arrive at Terminal B due to construction. (This will change in June 2010 when all airlines move to A or B.)

>Terminal A (16 gates), originally opened in 1990 but has gotten a complete makeover, with a brand new ticketing area, concessions, and a big, bright new security screening area which opened last November. Terminal A handles American, Continental, JetBlue, Hawaiian, Mexicana and United flights.

>The bright new Terminal B Concourse (see video) partially opened last summer with six gates for Southwest Airlines flights. However, until Concourse B is complete this summer, Southwest passengers must enter security at Terminal A and take a rather long walk to their gates. (Take my two-minute video tour of SJC)

>Eventually, an entirely new south Concourse will rise from the site of the current Concourse C, but that depends on when  airport traffic levels recover enough to justify the expansion.

>A new consolidated car rental center and parking deck (the building with the exterior skin featuring giant hands, which can be seen for miles) should open in June.

For more information on airport changes, maps, and services, go to www.flysanjose.com.

(Take my two-minute video tour of SJC)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Changes In Store For Southwest Airlines’ Rapid Rewards?

My buddy Tim Winship, who blogs for SmarterTravel.com picked up on an interesting comment made by Southwest CEO Gary Kelly in a recent conference call. The comment portends some BIG changes in store for the Rapid Rewards program. While the company remains tight-lipped about what they are calling “Rapid Rewards 2.0,” Winship lays out some possible scenarios for change. (SEE UPDATE BELOW)

To me, the most likely change will be a shift to a DOLLAR-based program versus flight-credit-based one. Basically, members are rewarded based on how much they SPEND, not how many miles or segments they fly. Virgin America and JetBlue have already switched to this sort of program. I’m surprised others have not. If Southwest does it, I bet more will follow suit.

Here’s Tim’s insightful post.

Stay tuned for more!

UPDATE: The BAT contacted Southwest spokesperson Linda Rutherford for further comment and here’s what she said: “We’ve been saying for a few years that we have a goal to revamp our frequent flyer program, Rapid Rewards, in order to bring greater value and relevance to our most frequent travelers. That might mean different ways to earn rewards, or even different kinds of rewards that can be earned. We haven’t divulged more detail than that, as we know our competitors are watching closely. Late next year is the current timing for the changes to roll out, so nothing is imminent.”

AIRLINE NEWS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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