Quantcast

Catching up on Bay Area Travel News, Feb 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen shot 2013-02-24 at 9.50.06 AM

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

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

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

Harvey Milk San Francisco International Airport?

Harvey Milk San Francisco International Airport?

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

How do you feel about renaming San Francisco International Airport?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

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

- Chris McGinnis

 

 

Gogo to upgrade inflight wi-fi capacity

Are you gaga for Gogo inflight wi-fi?

To me, Gogo’s introduction of in-flight wi-fi in 2008 was the greatest thing to happen to business travel since the invention of the jet engine. It has so transformed the flying experience that I now choose my airline based on whether or not it offers wi-fi on board—especially if the flight is longer than two hours.

But recently it seems that the more popular in-flight wi-fi gets, the more difficult is to get a good signal, especially on those long transcontinental flights when the service is most valuable. For example, on two out of three recent transcontinental flights, the signal was so weak or inconsistent that I complained to Gogo, which offered me two $18 credits for use on future flights.

Obviously, Gogo does not want to keep handing out freebies like that, so they’ve fattened the pipes to the plane with the introduction of a new higher capacity system called ATG 4, which is rolling out now on Delta, Virgin America and US Airways jets.

Gogo says the next generation system is capable of delivering a peak speed of 9.8 Mbps, which is three times faster than current standard of 3.1 on the first generation ATG. (ATG is short for “Air to ground.) Gogo is able to do this with the addition of three extra antennae (vs. only one before) and another modem plus a software upgrade.

(Are YOU signed up to get The BAT via email? Hop to it! Click here or enter your email in the pink form to the right, please!) 

Gogo’s inflight internet lab (See slideshow for a look inside)

Earlier this week, Gogo invited me and a few travel and tech writers to its headquarters in Itasca, Il to check out the new ATG 4 system aboard its “jet-propelled internet lab” — a Challenger 600 jet flying out of the Aurora Municipal Airport near Chicago. (See slideshow above for photos)

Onboard the plush 9-seater, the back half of which was full or racks of equipment and cabling, I heard lots of techno babble about latency, megahertz, simulations, Rev A and Rev B, HSPA Mbps, ping tests and page loading. All way over my head.

All I cared about was whether or not I got a good signal—and on this flight I did—good enough to stream a two-minute YouTube video with only a few bumps for buffering, even though Gogo now discourages or even blocks access bandwidth hogging sites like Hulu or Netflix. But there were only nine passengers on board flying over the western suburbs of Chicago.

It remains to be seen what kind of signal I’ll get using ATG 4 the next time I’m flying over Colorado when half the plane is logged on.

Right now, there are only 25 jets that have the new ATG 4 system—out of a total of 1680 jets flying with Gogo onboard.  Gogo is not making a big deal about the upgrade on the plane- the only way you know you are on an upgraded one is by taking a good look at the plane parked at the gate—look for two fins on the underbelly (vs. just one on the bottom before) , and two directional antennae (bicycle helmet sized humps) on either side if the aircraft fuselage. (See slideshow above for a look at these fins)

Currently, installation of ATG 4 is ongoing on Delta, Virgin America and US Airways. Gogo expects to add it to United’s PS fleet and on American Airlines starting next year.

Here are a few extra newsy nuggets I picked up on my visit to Gogo HQ and the test flight:

>There are currently 173 ground-based Gogo transmitters mounted on celluar towers in the continental US and southern Alaska that beam up a signal within a 250 mile radius. (See slideshow for a map of towers.)

>Gogo is adding and upgrading its transmitters fastest in the Midwest—which is where most complaints about weak signal occur.

>A Gogo system onboard a plane consists of two large toaster-sized black metal boxes mounted in the belly, two or three routers (about the size of the one you may have in your house) that are placed in the ceiling of the aircraft to evenly distribute the wi-fi signal among passengers, and lots of cabling. Total added weight is about 150 lbs. (See slideshow to see what it looks like)

(Are YOU signed up to get The BAT via email? Hop to it! Click here or enter your email in the pink form to the right, please!) 

>The new ATG 4 system can handle about 65 passengers logged on simultaneously—the current max is about half that. This means that overload problems are more likely on larger planes flying on longer routes- for example, both of my poor connection experiences occurred on 250-seat Delta 767s.

>Remember when Google sponsored free inflight during the holidays in 2009? So many users logged on that systems crashed and complaints soared. Gogo says that after that, freebie promos have been (and will continue to be) limited to short 15 minute test periods only.

>While overall in-flight wi-fi usage stats sound low (at around 5%), Virgin America says that usage runs as high as 40% on transcontinental flights, especially those between San Francisco and New York (natch).

What’s been your experience with in-flight wi-fi? Are you a heavy user like me? Have you experienced connectivity issues? Would you rather spend your time on board reading or gazing out the window? Please leave your comments below.

*****

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

Follow @cjmcginnis

Welcome new readers! If this information was helpful to you, please subscribe to The BAT via e-mail- and tell your friends about it, too!

*****

Sponsor:  

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.

 

PreCheck trusted traveler lanes arrive at SFO

Look for the PreCheck logo at SFO starting next Wednesday, Nov 14.

It’s official: Starting on Wednesday, November 14,  the TSA’s popular PreCheck trusted traveler security lanes make their long-awaited debut at San Francisco International Airport.

PreCheck offers certain high mileage frequent flyers access to special, faster lanes at airport security that do not require them to remove their shoes, belts or coats, or take their laptops out of their bags for screening. SFO is one of the last major airports in the US to get PreCheck.

Initially, there will be only two PreCheck lanes: One at United’s premium or elite level member checkpoint (“F3”) in Terminal 3; the other at the joint American/Virgin America checkpoint at Terminal 2. Both PreCheck lanes will be located on the far left side of the checkpoints with PreCheck directional signage.

There will be no PreCheck lanes at the international terminal checkpoints because PreCheck is for domestic passengers only.

Only specially selected passengers flying United or American can use PreCheck lanes when they open on Wednesday.

(Are YOU signed up to get The BAT via email? Hop to it! Click here or enter your email in the pink form to the right, please!) 

There is no definitive word yet on when or whether Alaska, Delta or US Airways passengers will see PreCheck lanes at Terminal 1.  A Delta spokeswoman told The BAT, “We will continue to keep an eye on the number of our customers [in the Bay Area] who participate in PreCheck.  As that number grows, a specially designated PreCheck line is possible in the future.”

For now, Virgin America passengers cannot use PreCheck lanes at T2 because the carrier is not yet part of PreCheck, which the TSA still considers a pilot program. Virgin spokesperson Jennifer Thomas said, “Carriers need a certain number of eligible participants in their frequent flyer programs for TSA to accept them into the testing and initial operation of the program. TSA recently expanded that pool, and as a result we are now working with them on this and hope to be in - in the near future.”

In order to be able to use PreCheck lanes at SFO, you must first opt in to an invitation from United or American or sign up here. You can request an invitation from United here (requires Mileage Plus sign in). American Airlines AAdvantage members can opt in here.

In addition all Global Entry, Nexus and other card-carrying trusted travelers that hold special clearance from US Customs and Border Protection are eligible for PreCheck.

PreCheck or CLEAR?

Starting next Wednesday security checkpoints at SFO will have THREE special fast lanes for frequent travelers: PreCheck,  CLEAR  and airline first class/elite lines. These three options are all slightly different.

CLEAR, which operates at SFO as well as airports in Dallas/Ft Worth, Denver and Orlando, provides guaranteed access to the front of the standard security lines for an annual fee of $179. Members still have to remove shoes, laptops, etc. There are CLEAR lanes at all entrances at all terminals, including international, at SFO.  CLEAR’s  biggest selling point is that it guarantees access to the front of the line—and this certainty about the airport experience is very valuable to time-pressed frequent travelers. (Click here for a free two-month trial of  CLEAR )

The most important thing to know about PreCheck is that selection is random—which means that even of you have obtained PreCheck status, you are NOT guaranteed access to the PreCheck lane. You will only know that you are selected for the PreCheck lane when you arrive at airport security and allow the agent to scan your boarding pass or smartphone. Three beeps from the scanner means that you can proceed to the PreCheck lane. One beep means that you must enter the (likely longer) non-PreCheck line for standard screening. For security reasons, the TSA will not reveal its selection criteria. PreCheck is a free program if you are one of the lucky few chosen by your airline for this status. If not, you can buy your way into PreCheck status by spending $100 to get Global Entry from Customs and Border Protection (which provides access to faster kiosks vs immigration lines when returning to the US from abroad).

For those who have CLEAR and PreCheck,  CLEAR just announced that it has been approved to integrate PreCheck eligible CLEAR members into the PreCheck screening lane after they verify with CLEAR. “We are working with the airports and local TSA to operationalize the integration, which will hopefully be done soon,” said CLEAR spokesperson Nora O’Malley.

(Are YOU signed up to get The BAT via email? Hop to it! Click here or add your email in the pink form to the right, please!) 

Finally, if you are flying in first or business class, or are an elite level member of an airline frequent flyer program, you will have access to a special, shorter (most of the time) security line. United recently discontinued its Premier Line option, which allowed non-elite members to pay a fee for access to faster elite security lines.

So which line makes the most sense for you? Will you opt-in for PreCheck? Spend $100 for Global Entry? Pay $179 for guaranteed CLEAR access? Or just stick with what you’ve got? Please leave your comments below!

*****

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

Follow @cjmcginnis

Welcome new readers! If this information was helpful to you, please subscribe to The BAT via e-mail- and tell your friends about it, too!

*****

Sponsor:  

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.

 

 

A vision of the future from Virgin America & Salesforce

Virgin America is once again going to change up the airline passenger experience- this time using Chatter, Salesforce’s wildly popular corporate social media platform. (Sort of like an internal Facebook for companies.)

This initiative was announced at the big Dreamforce conference held here in San Francisco last month with a video interview with Virgin CEO David Cush (above), and presentations by Salesforce execs with their grand plans on how it will all work.

Virgin spokesperson Abby Lunardini told The BAT that many of the stories in the blogosphere regarding the rollout of the initiative are premature. She said that Chatter will be launched internally later this fall, which should help bring  behind-the-scenes communication among employees into real-time. But she emphasized that the rollout of Chatter onto Virgin’s customer-facing seatback RED system is still in the distant future. So what follows is what we’ll eventually see. But not for a while. A man can dream, right?

So, at some point, maybe in 2013, Virgin’s seatback video screen will greet you by name and know your Elevate status when you sit down on your flight. It will offer you food and drink based on what you’ve ordered on previous flights.

If your flight is delayed, it will push information to your seatback regarding connecting flight information or changes- and provide you with alternatives before you land. It will also provide access to your Elevate account.

If you’ve chosen to provide Virgin with access to your Twitter or Facebook accounts, it will let you know if you have friends sitting nearby- and connect you with them for an inflight chat if you’d like. If you tweet or post on Facebook regarding positive or negative experiences during your flight, someone from Virgin America might respond.

Virgin customer service employees will also be using Chatter to communicate with each other… and with passengers in-flight or on the ground… using iPads. So, for example, a high high-ranking member of Elevate arriving on a late flight and in danger of missing a connection could be greeted by a smiling Virgin employee holding an iPad displaying a sign with the flyer’s name and photo- and then escorted quickly to the waiting flight.

What do you think? Is this new social enterprise solution going to improve your experience with Virgin America? Or will it feel like an invasion of your privacy? Please leave your comments below. 

>by Chris McGinnis

**DO YOU LIKE WHAT YOU ARE READING HERE? Help spread the word about The BAT! Forward this link to your frequent traveling colleagues, your travel agent, your corporate travel manager! We need new readers and will only get them from recommendations from readers like YOU! www.thebat-sf.com**

*****

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

Follow @cjmcginnis

Welcome new readers! If this information was helpful to you, please subscribe to The BAT via e-mail- and tell your friends about it, too!

*****

 

 

Why isn’t popular PreCheck at SFO?

Map of TSA PreCheck locations across the US. What’s missing from this picture?

By now every frequent traveler has heard about the TSA’s innovative and very popular PreCheck trusted traveler program.

In a nutshell, PreCheck offers certain high mileage frequent flyers access to special, faster lanes at airport security that do not require them to remove their shoes, belts or coats, or take their laptops out of their bags for screening. (When I was chosen to pass through a PreCheck line last summer in Atlanta, the process reminded me of pre-9/11 security… a breeze. I was through in less than a minute and walked away with a big smile on my face.)

The introduction of the speedy new PreCheck lanes has been one of the best things the TSA has ever done for frequent travelers. It has been a roaring success in terms of passenger satisfaction as well as PR for the frequently maligned agency. To date, 3 million travelers have passed through PreCheck lanes at 26 airports across the country- the most recent addition is United’s hub at Washington-Dulles. It’s also at United hubs in Newark (C3), Houston and  Chicago. Even LAX has it!

There’s only one problem: Not a single Bay Area airport has PreCheck yet.

Why not? Well, it’s been tough for me to get a good answer from the airport or the TSA… and I’ve been asking and asking ever since the program rolled out last year. I’ve been hearing from BAT readers, too wondering why we don’t have it at a major hub airport like SFO or even OAK or SJC.

Last week I got a hopeful response from SFO spokesperson Mike McCarron: “It is ultimately up to the airlines to work out the arrangement with the TSA.  From what we understand, PreCheck should start showing up with United and Delta about mid-November.” All the TSA will say is that it “will be in 35 airports by the end of 2012.”

Virgin America spokesperson Abby Lunardini told The BAT, “We’re in discussions with TSA and are supportive of program and hope we can offer to Virgin America’s T2 guests in the near future — but there is no definitive roll out date yet.”

So there you have it…. I guess we’ll just have to sit back and wait our turn. Stay tuned to The BAT for updates and a big announcement when PreCheck finally arrives- hopefully this November.

Have you enjoyed PreCheck at other airports? Have you used CLEAR lanes at SFO yet? Are you finding airport security a bit more manageable now that the summer crowds have gone home? Please leave your comments below. 

>Chris McGinnis

**DO YOU LIKE WHAT YOU ARE READING HERE? Help spread the word about The BAT! Forward this link to your frequent traveling colleagues, your travel agent, your corporate travel manager! We need new readers and will only get them from recommendations from readers like YOU! www.thebat-sf.com**

*****

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

Follow @cjmcginnis

Welcome new readers! If this information was helpful to you, please subscribe to The BAT via e-mail- and tell your friends about it, too!

*****

 

 

Coming soon to a flight near you: video streaming

JetBlue announced this week that it will (finally) offer a new, faster satellite-based inflight wi-fi product starting in early 2013. (Currently, JetBlue does not offer inflight wi-fi at all.)

JetBlue (with flights between SFO and Oakland to destinations such as Long Beach, Austin, Ft Lauderdale, New York, Washington and Boston) says that the new service from Live TV and ViaSat (not Gogo) will be fast enough to allow streaming of movies in-flight.  On its blog, JetBlue is promising that every passenger on the plane will be able to log on and have an “at-home experience” in terms of speed. The carrier offered no firm date for the launch, only promising “early 2013.” In an unusual twist, it says it will offer the service for free until the first 30 planes get it. After that, it will offer a tiered product, with a free basic connection, but charges for more bandwidth.

Not to be outdone by JetBlue, Delta says that it, too will offer the option of streaming movies and TV shows using inflight wi-fi on all 800 of its domestic two-class aircraft “by the end of 2013.” Delta currently provides Gogo wi-fi on its entire domestic fleet.

In related news, Canadian regulators have given the greelight to Gogo to get started on extending its ground-based network north of the US border. Service should be available starting in 2013.

Have you ever read The BAT’s sister publication, The TICKET? You should check it out! 

With SF-based Virgin America offering wi-fi on 100% of its flights, plus Delta, United and American providing it on all SFO>JFK flights, Bay Area Travelers (BATS!) are pretty spoiled. Such ubiquity is not the case elsewhere, and in fact, only 31% of domestic flights (1,165 aircraft) in the US have it. At Southwest, 35% of planes have it; 22% of American Airlines planes have it, and at United, the largest carrier in the world (and at SFO), only 1% of its flights have it, according to Business Travel News.

What is surprising is that usage of inflight wi-fi on the planes that offer it is miniscule—just a scant 5.4% on average for the first half of 2012 according to Gogo. I think that number is low because most flights are so short that it does not make sense to log on in-flight. But anyone who flies across the country frequently has witnessed a much higher usage rate- on some of those SFO-JFK flights sometimes it seems that the whole plane is logged on… and speed suffers as a result.  So all these promises of faster products are heartening.

Whether it is land-based or satellite-based,  the availability of wi-fi is THE deciding factor when I’m chosing an airline for flights longer than three hours. What about you? How important is in-flight wi-fi in your airline decision? Will you fly JetBlue more often if it comes through on its promise of a superfast in-flight wi-fi experience? Do we really need to stream video in-flight? Please leave your comments below.

**DO YOU LIKE WHAT YOU ARE READING HERE? Help spread the word about The BAT! Forward this link to your frequent traveling colleagues, your travel agent, your corporate travel manager! We need new readers and will only get them from recommendations from readers like YOU! www.thebat-sf.com**

*****

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

Follow @cjmcginnis

Welcome new readers! If this information was helpful to you, please subscribe to The BAT via e-mail- and tell your friends about it, too!

*****

 

What the new iPhone will do for travelers

Have you had a chance to check out what Apple has in store with its new iOS 6 operating system… the one that will be in the new iPhone when makes its debut this month? It’s got all sorts of new gadgets and gizmos that will appeal to frequent travelers- especially this one:

Travelers will also see changes in all-important, newly designed, non-Google Maps, a (hopefully) smarter and more international Siri, easier photo sharing on Facebook, instant text replies to calls you can’t take, helpful do-not-disturb functions, FaceTime that works over cellular OR wi-fi networks, a new and improved “Lost Mode” for when that little devil slips away…

CNET surmises that all of this is eventually going to morph into an entire, recently patented, Apple travel ecosystem called iTravel.

All very exciting. I’m currently an Android/HTC user, but am about 99% along in my decision to finally switch to the new iPhone when it’s comes out… What about you?? Will you be making a switch to a new smart phone this fall? Which one? Why? Please leave your comments below… 

*****

Subscribe to The BAT via e-mail!

Follow @cjmcginnis

Welcome new readers! If this information was helpful to you, please subscribe to The BAT via e-mail- and tell your friends about it, too!

*****

Online travel experiences (infographic)

Google purchases Frommer’s travel guides

News broke this morning that Google has purchased the famous Frommer’s travel guide brand for an undisclosed sum. The purchase comes on the heels of Google’s 2011 purchase of Zagat guides, and is a clear signal that the search giant intends to get into the travel content business in a big way. I’m thinking that Google is prepping for a battle with Apple when it finally unwraps its mostly secretive, recently patented iTravel app sometime in the next year.

Frommer’s has a small editorial staff based in San Francisco that manages its website and online content.

The travel world is abuzz with comments on Google’s latest acquisition. What do you think?

Wall Street Journal: “In Frommer’s, Google sees an opportunity to broaden its consumer offerings outside of restaurant reviews. That Frommer’s provides information about hotels and destinations globally made the acquisition that much more attractive. The deal is expected to close shortly. Google hasn’t yet decided whether the Frommer’s guidebooks will continue to be published in print or whether they will eventually migrate entirely to online. It is also possible that the Frommer’s brand could be melded into the Zagat brand.”

CNET:  “It’s not all that surprising that Google has jumped in to swipe Frommer’s. The company has been making a significant travel push over the last couple of years with its acquisitions of travel software provider ITA and restaurant reviewer Zagat. Presumably Frommer’s is a natural extension of the Zagat purchase. ‘The Frommer’s team and the quality and scope of their content will be a great addition to the Zagat team,’ a Google spokesperson told CNET in an e-mailed statement. ‘We can’t wait to start working with them on our goal to provide a review for every relevant place in the world.’”

TechCrunch: “Although not confirmed at this point, it’s probable that Google is only interested in the travel content Frommer’s has amassed, and the book publishing portion of Frommer’s business will cease. As for what Google saw in Frommer’s, that’s not quite as clear. Although its brand is still well-known, the quality of its content can be a little shaky – its reviews, for example, are often outdated. Perhaps the selling price just made the deal worthwhile?… We’re also now hearing that the Frommer’s team will be joining the Zagat team, and indeed the acquisition is related to improvements related to the local search experience across Google. Initially, the Frommer’s content will come to Google under its own brand and will be further integrated with Zagat over time. No definitive decision has been made on the Frommer’s printed guides, but the deal is supposed to enable users discover reviews across Google, which means online.”

Fast Company: “One of Google’s major priorities has been the transformation of Google Maps and the Zagat-powered Google+ Local into a Yelp and Facebook killer. Frommer’s databases are also used by Kayak to help fuel hotel searches. Although the last few years have been rough for print travel guides as the internet ate away at their past dominance, Frommer’s has extensive brand recognition and a large network of contacts throughout the travel and hospitality industries.”

 What do YOU think? When was the last time you used a Frommer’s guide? Do you think Google can make travel content better? Please leave your comments below.
*****

Subscribe to The BAT via e-mail!

Follow @cjmcginnis

Welcome new readers! If this information was helpful to you, please subscribe to The BAT via e-mail- and tell your friends about it, too!

*****

 

 

✈ Bypassing security lines with CLEAR at SFO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If this information was helpful to you, please subscribe to The BAT via e-mail- and tell your friends about it, too!

*****

Subscribe to The BAT via e-mail!

Follow @cjmcginnis

*****