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The dog ate my luggage

Lou Briasco at Michael Bruno luggage in San Francisco's Castro neighbhorhood

Lou Briasco at the Michael Bruno Luggage store in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

How good is the warranty on your luggage?

“My customer’s dog tore the zipper off a $300 carry-on bag he’d had for just two weeks,” said Lou Briasco, the owner of Michael Bruno Luggage on Market Street in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood.

“The bag was ruined, so he came back into the store to buy a replacement. Since he wasn’t traveling soon, I told him I would send it back to Briggs & Riley to see if they really stood behind their ‘no questions asked’ repair or replacement policy,” he added.

If there’s anyone in the Bay Area who knows luggage, it’s the gregarious, affable Briasco, who has been the sole proprietor at Michael Bruno since 1982. Even though the store does not have a web site, all you have to do is check the hundred or so stellar ratings on Yelp to know that Briasco knows his business…and his customers.

Michael Bruno Luggage is located at 2267 Market Street in SF. (Chris McGinnis)

Michael Bruno Luggage is located at 2267 Market Street in SF. (Chris McGinnis)

“Two weeks later, the bag shipped back with the zipper replaced at no charge,” he beamed. “That shows a company that truly stands behind its warranty. And now we both have a customer for life.”

After more than 30 years in the luggage business, Briasco says that the key feature frequent travelers should look for in a new bag is a strong manufacturer’s repair or replacement policy. For that reason, the two primary lines of luggage he carries are Briggs & Riley and Eagle Creek—both, he says, have solid, time-tested warranties.

Briggs & Riley’s warranty states: “If your Briggs & Riley bag is ever broken or damaged, even if it was caused by an airline, we will repair it free of charge – Simple as that!” The warranty is good for life and does not require receipts or any other evidence that you even bought the bag. All you have to do is pay to ship it to the repair center.

Eagle Creek luggage sells at a lower price point than Briggs & Riley, so its warranty is good for five years. Its website says that when customers ship back a damaged bag,  “If it is covered under our warranty, we will repair it or replace it with an available product of similar features and value. We will then send it back to you at no charge.”

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Briasco says that the high-end (and very popular) Tumi line has added too many exceptions to its warranty (such as proof of purchase requirements) in recent years, so he’s stopped carrying it in his store. For occasional travelers, he stocks less expensive Delsey bags, which he says are suitable for infrequent use. But you get what you pay for with its rather thin warranty that specifically rules out coverage for damage caused by airlines.

In addition to a good warranty, what should a frequent traveler look for when buying a bag?

Look for durable, but easily replaced wheels

Look for durable, but easily replaced wheels

DURABILITY: Since wheels often break, even on high quality bags, Briasco recommends looking for sturdy wheels that can easily be switched out if broken. For wheeled bags, Briasco said that external frame telescopic handles result in more room inside bags.

LEATHER OR NYLON? “While leather looks and smells good, for durability, weight, and protection from the elements, nylon is best,” he said. “Cordura nylon is the most durable, but you can only find it on the few bags manufactured in the US, such as the John Peters line of packs and messenger bags, made in New York.”

IMG_2693MADE IN USA? “When I started out in 1982, nearly all luggage was made in the USA. It was a sign of quality. Now, all bags are made in Asia—and that’s not all bad if the manufacturer has strict quality controls—not all of them do, and you can tell,” he said. Briasco is happy to show off features such as inverted, waterproof zippers, sturdy, low profile handles that don’t get snagged by baggage handling equipment, convenient exterior pockets, etc.

HOW MUCH? “Frequent travelers should spend a little bit more money on a higher quality bag that lasts a lot longer. In the long run, they will spend less than they would having to replace cheaper bags over and over again.” he advised. “Those who travel once per month should invest around $300 for good bag that won’t break when you really need it.” Briasco offers deep unadvertised discounts on all his merchandise. “It’s the only way I can stay in business and compete with the online retailers,” he smiled.

HARD-SIDED LUGGAGE? Shiny, colorful new hard-sided bags from manufacturers like Rimowa seem to be all the rage in airports and hotel lobbies these days. However, Briasco is not much of a fan. “Most do not have external pockets, which I think are critical. Also, for the hard sides to maintain their integrity, the bag has to be packed full. If not, the sides get a little wobbly,” he said.

FOUR WHEELS? New four wheeled bags, referred to as “spinners” are also very popular these days. But Briasco warns that those with small wheels are difficult to maneuver, especially on carpets. “So if you really want a spinner, check the wheels first, and try to roll it over some carpet,” he advised.

You won't find too many easily snatched black bags at Michael Bruno- check out the colors.

You won’t find too many easily snatched black bags at Michael Bruno- check out the colors.

COLOR? Think twice before you buy a black bag. “A thief will never steal a red bag at the airport—he’d be too easy to catch,” he warned. If you have a black bag, he suggests getting a very colorful luggage tag—as a matter of fact, Briasco throws in a free brightly colored tag with most high end bags he sells.

Individualize your bag with a bright luggage tag

Individualize your bag with a bright luggage tag

Need some luggage advice? Drop by Michael Bruno Luggage at 2267 Market Street and let Lou bend your ear. You’ll get more than a piece of luggage—you’ll get a piece of his mind!

The store is open Thurs-Tues between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. But if you drop by and the store is closed, call the phone number posted on the door and Lou (who lives three doors away) will come open the shop for you.

What type of luggage do you carry? Why? Do you have any good tips or advice regarding the bag you own? Please leave your comments below! 

-Chris McGinnis

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Catching up on Bay Area Travel News - March 24 2013

 

Inaugural Hawaiian Airlines A330 gets a water cannon salute upon arrival in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo: Hawaiian Air)

Inaugural Hawaiian Airlines A330 gets a water cannon salute upon arrival in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo: Hawaiian Air)

A NEW WAY TO AUCKLAND. On Wednesday, Hawaiian Airlines added yet another new international route from Bay Area airports via its Honolulu hub: Auckland. Flights operate Monday, Wednesday and Friday only using a 294-seat Airbus A330. We checked on roundtrips in mid April and found fares as low as $766 round trip including all taxes and fees. (That is a remarkably good deal.) Business class is in the $5,000 to $6,000 range. Only Air New Zealand offers nonstops to Auckland from SFO. The New Zealand city is the seventh new international destination Hawaiian has added since 2010, which include Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Sapporo, Seoul, and Brisbane. Flights from Honolulu to Sendai, Japan start in June service to Taipei cranks up in July. Hawaiian has also launched a Facebook promo campaign for two free tickets. Would you consider flying Hawaiian to New Zealand or Asia? Why or why not?

Screenshot of Hawaiian Air booking

Screenshot of Hawaiian Air booking

NEW UNITED APP. This week United introduced a new app for Windows Phone 8 that allows users to book flights (including award travel), check in, get mobile boarding passes, monitor flight status and view Mileage Plus accounts. The United Windows Phone 8 app is available from the Windows Phone Store. Since the Bay Area seems to be Apple country, I have a question: Do you or anyone you know have a Windows phone? How is it?

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Knee room in an "Even More Space" seat on a recent JetBlue flight SFO-BAS. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Knee room in an “Even More Space” seat on my recent JetBlue flight SFO-BOS. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

JETBLUE ADDING PREMIUM FLIGHTS? JetBlue is hinting around that it might add some sort of premium seating on its transcon flights from Bay Area airports, according to AP. Have you flown JetBlue back east? What did you think of the product? From my experience, the JetBlue coach seat is quite comfortable, but without wi-fi for those 5-6 hour flights, it’s a tough sell for wired travelers. However, JetBlue says it is getting new satellite-based wi-fi this year.

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MUSICAL GATES AT SFO. Here’s an interesting email from a dumbfounded reader who wasn’t warned about the fiasco of flying on United Express out of SFO. “So weird. We came to the United terminal at SFO to fly to Burbank but now we have to take this weird shuttle to another terminal. Had to go thru an ‘employee only!’ Entry down some rickety stairs and on to a tiny little bus thing.  So odd!!!” It could get even more confusing…we hear from SFO insiders that United will soon start using gates in the Delta gates (C) at Terminal 1, too. Stay tuned…

ON-TIME PERFORMANCE AT SFO. When you hear Virgin America and United chest beating about their stellar on-time performance at SFO in January, don’t forget this important fact: January 2013 was the third driest January in SF history! Just wait til the fog rolls in!

Dramatic rooftop pool at the brand new Okura Prestige hotel in Bangkok (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Dramatic rooftop pool at the brand new Okura Prestige hotel in Bangkok (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

BUSINESS TRIP: BANGKOK. Are you headed to Bangkok…or do you just dream about going there? Check out the advice and photos in Chris McGinnis’s latest BBC Business Trip: Bangkok- read up on the rash of new luxury hotels, where to get great Thai food, where to get a suit made, and why you should NOT ask for chopsticks.

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Catching up on Bay Area Travel News (March 3, 2013)

UnitedBizClass

Big seat with a big smile from London to SFO in United Business Class last summer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

LIE-FLAT SEATS ON UAL. United said this week that 87% of its international fleet now has true lie-flat business class seating, and it should reach 100% lie-flat seats by the end of March—beating out competitors in the race to all-flat biz class. Hooray for that! I think United’s new business class seats are some of the best out there—comfortable, roomy, excellent entertainment, plenty of room (and power) to get work done. What do you think?

IMPROVING ON-TIME PERFORMANCE. After a year of performance issues, United says that it’s improving, especially here by the Bay. As a matter of fact, employees received $100 bonuses when more than 80% of United flights (domestic and international) clocked in on time during February. Among United hubs, Cleveland performed best during February at 87%. SFO came in second at 83%. (So do you credit United… or Mother Nature? In February, we enjoyed record dry, non-foggy conditions in Northern California.)

New configuration for United PS 757's between SFO and JFK.

New configuration for United P.S. 757′s between SFO and JFK.

NEW PS FLIGHTS COMING TO SFO-JFK. After many fits and starts, it now seems that United’s newly configured PS flights may take off from SFO starting in June (at least according to the UAL website—PR is not committing to a date yet). The newly configured 757s will have 28 lie flat business class seats, 48 Economy Plus seats and 66 standard coach seats. The currently shabby-yet-comfortable P.S. 757 fleet offers only Economy Plus seats, which will be a big loss for non-Elite level flyers who’ve enjoyed the extra space at no extra cost.

DOUBLE POINTS ON SOUTHWEST. Sign up for Southwest’s double-tier-qualifying points promo and you’ll get 12 points (vs just six) on its cheapest fares, 20 points on its standard “anytime” fares and 24 points on business select fares. The promo is good for flights all the way through May 15! This is a no brainer, so get registered now.

SAS Airbus A340 (Drewski2112)

SAS Airbus A340 (Drewski2112)

SAS COMING TO SFO. Scandinavian Star Alliance partner SAS kicks off new nonstops between SFO and its main hub at Copenhagen on April 8. The 11-hour-20-minute flight using an Airbus A340 will depart SFO six days a week (not on Tuesdays). It offers angled lie-flat biz class, premium economy and standard economy seats (see map). Current coach fares are as low as $813 round trip in April. To celebrate the arrival of a new carrier, San Francisco International is sponsoring a free ticket sweepstakes on Facebook. Have you flown SAS lately? How was it? Please leave your comments below. 

Amex "black" card.

Amex “black” card.

NEW AMEX “CENTURION” LOUNGE AT LAS. American Express told The BAT that it is “experimenting” with a new airport lounge concept for its super-spendy “black card” or Centurion cardmembers at Las Vegas McCarran Airport. The new Centurion Lounge is located in next to gate D4 in Concourse D (the one that floats between Terminals 1 and 3) used primarily by United, Delta and American. AMEX says that lounge guests enjoy dishes prepared by a celeb chef (like: polenta waffles with pumpkin compote,  or roast chicken with baby potatoes, shallots, and rosemary) and specialty cocktails prepared by a “mixologist.” Guests also enjoy free wi-fi and shower suites. While Centurion cardholders get in for free, any AMEX cardholder can pay a $50 fee to enter. Pay-to-play lounges are becoming de rigueur at McCarran—for example, if you are flying Virgin America (in the new Terminal 3) you can use Club at LAS for a daily fee of just $35. There’s also a Club at LAS in Terminal D.  Which one will you pick?

AIRPORT LOUNGES AT SFO. Speaking of posh lounges, have you been inside the new Emirates or Cathay Pacific lounges at SFO? Your BAT editor Chris McGinnis recently convinced CNN to come out to SFO for an interview and a look inside. Take a watch! The BAT on CNN! How about that? See below!

PLEASE, RECRUIT YOUR FRIENDS. If you like The BAT, would you please tell your friends and colleagues about it? The ONLY way we grow is via word of mouth from happy readers. Like every online publication, we need more eyeballs and appreciate your support.  Here’s something you can copy and paste into an email TODAY!

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

TSA PRECHECK EXPANDS: If you love PreCheck at Terminals 2 and 3 at SFO, you’ll be pleased to know that you can leave your shoes on when passing through security in five more airports: Austin, Memphis, Nashville and Raleigh-Durham. PreCheck is now available at 40 US airports—however, it’s not in every terminal, and it’s still a random selection—you cannot count on getting it.  What’s been your batting average with PreCheck? Please leave your comments below.

-Chris McGinnis

Catching up on Bay Area Travel News, Feb 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

 

 

Spring travel could be pricey & dicey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Chris McGinnis

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

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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!
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Flying to New Orleans for Super Bowl

Southwest nonstops between SFO and New Orleans. Get /em while they are hot! They will not last.

Southwest nonstops between SFO and New Orleans. Get /em while they are hot! They will not last.

As soon and the 49ers defeated the Atlanta Falcons yesterday, I checked in with United to see how much it would cost to fly nonstop to New Orleans for the Super Bowl on Feb 3. At that time, nonstops were running a cool $2166 round trip. Ouch! And United is the only airline that offers regularly scheduled nonstop flights between the Bay Area and New Orleans. Update: Most UAL nonstops are now sold out on or around Super Bowl weekend.

Then, this afternoon (Monday), Southwest Airlines announced that it was adding special nonstop flights between SFO and New Orleans (MSY) for Superbowl weekend. It’s adding two nonstops on Thurs, Jan 31 from SFO to New Orleans… and two return nonstops MSY>SFO on Monday Feb 4. Round trip fares are not cheap- right now they are $1270.00. Southwest’s 737s only hold about 150 passengers (depending on which type they use) so you can bet these seats will go fast!

One stop flights between Bay Area airports and New Orleans on a variety of airlines are now going for about $1500 round trip.

Hotel prices are, as expected, rapacious. Super 8′s going for $400+ per night! See this. Willing to bunk up in someone’s house or extra room? Non-hotel lodging options are somewhat plentiful on Airbnb.com, Couchsurfing.org or Craigslist.

Oh, and then you’ll have to buy tickets for the game, too. Right? They are now going for about $2000 each. 

I’m hearing that United or other airlines may step in with more special flights from the Bay… I will update with new info on this page if they do…

Are you going to go?

-Chris McGinnis

Want a private tour of Singapore’s A380 at SFO?

How would you like to see inside this big bird? (Photo: Singapore Airlines)

Do you like private tours? Would you like to get a true insider’s look at Singapore Airlines’ massive new double-decker Airbus A380 when it arrives in SFO later this winter?

Would you like to feel what it’s like to snuggle into Singapore Airlines’ signature double bed in first class (and of course take photos you can post on Facebook or Twitter)?

Peer into all the planes’ nooks and crannies, like the galleys where Singapore girls prepare in-flight meals? Run up and down the big ship’s secret spiral staircase?

Singapore’s signature first class double be on the A380

Maybe you’ve always wanted to check out the first class lavatories to see if they are any different than the ones in coach?

Wondered what it’s like to enjoy a pre-flight drink or meal at Singapore Airlines’ first and business class lounge at SFO? Meet BAT editor Chris McGinnis?

Now’s your chance to win that private tour in a fun drawing!

One lucky BAT reader (plus three guests of their choice) will get to check out Singapore Airlines’ big bird, from stem to stern, in a private pre-flight tour at SFO one evening in late January.

All you have to do is help The BAT grow by telling your frequent traveling friends about it.

Just follow these three easy steps:

1> Between now and January 5, 2013 compose an email (copy and paste the one we’ve prepared below—or modify it) and send it to at least THREE frequent traveling friends recommending that they sign up for The BAT.

2> Be sure to copy The BAT on the same email: contest@thebat-sf.com

3> You can only enter once, so be sure to include as many friends as possible on the first email. (NOTE: Emails will be used for this contest only—they will not be sold or traded or used by any other party for any other purpose.)

On January 5, The BAT will draw the winner from among the emails we’ve received. Once the winner is chosen, a date for the private tour (in late January) will be set on a mutually agreeable date. The winner can bring along three guests for the tour. (Allow about 90 minutes at the airport for the tour.) On the evening of the tour, we’ll meet in the International terminal at SFO, enter the terminal via security, visit the Singapore Airlines first/business class lounge for refreshments, and then tour the plane.

Does that sound like a fun evening or what? So come on and give it a go—and help The BAT grow!

Here’s the suggested email—copy and paste or modify to your liking:

Dear ____________:

Have you ever heard about The BAT blog for Bay Area frequent travelers? It’s a free travel blog that I subscribe to.

It’s full of helpful news and advice for frequent travelers who live in the Bay Area…just like us. For example, I first learned that PreCheck was coming to SFO, or that Virgin America was matching United Premier status from The BAT.

I think it’s definitely something you could use, and get this: If I can convince you to sign up, we’ll both be eligible to take a behind-the-scenes tour of a Singapore Airlines A380 at SFO one evening in January!

So please check out The BAT and sign up by January 5.  See “Subscribe” in the upper right margin of the blog, or just sign up right here.

Thanks!

*Your signature*

IMPORTANT! Do not forget to copy The BAT  (contest@thebat-sf.com) on the email you send! It’s the only way we’ll know that you are entering the contest!

Good luck! And Happy Holidays!

-Chris McGinnis

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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.

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5 key ways to upgrade holiday trips

My mom’s famous marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole- a holiday staple! (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The next big item on every frequent traveler’s calendar is Thanksgiving- and it’s early this year – just a week away on November 22.

Since an increasing number of Americans are now taking the whole week off, expect big crowds, and long, slow-moving security lines at the airport this starting this Friday, over the weekend and of course, next week. (Might be time to consider line-busting options like CLEAR or PreCheck!)

If you are hitting the roads or the skies next week or next month, here are five ways improve your chances of having a happy holiday trip:

1-Book nonstop flights

While the lower price of a one-stop flight might be tempting, you increase your chances of a delay or cancellation by 100% when you take two flights instead of one to get to your destination. Why take that chance, especially if you are headed home for just a few days, and a delayed or canceled flight could spoil the entire trip?

In many cases nonstop flights cost the same, or only $50 to $100 more. I think of that extra cost as an insurance policy against a hassle-filled trip. (If you don’t know the difference between a nonstop, direct or connecting flight, please read this!)

Another tip to ensure a delay-free trip: Book early morning flights, which are frequently parked at the airport overnight and not reliant on arriving from another airport.

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2-Make high airfares pay you back.

Flying during the holidays means paying a premium of anywhere from 30% to 70% compared to other times of year—especially on long haul flights, according to FareCompare.com. Christmas/New Year’s holiday period airfares are running at an average $454 this year, up 5% from the same period last year when they were $434 according to Expedia.com. Average fares during the peak Thanksgiving period are only slightly less, averaging $442, which is also up 5% compared to last year.

So let’s face it, you’ll be breaking out the credit card—a lot—when traveling during the peak holiday season. You might as well be using a card that’s going to pay you back in points and other benefits. For example, I just signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which is currently offering a 40,000-point sign up bonus if I spend at least $3,000 in the first three months.

Since this is the holidays…and I have four trips booked between now and the end of the year… I’ll likely hit that threshold with ease. Which means I’ll end up with at least 50,000 points (bonus plus two points per dollar spent on travel) and that is enough for two no-blackout-date airline tickets, which I’ll likely use NEXT year to avoid paying through the nose to fly home for during the peak holiday season. (See below)

Right now, most major credit cards are offering similarly fat points and mileage bonuses to frequent travelers with good credit, so if you’ve been sitting on the fence about getting a new card, doing so during the heavy-spending holidays is smart strategic move.

3-Postpone peak season trips

If pricey holiday airfares will keep you grounded this year, celebrate with your family during “dead weeks” instead.  Dead weeks are travel industry lingo for the annual low points in travel demand, which ironically come in the middle of the peak holiday travel season. And when demand plummets, so do prices.

The catch is that you have to travel when everyone else is staying at home. Dead weeks typically occur right after the big Thanksgiving rush, and again right after the Christmas/New Years rush in early January. The good news this year is that with an early Thanksgiving (Nov 22) we have one extra dead week—the last week of November—and the deals are plentiful.

Here’s an extreme example: A transcontinental flight between San Francisco and Cleveland during the Thanksgiving or Christmas peak is currently a painful $1,460 (seriously!) round trip.

But when checking on dead week deals on Orbitz this week, I found that United is offering an astoundingly low fare of just $208 round trip on that route over the weekend of Nov 30-Dec 3. Now that’s dirt-cheap!

Dead week deals are not only a great opportunity for flexible travelers to save, but an easy way for frequent travelers to top off their mileage balances in order to keep or bump up their cherished elite level status. (That SFO>CLE round trip nets a whopping 4,300 elite qualifying miles.) If you are a Delta SkyMiles junkie, I found roundtrips between SFO and Atlanta for just $220 during dead weeks. Amazing!

Expedia has a helpful tool to find similar low fares.

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4-Stay at a hotel

Why burden the in-laws with the hassle of houseguests during the already stressful holidays? Instead of bunking on that lumpy sofa bed or stuffy guest room, book a nearby hotel.

Due to lack of demand from business travelers, most hotels are dirt-cheap during the holidays, and offer the chance experience a five-star hotel at a two or three star price.

Example: I frequently travel back to Atlanta, my hometown, for the holidays. I’ve found rooms at the five star InterContinental Buckhead hotel for just $139 per night during Thanksgiving or Christmas, while at other times of year they go for $400+.

Rooms at comfortable suburban hotels like Best Western that may be closer to your relatives are likely starving for business during the holidays—so call the hotel directly to see if you can negotiate a great deal.

Or show off your travel-tech-savvy by pulling out your fancy new iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S3 and using last minute hotel-deal apps like HotelTonight to score some amazing rates.

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5-Splurge a little

While you can always pay a lot more to sit in first class, you can now pay a little bit more, and get a more comfortable coach seat. During the busy, crowded holidays, that’s money well spent.

While getting a few extra inches of room always helps, the real benefit of paying for a better economy seat is that you are usually allowed to board early—with elite level flyers. Early boarding means you get early access to scarce overhead bin space, and since these seats are located near the front of the plane, you’ll be among the first to exit when the plane lands.

These premium economy seats cost from $20 to $200 more, depending on the duration of the flight. For example, for a trip home for the holidays, you could pay Delta $70 extra for one of its Economy Comfort seats for the 4-5 hour nonstop between San Francisco and Atlanta. A cheaper option would be Southwest’s EarlyBird check in fee of just  $10 each way—which gets you to the front of the line for boarding.

Have a great trip and a very happy holiday!

-Chris McGinnis

*****

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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!

Disclosure: Some of the companies mentioned in this post have been or are current clients of my company, Travel Skills Group, Inc.

 


Virgin America matching United, AA elite status

This just in from Virgin America— something I’ve been waiting for for a while now… will you take Virgin up on the offer? Is it enough to force you to break away from your Mileage Plus addiction? Please leave your comments below! 

Here’s Virgin’s announcement:

This week, we’ve just launched a status match program where, between now and April 30, 2013, qualifying elite level flyers from United Airlines and American Airlines’ frequent flyer programs will be able to request matched status to Virgin America’s Elevate Gold and Elevate Silver Status levels without giving up their status (or any points/miles) in their current program.

Applicants will need to sign up for the Elevate program if not already a member, and can expect their Elevate status to be updated within 7 to 14 days after submitting their application. Approved members will receive their new Elevate status good through April 30, 2013, and will have an opportunity to retain their status through the end of 2013 by earning sufficient status points by flying Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia. For full details please see: www.virginamerica.com/statusmatch.

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As you may remember, this summer, Virgin America launched a suite of enhancements to its Elevate frequent flyer program this summer – including the new Elevate Gold and Elevate Silver Status levels.  Matched members from United’s MileagePlus and American’s AAdvantage programs will get to enjoy almost all the benefits currently offered to Elevate Gold and Elevate Silver members during this period – such as: points earning bonuses, priority check-in, security clearance and boarding; free checked bag allowances; enhanced digital/social rewards; private discounts; an expanded advance purchase upgrade window for the airline’s exclusive eight-seat First Class; complimentary space-available upgrades to the carrier’s premium Main Cabin Select service; and complimentary access to the best seat assignments within Main Cabin. 

*****

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.

 

United fare sale for fall/winter trips

A United Airlines 777 at London Heathrow airport (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Today United Airlines quietly rolled out some rather remarkable deals for fall and winter travel.

As usual, the sale fares do not apply on the key peak travel days around Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.

But if you can travel in early to mid-December, or after New Years in January or February, you should check this out.

Currently, United is not showing an end date for booking this sale, but you can bet that seats on the most convenient flights will get scooped up fast. And the sale can be yanked at any moment…

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Here are some of the best roundtrip deals (all in) I’ve seen from SFO:

>Seattle: $210

>Houston: $231

>Denver: $238

>Ft Lauderdale or W Palm Beach: $260

>New Orleans: $284

>Miami: $299

>Puerto Vallarta: $361

>Beijing: $909

Here’s the link to the United sale fares from SFO

- by Chris McGinnis

*****

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.