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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rendering of proposed Terminal 1 at SFO

Rendering of proposed Terminal 1 at SFO

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

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

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

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

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FlightCar

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

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

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

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

New 76-seat Embraer 175 from United

New 76-seat Embraer 175 from United

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Francisco  Mexico City

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

Mexico City  San Francisco

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

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

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

-Chris McGinnis

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Do you trust hotel review sites? [Infographic]

Copenhagen's elegant Hotel D'Angleterre re-opens May 1 after a 2-year re-do (Chris McGinnis)

Copenhagen’s elegant Hotel D’Angleterre re-opens May 1 after a 2-year re-do (Chris McGinnis)

Nearly every traveler I know (including me) checks out hotels on TripAdvisor before making a booking. I’m sure you do, too. Right? The infographic below provides an interesting look at how travelers use the review sites and what makes them trustworthy. It also provides some tips on spotting “fake” reviews. (The infographic was prepared by Olery, an online reputation management company for hotels.)

How do YOU feel about hotel review sites? Do you use them? Trust them? Other than TripAdvisor, which sites do you find most helpful?

Please leave your comments below!

HotelReviews-olery-infograph-FULL

Chris McGinnis

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SAS arrival + Fight over Jersey + Taipei Delei + United woes

The first SAS A340 arrives at SFO to a water cannon salute (Photo: Joe D'Alessandro)

The first SAS A340 arrives at SFO to a water cannon salute (Photo: Joe D’Alessandro)

SKAL TO SAS. SAS touched down at SFO last Monday at around 2:30pm. While the BAT was unable to attend the airport arrival celebration, reader Joe D’Alessandro sent along the above photo of the first SAS A340-300 getting a water cannon salute. Within 10 minutes, we posted the photo on The BAT Facebook page and our sister column on SFgate. D’Alessandro is the head of San Francisco Travel, and was at SFO to give a welcome speech, during which he mentioned the quickly posted photo as an example of the power and reach of social media in the Bay Area! Cool! (The BAT’s onboard SAS this week bound for Copenhagen, so stay tuned for our review!)

Pete Cashmore (Mashable) and Richard Branson on the Virgin America Inaugural LAX-EWR flight.

Pete Cashmore (Mashable) and Richard Branson on the Virgin America Inaugural LAX-EWR flight.

VIRGIN AMERICA IN JERSEY. Another inaugural this week: Virgin America jets touched down in Newark, New Jersey, with Richard Branson and Mashable’s Pete Cashmore onboard in a Google+ Hangout, in which Branson shared that fares between California and Newark are down 40% since Virgin’s entry into the market. In later interviews, Branson talked about the possibility of filing an antitrust complaint against United for its overwhelming buildup of flights in response to Virgin’s entry into the market, which The BAT pointed out in early March.  United was quick to point out that its response was nothing more than business as usual. What do you think?

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

TAIPEI DELEI. United has postponed the start of its nonstops between SFO and Taipei for a full YEAR- until March 2014. Originally, flights were to have started this month, but that was then pushed until June. Routes Online reports that the delay is due to “market seasonality and the availability of wide body aircraft as a result of the ongoing Boeing 787 delays…. Due to the 787 issue, the Boeing 777 that we would use on the SFO-TPE route is now needed to support other existing routes that we planned to transition to Boeing 787s.” Speaking of United’s 787’s, the currently grounded plane is now back on United’s schedule starting May 31, flying between Denver and Houston. However, the FAA has not yet given airline the green light to fly 787s, but it’s expected soon. (United’s new flights to Paris, announced at the same time as Taipei, crank up on April 26.)

United CEO Jeff Smisek

UNITED CEO PAY CUT. The Miami Herald reports that CEO of United Airlines saw his total 2012 compensation shrink 41 percent last year after stumbles in the airline’s merger with Continental. Compensation for Chairman and CEO Jeff Smisek was $7.9 million last year, down from $13.4 million after a cut in his incentive payments.

MEGA-MILEAGE BONUSES. Did you check out our post this week on two new sites offering big bonuses for hotel stays… how about 15,000 United Mileage Plus miles for a three night stay in NYC or Chicago? Not bad. But not for everyone. Read about it here.

Virgin America's newest A320's have sharklets on the wings. Seen em? (Photo: Virgin America)

Virgin America’s newest A320′s have sharklets on the wings. Seen em? (Photo: Virgin America)

BEST AND WORST OF TIMES. Interesting to note that the much-ballyhooed (but generally ignored by consumers) “2012 Airline Quality Rankings” came out this week with the Bay Area’s two largest airlines at opposite ends. Virgin America ranked #1… and United ranked dead last at #14. Virgins’ win was attributed to its smaller, more manageable size, newer planes, wi-fi, fun crews, etc. Most of the blame for United’s dismal showing was based on its computer switchover and consolidation with Continental woes. Do these survey results make you MORE likely to choose Virgin and LESS likely to fly United? Please leave your comments below.

Here’s how the airlines ranked in 2012, as well as their position the previous year.

1) Virgin America (new to the ranking this year*)
2) JetBlue (3)
3) AirTran (1)
4) Delta (6)
5) Hawaiian (2)
6) Alaska (5)
7) Frontier (4)
8) Southwest (7)
9) US Airways (8)
10) American (10)
11) American Eagle (15)
12) SkyWest (9)
13) ExpressJet (new to the ranking this year*)
14) United (12)
*In order to qualify for inclusion in the report, an airline must carry at least 1 percent of domestic passengers.

ELEGANT EVENING. On Tuesday, SAS threw an elegant dinner party for about 150 at the Asian Art Museum. Among the dignitaries on the dais,  SAS CEO Rickard Gustafson and ex-SF-mayor Willie Brown, who’s energetic and spot on speech brought the relatively buttoned up house down. What a show! Bay Area Traveler editor Chris McGinnis was honored to be among the attendees.

photo

-Chris McGinnis

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Mega mileage earning bonuses proliferate

A room at the Andaz Wall Street in NYC nets 15K Mileage Plus miles (Photo: Andaz)

A room at the Andaz Wall Street in NYC nets 15K Mileage Plus miles (Photo: Andaz)

Word about two new travel websites, RocketMiles and PointsHound, which woo frequent travelers with massive mileage bonuses for hotel bookings, is starting to leak out.

A quick scan of RocketMiles today shows that it is currently offering 15,000 Mileage Plus miles for a three-night stay (@ $493/night) at the swank Andaz Wall Street in New York City in late April. On Pointshound, book three nights at the trendy James Chicago hotel at $254/night, and you earn 6,600 Virgin America Elevate points.

Sounds to good to be true, right?

Let’s take a look and see if they are right for you.

First off, these sites are likely appeal to the type of traveler who is more focused on earning miles than saving money. That’s because the rates they offer are close, but not always as low as those found on more conventional booking sites.

They are set up to appeal to so-called “rogue” or “unmanaged” travelers—those who are not required (or choose not) to book hotels through a central corporate travel department or agency.

Screenshot from RocketMiles

Screenshot from RocketMiles

Pointshound founder Peter Van Dorn told The BAT that a light bulb went off when research showed that 61% of all business travelers book hotels wherever they want, regardless of company policy (and without penalty). He added, “The other related data we found encouraging was the size of this  market: ~8 million elite-level frequent travelers in the US make 13 hotel bookings a year on average. At ~$300 per stay, this gets to a market size of $30 billion just in the US.”

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Earn 8,000 Mileage Plus miles at the Westin Michigan Ave in Chicago (Photo: Westin)

Earn 8,000 Mileage Plus miles at the Westin Michigan Ave in Chicago (Photo: Westin)

How do they do it? Generally, the sites buy distressed hotel room inventory (unsold rooms) at a discount, then mark the rate up to the average online travel agency price, and take that spread. Then, they buy miles from airline programs to provide members with the incentive to book through their sites.

“Every property is selected and screened by our staff of experienced business travelers. RocketMiles attracts the type of frequent travelers that our hotel providers are trying to reach, which is why they offer us rates with enough margin to bundle the rooms with incredible amounts of airline miles. It’s a win-win for everybody,” said RocketMiles founder Bjorn Larsen in an interview with The BAT from Chicago.

Both sites are free. And both offer the promise of big mileage bonuses, but there are some differences worth noting.

Pointshound, with offices in downtown San Francisco, was first to market with the concept (Oct 2012), and partners with more than 150,000 hotels around the world.  It offers mileage bonuses on three different tiers based on rate—the cheapest rates net the fewest bonus miles. Pay a bit more, and your bonus-earning blossoms, or you can pay a rate that allows you to earn both miles and hotel points. Members earn miles with United Mileage Plus, Virgin America Elevate, Delta SkyMiles, American AAdvantage among others.

RocketMiles is just coming off beta this month, and its hotel inventory is limited—on purpose. The site states, “We don’t want to bother you with unremarkable offers…We only offer a handful of hotels in cities and neighborhoods where our customers travel the most.” When you book via RocketMiles, you are unable to earn hotel program points. But the mileage bonuses it offers are tough to resist. RocketMiles works with United Mileage Plus, Delta, American, US Airways, and Hawaiian.

Sounds great, but not everyone is completely sold on the idea yet. Seth Miller, who writes the popular and pithy Wandering Aramean Boarding Area blog told The BAT,  “I’m not entirely convinced that either product is going to be universally better for travelers. There are so many booking portals now, each with their own hook trying to get a share of the booking market…In many ways the proliferation of these sites makes it harder for consumers to compare the total value proposition. That’s not to say that they’re bad; it just means a bit more work to truly maximize your travel dollar.”

Note: These sites have “refer a friend” offers which The BAT signed up for (and you can, too).  So if you make a booking from links posted here, we get 250-1000 miles. Come on and help us out! 

When it comes to hotels, are you a price shopper or a points shopper? Are the big bonuses worth shopping yet another travel site? Please leave your comments below.

-Chris McGinnis

***

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

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

No more pink moustaches at SFO (Photo: Lyftstagrams)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Chris McGinnis

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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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TDWWS88T82TW

Catching up on Bay Area Travel News, March 17 2013

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

Jersey in Noe Valley (Chris McGinnis)

Jersey in Noe Valley (Chris McGinnis)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Gulfstream IV (Photo: Nima Pirzadeh)

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

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

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Top 10 countries that have the most fun

Argentines party for the new Pope (Photo: AP)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the results of that poll:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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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