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Catching up on this week’s travel news 1-27

Southwest's special Super Bowl nonstops from SFO to New Orleans have sold out. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Southwest’s special Super Bowl nonstops from SFO to New Orleans have sold out. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

For those who might have been out and about and too busy to keep up with travel news, here’s what’s important to BATs this week:

>First off, let’s take a look at our poll from last week: If BAT readers had anything to do with it, the name of San Francisco International Airport would remain just that. At last count, 82% of BAT readers said that airport name should remain the same. Just 18% think we should insert Harvey Milk’s name into it. Might be good for city leaders to consider the opinions of those who use the airport most- BATs! Don’tcha think?

>San Jose’s much ballyhooed new flights to Tokyo have gotten off to a very rocky start. I’m sure glad I was one of the last people to ride on this fine bird… at least for a while. The latest news about the 787 is that no one really knows yet what is going on with the batteries. This week, overcharging was ruled out as a root cause...and until a root cause is determined, and a remedy made to fix that root cause, the plane is not going to fly. As of Friday, all ANA 787 flights, including those on the San Jose-Tokyo run, have been canceled through at least Feb 18. And ANA tells The BAT that it does not have necessary permissions to substitute another aircraft (like a 777) of the route. So San Jose waits…and as before, if you wanna go to Tokyo, the only choice is SFO.

>As expected, all the seats on Southwest’s extra flights between SFO and New Orleans for the Super Bowl sold out like hotcakes at $1,270 each. Go Niners!

>A BIG THANKS to the CLEAR CARD which has just signed on as a BAT sponsor for a whole year! Woo-hoo! Support the BAT by clicking on the CLEAR ad to the right and learning about its free offer for BAT readers! Are you interested in reaching the Bay Area’s most frequent and affluent travelers? Contact us about being a BAT sponsor!

>United is adding a larger aircraft on its SFO>Austin,TX nerd bird flights, adding a full-size A319, A320 or B737 to its current line up of Canadair RJs on the route.

>United is canceling nonstops to Toronto on April 6, leaving the route as a monopoly for Air Canada. Virgin America tried, and failed, to make the route work- canceling its Toronto flights on (coincidentally?) April 6, 2011.

>United has confirmed to The BAT that its new SFO-Paris CDG nonstop flights on April 11 will use a B767 (we thought that with the recent announcement about SFO being a new base for Boeing 747s, it might be switching aircraft.

>United has still not started the deployment of new-configuration B757 PS flights between SFO and JFK. United had said that the newly outfitted PS flights would begin flying last October… but we have not seen or heard much about them… and cannot get a straight answer from United as to whether there are any on the route. United has only told The BAT that the new PS flights “will begin in the first part of 2013.” Vague!

>This week, United posted a fourth quarter loss ($190 million) that was less than analysts expected. Executives now claim that its operational issues (such as the reservations system meltdown last summer) and the integration of Continental operations are now behind it. It’s begging business travelers (and their corporate handlers) to come back. Will you?

>Did you know that BATs will soon be able to fly Hawaiian Airlines between the Bay Area and Auckland, New Zealand (via a stopover on Honolulu)? The BAT received an invite to participate in the inaugural A330 flight in March so stay tuned for a fun post about that! It is interesting to watch Hawaiian turn into a true transpac carrier, with new flights to many points beyond Hawaii, such as Sydney, Taipei, Brisbane, Sapporo, Manila and Seoul. Would you consider flying Hawaiian and making a stop in HNL on your next transpac trip?

HEY THERE! Would you please help us grow by forwarding this email to at least three of your frequent traveling friends or colleagues and encouraging them to subscribe??? Thank you! 

The coughing epidemic on planes

(Photo: Mr Stabile / Flickr)

(Photo: Mr Stabile / Flickr)

[From BAT reader JM:] I wanted to get this off my chest and thought it might make an interesting blog post for you…

I just flew back to SFO from Cancun, most of the way on Delta. Great service with a smile—I was impressed.

However there was lots of coughing going on- I felt surrounded by a coven of coughers.

I arrived back in SF at 5:30pm, went to bed and then woke at 4 am with a sore throat—and a cold coming on.  As always, I hit the cold hard with zinc lozenges, anti-inflammatories, lots of rest immediately, Vicks on the bottom of my feet, chicken soup, etc. I’m glad to say that I am pretty much over it, fortunately.

But…I found it curious that the flight attendants (for their own health, if not the passengers) don’t announce something like this during cold and flu season:

“If you have a cough, as a courtesy to those around you over the duration of the flight:  cover your mouth, cough into your elbow or your collar, not your hands.”

Maybe they could sell cough drops—or even give them away to ill-prepared passengers. Maybe pass out handkerchiefs for people to cough or sneeze into? The effort would be well worth the trouble and expense, and build goodwill for the airline.

If I had cough drops, I would have given them out gladly.

For everyone’s ears and nerves, don’t you think this is a concern, especially now that the flu epidemic seems to be escalating?

You travel much more than I do, so I’m curious to know if this has ever been addressed. Would love to have some flight attendants weigh in. OK, I’m done with my rant. :)

-

Thanks JM! You are onto something here. There was a cougher/hacker behind me all the way from Tokyo last night! The hacking, sneezing and wheezing does get a bit tedious, especially on overnight flights. I think this would be an excellent opportunity for an airline to team up with Vicks, Kleenex, Handi-wipes or Hanes Handkerchiefs and help put a muzzle on the flu. Virgin? United? Are you reading The BAT?

What do you think? Have you noticed coughing getting worse? Have you ever been stuck in an embarrassing coughing fit, and would have welcomed a cough drop from a flight attendant? Please leave your comments below.

 

Singapore Air A380 private tour winner & a brand new BAT

A Singapore Airlines First Class Suite aboard its new Airbus A380 (Photo: Singapore Airlines)

A Singapore Airlines First Class Suite aboard its new Airbus A380 (Photo: Singapore Airlines)

Many thanks to BAT readers who played along in our contest to win a private tour of Singapore Airlines’s big new A380 now landing at SFO. We designed the contest to help promote Singapore Air’s “pop-up” A380 flights to SFO and to grow The BAT by having contestants suggest subscribing to their friends, and we succeeded wildly on both fronts.

So, a big THANK YOU (mmmwah!) to our readers and to Singapore Airlines! 

We are happy to announce that the winner of the contest (selected randomly from all those who participated) is David Zippin, a conservation biologist with ICF International, a large environmental consulting firm.

Private tour winner David Zippin on a recent trip to Grenada, Nicaragua (Photo: David Zippin)

Private tour winner David Zippin on a recent trip to Grenada, Nicaragua (Photo: David Zippin)

David lives in Berkeley and travels for business most frequently throughout the West Coast and to Washington, DC. But when it comes to traveling for fun, you’ll likely find him jetting off to remote regions of the world to scuba dive. He told The BAT that his dream trip on Singapore Airlines would be a round trip to Manado, in Sulawesi, Indonesia to scuba dive.

David has been a loyal reader of The BAT for about the last 6-8 months, having learned about it via links from our posts on SFgate. He’s never been on board an Airbus A380, and is looking forward to bringing three friends along for the private tour later this winter. Stay tuned for a BAT post (with pics!) of the grand tour!

By now you may have noticed that you are reading The BAT in a brand new format. We’ve been busily working on the re-design over the holidays and hope it exceeds your expectations. We are still in the “tinkering” stage, so please help us make The BAT even better by offering your suggestions and comments on how we can accomplish that. Please post your suggestions below, or send an email to me.

Happy New Year! We are looking forward to a big 2013 for The BAT and look forward to bringing Bay Area Travelers all the news and information they need to make their trips great. Cheers.

Even if you were not the lucky winner of our contest, could you please continue to refer your friends and colleagues to The BAT? Word-of-mouth recommendation is the only way we can grow, and we appreciate your help!

-Chris McGinnis

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Like what you are reading? Then please tell 3 friends to SIGN UP for The BAT today! They will appreciate the heads up! Send them this link and a little encouragement: www.thebat-sf.com 

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.

 


Is your flight “nonstop” or “direct?”

(Contrails over Amsterdam. Photo: Keempoo / Flickr)

Given a choice between a nonstop or a direct flight between SFO and New York, which one would you take? What if an option for a connecting flight was thrown into the mix?

Your choice could have a big impact on the price, length and comfort of your journey.

I’m frequently amazed at how many travel agents, airline employees, frequent business travelers and even fellow travel writers tend to think that direct and nonstop are interchangeable terms when referring to flights. They are not.

If you are wondering which type of flight is best for you, consider these definitions:

Nonstop:

A nonstop flight is just what it says: a single flight between two airports with no stops. Business travelers favor nonstop flights because they are the fastest, but they are frequently the most expensive.

Direct:

While a direct flight might sound like a nonstop flight, it’s not. A direct flight makes at least one intermediate stop along the way to its final destination, but has only one flight number.

For example, if you choose a direct flight between SFO and New York you’d fly on one plane the whole way to New York. But that plane would make a stop in, say, Chicago or Milwaukee or Atlanta, where it would drop off and pick up more passengers, like a bus. Due to these stops, direct flights can add an hour or more to your total travel time.

I recently flew Southwest Airlines flight #1618 from Oakland to Phoenix for a meeting. My flight from Oakland to Phoenix was a nonstop. However, the plane continued on to St Louis. The passengers who stayed on the plane in Phoenix and continued flying to St Louis on the second leg of flight #1618 were on a direct flight.

Often, direct flights are less expensive than nonstop flights, but not always. If you have a choice between a direct or a nonstop and the price is the same, take the nonstop!

Connecting:

A connecting flight means it will take at least two different planes with two different flight numbers to reach your final destination. For example, a connecting flight from San Francisco to New York on United Airlines would mean flying from San Francisco to Denver, or Chicago, where you would then disembark and board another plane for another flight to New York.

Connecting flights are almost always less expensive than nonstop flights, but they are not always the best option for travelers who place a premium on time.

Why? First, you’ll have to schlep hand luggage on and off the plane multiple times in each direction. Connections often mean landing in one concourse, then having to take a train or a long walk to another concourse. When you take off and land, you double your chances of encountering delays due to weather or air traffic control. Connecting flights can also take significantly longer than direct or nonstop flights due to long layovers. For these reasons, connecting flights are always the least desirable in terms of convenience… but the most desirable in terms of price.

Were you aware of the difference between direct and nonstop flights? What type of flight will you be taking next time? Be sure you know before you book!

- by Chris McGinnis

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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.

Online travel experiences (infographic)

Google purchases Frommer’s travel guides

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 What do YOU think? When was the last time you used a Frommer’s guide? Do you think Google can make travel content better? Please leave your comments below.
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Brouhaha boils re: early boarding for babies

http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/video?autoStart=true&topVideoCatNo=default&clipId=7323318

Here’s my opinion (via interview on CBS news last night) about that brouhaha brewing about United’s new policy not allowing families with kids to board early. Do you agree or disagree? Is the new policy fair to families? Or to frequent travelers?

My take: Airlines have lost control of the boarding process. There are so many people with “special” boarding privileges that the entire plane can fill up before general boarding (Zone 1) ever begins.

For example, United now offers special early boarding to those who have paid for its new Explorer credit card. They also offer early boarding to their best customers, such as Global Services or 1K members, or Star Alliance partners with status. Then there are those who’ve actually paid significantly more than everyone else on the plane for business or first class seats. United also offers early boarding to military in uniform and passengers using wheelchairs or crutches.

Until now, it’s allowed families with children to board early, too. Well, during summer travel season, families traveling with children can comprise half the passengers on the plane. (Flown to Orlando lately? You’ll see…)

So by the time “general boarding” starts, the plane is almost full- and nearly all the precious overhead bin space it taken. It’s crazy…and it irritates United’s best customers… those who have paid more for their tickets, or shown their loyalty as elite leve members of Mileage Plus.


So while it might appear that United’s policy change is an “anti-family” move, I think it brings some sanity back to the boarding process. And I also think that frequent travelers should be on the lookout for moms and dads boarding with them who need a little extra help when getting on the plane, and offer a hand getting settled.

What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

 

Which US city is most expensive for travelers? Surprising answer

There are plenty of interesting nuggets in a new travel spending report from Concur, a company that provides travel expense management solutions for companies that spent a total of $50 billion last year for travel and entertainment.

A couple standouts from the infographic and Concur’s latest Spend Report:

>Our very own Santa Clara is the most expensive city for business travel in the US- beating out New York, San Francisco and Boston for the top honor. Why so spendy? Interestingly, the full report shows that ground transportation expenses are the culprit. According to the Concur report, expenses for rental cars and ground transportation run twice as much in this Silicon Valley city as they do in most other US cities. And who comes to the Valley without renting a car?

>Tokyo is the most expensive city in the world for business travel… but not a single US city ranks in the top 10 anymore. Bring a fat wallet if you are traveling to Australia or Scandinavia. Ouch!

Click on the graphic below for a better view:

What’s your advice for San Francisco-bound business travelers?

Click on the image to read the full column on BBC.com

One of the many hats I wear is that of business travel columnist for BBC.com. This month, I wrote “Business Trip: San Francisco,” which offers advice to visiting business travelers. It typically includes top upscale hotels- both elegant and edgy, dining or entertainment suggestions, local color and local protocol or etiquette advice.

This is the twelfth in a series of destination focused business travel piece I’ve written for BBC.com over the last year- other cities I’ve recently written about include: London, Seoul, Rio de Janeiro and Frankfurt.


Anyway, I thought writing about San Francisco, the city I know and love best, would be a breeze. But it was a lot tougher than I expected! The most difficult part was deciding what NOT to include. My instructions from BBC are to keep the stories short and sweet- a quick read for busy global business travelers from anywhere in the English-speaking world.

So Dear Reader, what advice would YOU offer a global business traveler visiting our fair city? What did I leave out? Please leave your comments, advice or suggestions below! And then send the link to this page to visitors headed our way!