The best of The BAT

Oooo-la-la! What a view from the bathtub in the penthouse suite at the new Shangri-La, Paris- which goes for $23,000 per night. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Hello BATmen and BATwomen! Here’s a round up of our top posts for August…and a selection of our favorite comments. Enjoy your Labor Day!

SFO gets United Boeing 787 Dreamliner after all

>>This was by far our most popular post this month- with nearly 10K views!

Overreaction to United’s network outage?

COMMENT>>I think passengers and the media DO tend to over react in these situations. It’s become a sport to complain about the airlines, the IRS, and a few other industries. I travel A LOT with United and overall I’ve been happy and satisfied. The problem they have now is that the merger HAS created a lot of problems so every little problem gets amplified when it happens.

United reveals routes for new Boeing 787 Dreamliner

COMMENT>>Lets not forget, the 787 is made for long thin routes to secondary cities. The only route I could see the 787 on from SFO is the upcoming SFO-CDG route. All other routes to Asia/S.Pacific/Europe require the 744/777. SFO, unlike SJC, can fill the larger aircraft.

United revamps popular PS flights to New York

COMMENT>>Now, as a Silver Premier, I’ll have to buy up to EP. United has made ther message loud and clear to their “middle class” frequent travellers ( people who fly between 25k to 49k per year), “we just don’t care about you anymore, now that we have absorbed Continental’s upper tier members). After 13 years of golden handcuffs with United I now try to avoid them at all costs.Virgin American is by far a better experience – on any of ther flights.

Another Airbus A380 arriving at SFO

COMMENT>>It’s a bummer they will only have the A380 for three months! Too bad they do not have the non-stop service to Singapore like the one flying from LAX (without stopping in Hongkong)

Whenever I flew to Asia, I only want to fly either SQ or Cathay, even when redeeming my United Mileage. Flew with United once, will never do that again. SQ and Cathay both set your standard pretty high (and I am only flying coach), they make United and other American and European airlines look like they do not know how to run an airline service (from aircraft/technology/luggage limitation/customer service/in-flight service/meals). Why is so hard for the american carriers’ flight attendants not to utter swear words while on duty or just to smile and be polite?

Two exotic new hotels in Paris (Slideshow)

COMMENT>>The George V is still my spot . . . although I will stop into the Shangri La to check it out. The W rooms are too small.

Apple vs Visa vs United Olympic ads: Who wins?


Bronze – Apple. I just didn’t see the tie in to the Olympics
Silver – United. Can’t stand the Polo logo, but that’s not their fault. I’m also glad that Rhapsody in Blue as background music survived the merger.
Gold – Visa for creatively illustrating how hard our athletes work to get there!

London hotel rates crash, flights half full…

>>Hate to say we told you so, be our predictions were right on about this one! Most travel suppliers in London made squat during the Olympics. But what a great games, anyway!



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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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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!

SFO gets new nonstops to Washington DC Reagan National Airport

Reagan Washington National Airport is so close to DC that you can see the city's monuments from runways. (Photo: MWAA)

Starting May 14, United Airlines will (finally) offer nonstop Boeing 737-700 flights between San Francisco (SFO) and the close-in, convenient Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA).

Since Washington National is slot controlled, United is only able offer a single daily flight departing SFO at 12:30 pm and arriving Washington at 8:45 pm. On the return, the flight will depart DC at 8:00 am and arrive at SFO at 11:10am.

Because the service is still subject to government approval, a United Airlines spokesperson declined to offer more details until the flights are loaded in its reservation system and for sale.

For those with business in downtown DC, the new flight will eliminate the lengthy, frustrating 45-60 minute ride from Dulles International into the city. Currently, United and Virgin America fly nonstop between SFO and Dulles.

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is located across the Potomac from the Capitol, and the drive into the city takes about 15 minutes—by cab or by the convenient METRO rail system with a stop inside the airport.

SFO is finally getting these flights as a result of new FAA legislation signed into law by President Obama on February 14. The legislation grants a total of 16 exemptions to old “perimeter rules” that forbid nonstops into Reagan National from airports located more than 1,250 miles away.

Eight of those slots will be awarded to legacy carriers such as United, Delta, US Airways or American—and another eight will be awarded to new entrant carriers such as SF-based Virgin America. However, Virgin America has confirmed that the low-fare carrier must apply for the right to offer nonstops between SFO and DCA - as there is a different process for legacy airlines versus smaller carriers.

“As the only airline headquartered in San Francisco, it is absolutely our hope to serve SFO-DCA since the Bay Area has essentially been shut out of nonstop DCA service until now. Any move to increase service is a good thing for consumers and we hope that we will be able to bring low-fare competition to the route—when more airlines compete, consumers win,” said Virgin America spokesperson Abby Lunardini.

Will you fly into Reagan National instead of Washington-Dulles? What are your thoughts on this new option? Please leave your comments below.

Using American Express points on Virgin America

Good news for folks with big stashes of American Express Membership Rewards who like to fly Virgin America: You can now convert Membership Rewards points into Virgin Elevate points to redeem online for any unsold seat on any Virgin flight, without blackouts or restrictions. Bad news is the conversion rate: 200 Membership Rewards points convert to just 100 Elevate points. 

Virgin’s Elevate program is based on a “points per dollar” system, so the number of points needed to redeem for award travel vary based on price and seat availability. Virgin provided the following example in its news release:  ”…a flyer booking a roundtrip ticket from New York to L.A. with Virgin America at a cost of about $320, could redeem that flight for 15,399 Elevate points, equivalent to 30,798 Membership Rewards points, which is comparable to other airline programs that would require up to 50,000 miles.”

To be fair, I should point out that most other airline programs offer domestic award roundtrips for as few as 25,000 miles- but it’s getting increasingly difficult to find awards at that level.

Nonetheless, the new partnership is getting panned by bloggers who cover the points and miles game:

The Points Guy posted:

“…unfortunately the ratio is 100 Elevate = 200 Amex, so a disappointing 2:1 ratio. This is not a great deal because Elevate is a fixed value loyalty program, which mean you can redeem points for any flight and they are worth between 1.6 and 2.1 cents each towards airfare. So if you transfer Amex to Virgin America, you are valuing your Amex points at .8 and 1.05 cents a piece, which is very low. I conservatively value mine at 2 cents a piece and you can purchase points directly from Amex for 2.5 cents.”

Wandering Aramean said:

“The only slightly reasonable explanation for why one would transfer AmEx points into Elevate at these rates is if you’ve got almost enough for a reasonably high-value award already and you just need to top off the account. Otherwise it is quite a bad deal.”

However, Virgin America’s Patricia Condon begs to differ:

“We actually think this is a very rich reward program - given that Elevate points provide a much higher value than miles on a typical legacy airline program.  You aren’t comparing apples to apples - as Elevate rewards apply in every cabin and fare class – with no blackout dates or restrictions.  The value of our points are consistently worth twice as much (and sometimes more) than many legacy frequent flyer programs, given the reality of legacy airline redemption restrictions.” She also provided the following chart to help explain:

So what do you think, folks? Would you convert your Amex points into Virgin Elevate points…or not?

Tax holiday on airline tickets. Act fast. (UPDATED)

UPDATE Sunday 7:45am: AP reports all airlines except Alaska, Frontier and Virgin America have raised fares. Only those travelers who acted fast were able to take advantage of the short term discount mentioned below. http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Airlines-are-taking-savings-apf-1533581816.html?x=0&.v=8


Original post from Saturday morning: Due to the budget stalemate in Washington, airlines stopped collecting some federal taxes on airline tickets at 12:01 Saturday morning.

This means that most airline tickets bought from now until there’s a budget agreement in Washington will not be subject to the 7.5% federal excise tax, the $3.50 segment fee, or the $16.30 international departure tax.

For example, travelers booking now will get a savings of $37 on a typical $400 domestic fare.

The higher the fare, the more you save on the federal excise tax. So, let’s say you need to take a quick trip to New York next week and the last minute fare is $1000 round trip- you’ll save $82 on that fare.

While airlines may be price matching soon or already — just raising fares to make up the difference and pocket the windfall- a Virgin America spokesperson confirmed that Virgin has embraced the stalemate, reducing its fares and encouraging travelers via its web site and social media channels to grab a tax-free seat now and “Evade Taxes. Take Flight.”

Alaska Airlines told the Seattle Times that it is not collecting the tax and its customers would save about 14% on ticket prices as a result.

However, a spokesman for Southwest and AirTran said that the carriers have raised roundtrip fares $8 “to offset industry cost pressures.” That means that ticket prices today will be more or less the same as they were yesterday. Also, the Washington Post reports that American and US Airways have raised fares to offset any tax savings. UPDATE: 8:30 pm Saturday- United and Delta have matched the fare increase which it had held off on doing until now. American and US Airways have also raised fares to offset any tax savings.

So if you’ve been sitting on a fence about a fare, now might be a good time to go ahead and bite the bullet- at least on Alaska, Delta, United and Virgin America. But keep an eye on this…as always fares are subject to change!

Fall Travel Sales Begin- Act Fast

(Photo: Flickr / Telstar

If steep fares are keeping you grounded this summer, there’s relief in sight.

Southwest Airlines kicked off a big sale for fall travel with fares significantly lower than what we are paying this summer. If you have firm plans to travel this fall, The BAT recommends that you take advantage of this sale.

Systemwide fares are based on mileage and priced at $40, $80 or $120 each way.

Sample fares for travel between August 23 through November 16 from SFO or OAK. (Fridays and Sundays and Labor Day-Sept 1-5-  are blacked out.)

> LA, San Diego, So Cal: $40 each way; $80 round trip

>Denver or Phoenix: $80 each way; $160 round trip

>Chicago-Midway: $120 each way; $240 round trip

What’s most interesting about this sale is that it includes Southwest’s new subsidiary, AirTran.

>Nonstop SFO to Atlanta or Milwaukee, and then beyond: $120 each way; $240 round trip (That’s dirt cheap for east coast flights!)

If these fares sound good to you (and they should!) you must act fast: The sale is only good between now and 11:59 pm Thursday.

Although they have not formally announced a sale matching Southwest yet, when searching for fares on Virgin America or United, you will find those that match Southwest’s (in markets where they compete nonstop.)

Please forward this link to your friends and tell them to sign up for The BAT! www.thebat-sf.com

So long QANTAS. Last SFO flight departs Saturday

QANTAS 747-400 parked at SFO. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

QANTAS 747-400 parked at SFO. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

QANTAS will depart San Francisco International for Sydney for the last time tomorrow night, Saturday May 7. The flight departs at 11:10 pm.

QANTAS is moving the daily nonstop flight to Dallas/Ft Worth where it has close ties with Oneworld partner, American Airlines.

With QANTAS out of the SFO-SYD market, only United will offer nonstops on the route. One stop options from SFO include Air New Zealand via Auckland, or QANTAS via Los Angeles. I’m wondering if perhaps the newly named Virgin Australia may consider adding nonstops from Sydney to connect with SFO-based Virgin America. Stay tuned for more on that…

I’ll sure miss seeing that graceful kangaroo on the big red tail of the QANTAS 747 parked at SFO’s international terminal.

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SFO officials are sad to see it go, too. “We are sorry to see them go and we would warmly welcome back QANTAS in the future,” said airport spokesperson Mike McCarron.

I’ve been unable to get QANTAS officials in Los Angeles to make any sort of statement about its departure. SFO says that no formal farewell is planned.

So I guess the big Aussie bird will go quietly into the night tomorrow. A sad sight indeed.

How do YOU feel about QANTAS’ departure? Please leave your comments below!

US, others ease Japan travel restrictions

Cherry blossoms at night. Photo from my trip to Tokyo this time last year. (Chris McGinnis)

Cherry blossoms at night. Photo from my trip to Tokyo this time last year. (Chris McGinnis)

While the situation in northern Japan is still facing numerous challenges, life in the rest of Japan is returning to normal faster than most would have expected.

As a result, the U.S. State Department and other countries’ foreign offices are adjusting previous advice to defer all trips to Japan, according to BBC.com/travel

For example, as of this morning, the US State Department advises citizens to defer non-essential trips to Tokyo and defer all travel to the evacuation zone around Fukushima. But it’s given the green light to travel elsewhere in Japan.