Summer business class sale beckons bargain hunters

Lufthansa's A380 flying SFO-FRA has a whopping 98 business class seats

Economy class round trips between SFO and Europe during peak summer travel season (July/August) are now approaching $1,500 round trip- and will continue to creep up to near the $2,000 mark over the next few months.

However, airlines have a tough time selling those big business class seats on transatlantic flights because a lot of business travelers are on vacation during July and August. Due to the drop in demand for business class during summer, airlines are dropping prices- from the standard $6,000-$8,000 round trip to as little as $2,250 round trip.


For example, Lufthansa’s round-trip, all-in business class fares from SFO range from $2,250 to $3,500 depending on your final destination. (See chart below.) You must book your trip by May 31 for trips beginning June 29 and ending before September 1.

These fares are good on Lufthansa as well as its Star Alliance partners Air Canada, Swiss or United. United has matched Lufthansa’s business class sale. So have SkyTeam airlines such as Delta, KLM and Air France. Virgin Atlantic has joined in the fun. However British Airways does not appear to be joining in on the sale at this time.

Lufthansa fares from SFO:

With fares that low for business class…would you pay the premium for a big seat up front?

Spring-Summer fare sales creep out

Virgin America's new San Francisco Giants bearded livery. Thoughts?

Some good news for travelers… but not such great news for the economy today…

Typically summer fare sales don’t start until AFTER Easter. But this week, and in the weeks leading up to it, we’ve seen airlines kicking off the summer fare sale season a little bit early.

That’s good news for travelers worried that high oil prices that could translate into higher ticket prices, which could put a crimp in their summer vacation plans.

But when airlines put fares on sale early, it’s a signal to me that advance bookings for the summer might be a little weak. To me, this means that consumer confidence is still waning as travelers take a “wait and see” approach to summer vacation.

For the most part, spring and summer fare sales so far have been fairly restrictive- for example, many require travel on slow days like Tuesdays or Wednesdays in order to get the lowest fares. Most sales only last for a few days. Plus, I’ve not seen too many sale fares that go deep into peak summer travel season- most up to this point have been good for trips into mid-June only. A quick scan of peak (July-August) fares still shows a few eye-poppers- with no sales so far during the summer peak.

Here are the details on the current crop of early summer fare sales- they are led by low fare carriers, but majors are matching these deals, too. (All sample fares below are for roundtrips and include all taxes and fees. These fares were available when I checked on the morning of April 3, but are subject to selling out.)


VIRGIN AMERICA: In honor of its partnership with the San Francisco Giants and the newest member of its fleet taking to the skies this week (see the Giants-inspired “Fly Bye Baby” bearded aircraft above), Virgin America launched a “#flythebeard” fare sale. Sample roundtrip fares for travel through June 13 are: $160 to Las Vegas, Los Angeles or San Diego or $280 round trip to New York. A special introductory fare of $218 to Portland is good for flights from June 5 through Oct 17. Sale expires April 5. Details.

JETBLUE has a great one-day sale that expires tonight at midnight tonight, but you can fly all the way through June 20. Not available on Fridays or Sundays. Sample sale fares from SFO: Long Beach $100. Austin $200; New York JFK $240 or to Boston or Ft Lauderdale for $280. Details

UNITED is offering round flights to Seattle for just $200; Austin for $249; Denver $278; Dallas Ft Worth or Newark for $320. Details.

SOUTHWEST is offering a 24-hour sale for flights to/from Chicago Midway. From SFO, you can fly for $287.50 round trip on Tuesdays or Wednesdays or Saturdays through May 23. Details

Are these fares low enough to spur you into action, or are you going to wait and see what else might come along? Please leave your comments below!

 

4 fabulous new 5-star hotels in London worth checking into

The view across the Thames from London's new Corinthia Hotel-- that pointy building surrounded by cranes in the background is The Shard, Europe's newest, tallest building. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

I love London for many reasons, most of which revolve around my career in the travel biz. To me, the city just feels like the center of the universe, so every time London calls, I answer!

The dynamic London hotel scene is endlessly fascinating. There is always plenty of experimentation, unusual quirks and something new or unusual to check out.

In preparation for the visitor onslaught brought on by they upcoming Summer Olympics, I recently took off across the pond for a peek at the London hotel scene, and found four fabulous new (or newly renovated) five-star properties worth checking into.

Even if you can’t spend the night, it’s worth stopping by their lively lobbies to have a drink and a gawk at the cool design, have a meal or just to sit and enjoy the outstanding people watching.

A two-ton, LED illuminated Baccarat crystal chandelier sparkles in the lobby of London's brand new Corinthia Hotel (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Corinthia Hotel London:

Wow! London’s not seen a stunner like this since the much anticipated re-opening of Fairmont’s Savoy Hotel in 2010. Just walking into the big, bright and airy lobby takes your breath away.

This magnificent 294-room newcomer is housed in a gorgeous, historic Victorian-era building that’s been so deeply renovated that it feels brand new. There’s none of the creaky floors, noisy plumbing or mustiness found in some of the capital’s finest grand dames. Rooms are modern, clean, and very big by London standards.

But it’s the big, bright, and buzzy lobby that really wowed me. In the center of the space is a soaring dome adorned with a giant, two-ton, globe-shaped Baccarat crystal chandelier composed of 1,001 grapefruit-sized crystal baubles—each illuminated from within with a tiny white LED light. Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, it’s worth walking through the lobby just to see this gorgeous work. While you are at it, pop in for a meal at one of the hotel’s two popular restaurants, The Northall (traditional British fare with a fresh twist) or Massimo’s (Italian seafood).

The Corinthia also earns high marks from business travelers because it’s one of the few five-star London hotels that include high-speed wi-fi in the nightly rate. Another big selling point for Americans is its liberal no-restrictions check-in and check-out policy—if you are arriving on an early morning flight, just let the hotel know beforehand, and your room will be ready when you arrive—no interminable wait in the lobby while your room is made up

The imposing, yellow sandstone building in Whitehall previously housed Britain’s Ministry of Defense. Malta-based Corinthia Hotels reportedly bought the building and restored it to the tune of about $550 million. Construction began in 2008, and the hotel opened in April 2011. See www.corinthia.com/London

 

Hipster doormen in rolled jeans and flannels set the scene at London's new bohemian chic Belgraves hotel

Belgraves

If your business is showbiz, fashion, tech, PR or advertising, the brand new Belgraves hotel is custom-made just for you. It’s the first British outpost of the popular NYC-based Thompson Hotels Group (which recently merged with SF-base Joie de Vivre hotels), and inserts a bit bohemian Americana to its buttoned-up Belgravia neighborhood near Sloane Square. The 85-room hotel, which opened on February 1, is located in the shell of the old Sheraton Belgravia hotel—but there’s nothing Sheraton about this place anymore.

American touches abound- Check out the jeans-and-flannel-clad hipster doormen, or the US flag art behind the front desk. The mid-century modern furnishings in the cozy lobby conversation nooks are straight out of Mad Men.

Comfy-mod rooms have smallish bay windows with plush jewel-toned velvet love seats, and big bright marble bathrooms with tubs that overlook a leafy square across the street. Nice touch: Bedside docking stations can accommodate either an iPad or iPhone. See http://www.thompsonhotels.com/hotels/london/belgraves

Spectacular city views from the glass-walled 10th floor spa atop London's recently renovated Four Seasons Park Lane Hotel. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Four Seasons Park Lane

The Four Seasons on Park Lane oozes opulence as soon as you step out of your black London taxi in the porte cochere. Handsome doormen in knee length brown jackets and snappy English Trilby hats greet you by name (by sneaking a look at the tag on your bag). Well-heeled guests in finely tailored suits, Italian shoes and horn rimmed specs float through the lobby on their way to their rooms or to the hotel’s popular Amaranto restaurant.

Originally built in 1970, the hotel closed in 2008 for a complete makeover, and re-opened in January 2011. The sumptuous lobby is now bathed in sexy white streaked Italian black marble and mahogany paneling, trimmed in red leather and spritzed with hundreds of white orchids.

Room design is mostly masculine—reds, browns and wood paneling. Black leather covered desks. Light brown and orange wool tartan curtains, big walk in closets. There are even 32 rooms with working fireplaces.

During the recent re-do, the nine story, 217-room hotel got a tenth floor—housing a gorgeous light and airy spa, gym with views across Mayfair to the London Eye, the new Shard and the City. This aerie also serves as a day lounge where early arriving guests can set up shop while waiting for their rooms.

Nice: The hotel also has two big black Rolls-Royces on hand to shuttle guests to points within central London. See www.fourseasons.com/london/ Note: There are two Four Seasons in London—the other is located in Canary Wharf on the city’s eastern edge.

Gothic architecture looms over London's fab new Renaissance St Pancras hotel (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Renaissance St Pancras

When my cab pulled up to the front of this north-central London hotel, I felt like I was arriving at Hogwarts with its ominous clock tower, gothic arches, spires, red brick and wrought iron. The hotel is actually part of the London St Pancras International train station, built over 150 years ago, but redeveloped in the last decade.

The old hotel part of the station had fallen into disrepair, and was nearly demolished when developers swooped in and returned the space to its former glory as a very unique luxury hotel—unlike any Marriott-branded hotel I’ve ever stayed in.

For instance, developers transformed the station’s old iron and glass porte cochere into a lively, bright lobby area. The adjacent ticketing office is now a warm and clubby lobby restaurant and bar—packed with locals as well as passengers waiting to board the Eurostar trains that depart St Pancras for Paris or Brussels.

In addition to historic (and more expensive) “chambers” rooms in the old building, a modern Marriott-style 200-room wing was added out back— not as unique, but probably better suited for business travelers who prefer to spend most of their free time in public spaces and work in their rooms. See http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/lonpr-st-pancras-renaissance-london-hotel

Disclosure: McGinnis was a guest of the house at some of the hotels mentioned in this post.

Virgin America to Portland, OR; maybe Washington DC National

(Photo: Drewski2112 / Flickr)

Lots of interesting news coming out of hometown carrier Virgin America this week…

First, the carrier has announced new flights to Portland, Oregon starting on June 5. Introductory fares are just $198 round trip including all taxes and fees- not bad! However, there’s just a single daily roundtrip for now.

Second, Virgin (along with nearly every other low-fare carrier) has filed with the US Dept of Transportation for rights to fly into Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)- the district’s preferred, close-in airport compared to Washington-Dulles which is located in the far northern suburbs in Virginia at least 45 minutes by cab or car from the city.

The carrier is asking for the right to serve SFO-DCA with two daily nonstops in each direction. Flights would depart SFO at 8:25 am and 5:15 pm, and return from DCA at 9:05 am and 1:35 pm.

In a Virgin America press release, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom expressed support for Virgin, saying, “California and the Bay Area in particular have suffered with no nonstop DCA flights – and one of the most populous and economically important regions in the nation deserves better.” (If Virgin gets the right to fly right into the beating heart of the American political scene, Newsom will likely be one of its best customers.)

Other politicos and heavy hitters from organizations such as The Bay Area Council, San Francisco Travel, The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group also weighed in with their support of Virgin’s efforts to score the right to serve DCA nonstop from SFO.

(HEY! Are you following Chris on Twitter or Facebook? Come on and join in!)

As I wrote in The BAT last week, United Airlines is now selling new flights into Washington National starting this May. In order to get one of the tightly controlled landing slots at DCA, it had to dump one of its nonstops from Chicago O’Hare. (When I performed a random check for midweek roundtrips in June, United.com quoted $585 roundtrip SFO-DCA.)

Is United melting down?

photo credit: Flickr / PDX.rollingthunder

As most frequent flyers in the Bay Area know by now, United undertook the massive job of “cutting over” to a new reservations system last week.

While United has been putting a good spin on how well the process is going, I’m hearing from readers and reading online reports that things are still a bit bumpy.

The timing is unfortunate because this week is the beginning of the peak spring break travel season when frequent travelers have to share their precious space at airports and on airplanes with marauding crowds of rowdy college students.

Here’s the latest from United, which hints at some issues:

United and Continental recently migrated to a single passenger service system.  This was the single largest technology conversion in aviation history, and the vast majority of our systems are functioning as planned. After the conversion, we have had dependable airline operations and good on-time performance. However, we have had some technical issues that have affected our customers, as would be expected with a very complex systems change. We have already solved many of them and are working to rapidly solve the remaining issues.

You may have a longer wait time to reach our phone-contact centers and we are working to reduce the time it takes for you to reach us.  We have increased staff at our contact centers to serve you better.  We apologize if you have had difficulty with your travel planning, and we are grateful for your patience.

We have been rapidly identifying technical issues and improving the performance and functionality of our systems.  We will be making even more progress in the days ahead.

I called United’s toll free number on Monday morning (Mar 12), and was told that my wait time would be 35 minutes.

Business travel writer Joe Brancatelli opines that bad weather in United hubs is magnifying the issue for travelers trying to get around or out from under flight delays or cancellations are spending hours on hold- or being told to call back. NOTE: Meteorologists are forecasting a week of foul weather here in the Bay Area that is sure to affect on time performance at SFO, OAK and SJC.

Blogger Gary Leff says that non-elite travelers are having a tougher time than elites when it comes to getting through on the phone to United. He suggests that travelers phone Australian call centers instead, which are not experiencing the same overloads.

A reader on Leff’s blog suggests an interesting new service I’ve never heard of… but sounds like a great idea:

Try using LucyPhone.com. It’ll let you initiate the call and then hang up and it will play a pre-recorded message (by you) to the agent who answers the phone while it calls you back. No more waiting on hold!!

The Houston Chronicle reports massive delays, long lines and frustrations over the weekend at United’s Houston Intercontinental hub- but reported that delays are more likely due to the peak collegiate spring break crowds (combined with bad weather) than the cutover.

So let’s hear it from the Bay Area! How’s it been going on your United flights over the last week? Is the situation getting better or worse? Please leave you comments below.

The 8 best beds on a Boeing 777 (Video)

Last week I had the chance to ride on one of Cathay Pacific’s brand new Boeing 777-300ERs from the factory in Seattle to Hong Kong.

This was a “delivery flight” from Boeing to Cathay Pacific, so there were only about 80 passengers on a jumbo jet that can carry about 350. While the seats and service were fine, I was curious to see the large crew rest area on this plane.

Since long-range aircraft like the Boeing 777 can fly nonstop for 16-18 hours, airlines are required to offer rest areas for inflight crews who work on shifts. On this plane, the rest area is located above the economy class section at the rear of the plane. It’s accessed via a non-descript door in the galley area. There’s another rest area (which I did not see) for pilots at the front of the plane.

Come on along and have a look- it might be the only time you’ll ever see a crew rest area since visits by passengers on regularly scheduled flights are forbidden.

(Chris McGinnis publishes The BAT and The TICKET blogs for frequent travelers.  Do you have comments or questions about this post? Email Chris.)

Traveler beware: United’s big “cutover” starts this weekend

If you are flying United Airlines this weekend or in coming weeks, it’s time to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. That’s because this weekend United will undertake one of the toughest parts of its integration process with Continental: The Cutover.

In the wee hours of the early morning on Saturday, March 3, Continental’s reservations system and frequent flyer program will combine with United’s, and both will switch to a new electronic platform.

While everyone hopes everything will go smoothly during the transition, history has not been kind to airlines undertaking such major changes. Remember when Virgin America cut over  to a new system last fall…. resulting in massive mix ups, lost upgrades, inability to manipulate online reservations or check in, and hours (and hours) spent on hold?  Keep in mind that Virgin America is teensy tiny compared to United, which is now the world’s largest airline. On the other hand, when Delta and Northwest cut over in 2010, the process proceeded smoothly.

Things could go swimmingly, or things could go horribly wrong…very wrong. The best advice for now is to plan ahead. Get to the airport early. Print hard copies of your itinerary, boarding passes, upgrade confirmations, etc and be sure you have “record locator numbers” handy at all times.

Also, keep an eye out on frequent flyer bulletin boards such as Milepoint or FlyerTalk- both of which have published the following missive from United. If problems develop, you’ll hear about them first on these sites- from either United or its frequent travelers. You can also expect to see plenty of action on United’s twitter page @United.

If you are traveling on United or Continental this weekend, good luck! If you encounter any problems or issues…or even if you find smooth sailing, leave your comments below to let fellow travelers know what to expect.

Here’s what United is saying as of Thursday evening, March 1:

Hi Everyone, as you know, we are making final preparations to migrate our two airlines into one reservation platform (Passenger Service System, or PSS) on March 3rd. There are a lot of changes coming on this day – we’re going to have a single loyalty program, a single set of policies and a single system.

This master thread will hopefully serve as a singular resource for:

Answering your questions about the conversion. There are already many threads with questions about this change. We posted some initial tips last week, and there’s more to come. We will do our best to keep track of your questions and answer them here.

Keeping you updated before during and after. Starting tomorrow, we will be here 24/7 through the weekend and will be tracking issues that you report. Specific examples of issues are appreciated, and you’re welcome to post them here or send them to us via PM.

What to know in advance

We won’t be able to serve you online or over the phone for a couple hours. Specifically, starting at 1 a.m. U.S. Central Time, online check-in, united.com, our mobile applications and our contact centers will not be available for approximately 3 to 4 hours.

Some capabilities will not resume immediately. As we begin to bring systems back online, updates to some features may still be in progress and not immediately available. We’ve started a list of known items below.

Tips if you’re traveling March 3rd. If you are unable to print your boarding pass in advance, or if you have bags to check, please allow extra time at the airport. Also, all flights that were scheduled to operate as Continental Airlines (CO) will be operating as United Airlines (UA) so, be sure to check united.com (once we’re back up) or monitors at the airport for correct terminal and gate information.

MileagePlus Account Experiences

Combined balances may not display right away. If you check your MileagePlus account balance right away, you may find that your 11-digit and 8-character account balances do not display your combined balance (even if you’ve linked your accounts) right away. The process of combining balances will begin once our systems come back online and we’ll process these by status. Many accounts will be combined in the first couple days. If you log in and find your account balance has not been combined, the action of logging in will trigger the process which should then complete within a day or two.

Worth noting: If you would like to book award travel before your full mileage balance displays, you can reserve your flights on united.com and choose to hold your itinerary free for up to 72 hours with our FareLock option.

Most, but not all, profile information will be carried forward from the former united.com. For those of you who have credit card information stored in your united.com profile, this data will not be migrated to the new platform for security reasons. When you log into your account for the first time, please confirm your profile details, email subscriptions and Flight Status Notification options.

Status for Million Miler companions will not be updated until mid-March. Status for Million Miler companions that were designated on the subsidiary United system, will take up to two weeks to reflect. Once the status is updated, new credentials will be mailed to the member.

As always, thank you for your feedback and support as we take this important step toward becoming United.

Shannon Kelly
Director, Customer Insights
United Airlines

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.

Two stunning new airline lounges at SFO (Photos)

Gorgeous white marble and backlit Fabbian glass tiles make for a dramatic entrance at Cathay Pacific's new SFO lounge.

International business and first class travelers departing for Hong Kong, Dubai or beyond can now cool their heels while awaiting flights at two gorgeous new lounges at SFO. These perches are so plush that passengers may want to get to the airport early just to enjoy the surroundings and get a great pre-flight meal.

In December, Cathay Pacific and Emirates opened new lounges at SFO’s international terminal. Both invited me out last month for a look around, and allowed me to take photos to share with readers.

The gorgeous 5,500 sq ft Cathay Pacific lounge is located up an escalator just beyond the security screening area near most other airline lounges on south (A) side of the International Terminal. Prior to the opening of this lounge, Cathay Pacific passengers used facilities offered by Oneworld partner British Airways. Now they have a lounge all to themselves. The lounge’s minimalist design is based on Cathay’s flagship lounges at Hong Kong International- materials such as white italian marble, bamboo paneling and Fabbian crystal are the same. Another similarity: the chef-staffed noodle bar!

The Emirates lounge is located about halfway down SFO’s south side international terminal corridor on the left hand side. First, business and Skywards elite passengers enter and check in, then descend into the enormous 9,500 sq. ft. lounge  located one floor down- with direct access to the waiting B777- there is no need to exit the lounge to board the plane. Again, the design of this club should be familiar to Emirates flyers- the rich contemporary look (wood, leather, brass, earth tones, sprays of fresh flowers and plants) is nearly identical to Emirates’ 25 lounges in Dubai and around the world. Similar to the carrier’s main hub lounges in Dubai, passengers are tempted by a visually stunning, seemingly limitless smorgasbord of dining options designed to appeal to western, Indian, Asian and Arab palates. There’s even a Muslim prayer room- with it’s own foot-washing station.

Let’s go take a look! Cathay first:

The big, bright Cathay lounge is open from 7:45 am until 11:50 am, and then again from 8:05 pm until midnight.

The unique and popular Cathay Solus Chair is a specially built unit offering a private space to eat, work and relax.

Cathay's signature fresh noodle bar turns out the perfect pre-flight comfort food-- made to order. There is also a wide variety of hot and cold Western and Asian dishes at the self-service counter

Plenty of space to spread out and work or chill, bathed in natural light

There are three unusually large shower suites, sheathed in marble and other unusual finishes like this white river stone tile.

A large carrera marble communal table in the dining area.

Cathay offers two flights per day from SFO to Hong Kong-- noon and midnight. SFO-HKG nonstops last about 14 hours.

Now, let’s walk on down to the Emirates lounge….

Emirates passengers check in here, then descend to the lounge. It opens at noon and closes once all passengers have boarded for the 3:45 pm departure to Dubai (15.5 hours away!)

The enormous, light-filled lounge is filled with cozy seating nooks like this. Floor to ceiling windows look out onto the ramp and the waiting Emirates B777.

There are several of Emirates signature Rolex wall clocks throughout the lounge.

A private prayer room.

This is the foot washing station adjacent to the prayer room.

Passengers get restaurant-style service at the largest private dining room at SFO.

Foodies will delight in the array of gorgeous hot and cold options-- all labeled.

Vegetarian options abound to appeal many travelers who travel through Dubai to get to India.

Passengers can even get a steak! There's also a full bar, a fine wine selection, including champagne.

Nice touch: Free wi-fi throughout the lounge. There is also a business center with several internet connected PCs.

CLEAR card makes comeback at SFO

A traveler uses the CLEAR kiosk at Orlando International (Photo: CLEAR)

Remember the CLEAR card and those CLEAR lanes at SFO? The service that allowed travelers submitting biometric information and paying $179 per year to bypass regular security lines and get to their gates faster? (The original company folded in 2009.)

Well guess what? A new iteration of CLEAR has been functioning at Denver and Orlando airports since 2010, and it will soon make a return to all terminals at San Francisco International.

According to a company spokesperson, the San Francisco Airport Commission has approved a new lease, although there is not yet a firm date when CLEAR lanes will open at SFO. The spokesperson estimated it could take 2-3 months.

What’s best about CLEAR is that it makes the airport security process a lot more predictable—members know for certain that they’ll get through security checkpoints in just a few minutes. The downside (for now) is that the new company is currently operating in only Denver and Orlando airports—SFO will be the third. CLEAR says that it’s got other airports in the pipeline for opening later this year, but it will not name names at this point.

Is CLEAR as necessary as it once was? Over the last year, unexpectedly long lines at airport security at SFO have rarely tripped me up. Travelers and the TSA seem to have gotten the process down to a science. But there is the occasional scare when entering United’s Terminal 3 and seeing a queue (even the special one for premium or elite level travelers) snaking beyond the roped off area.

When it shut down in 2009, CLEAR was operating at all three Bay Area airports and had 40,000 members in the region. CLEAR is honoring membership from all prior members—click here to reactivate. New members can join here.

So what do you think, dear frequent travelers? Is it worth $179 to have the peace of mind that you’ll make it through the airport security gauntlet quickly? Please leave your comments below. And stay tuned for an update once the CLEAR lines open at SFO.

(Chris McGinnis publishes The BAT and The TICKET blogs for frequent travelers.  He’s also the Business Travel Columnist for BBC.com. Do you have comments or questions about this post? Email Chris.)

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