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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.)

What do you think about new car-sharing options for airport transfers?

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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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How we use inflight wi-fi [Infographic]

Locations of Gogo's ground based antenna beaming wifi to planes (Chris McGinnis)

Locations of Gogo’s ground based antenna beaming wifi to planes (Chris McGinnis)

Bay Area Travelers (BATs) are lucky. Since the area’s technocratic elite demand wi-fi access on planes, most airlines offer the service on flights to/from Bay Area airports. Hometown carrier Virgin America offers it on all flights. Delta, the third largest carrier at SFO offers it on all domestic flights. United and American offer it on all their flights between SFO and New York JFK- but it’s hit or miss on other flights.

Southwest now has wi-fi on 75% of its fleet. United says that it should have 300 wi-fi equipped aircraft by the end of this year. JetBlue is talking about adding a newer, faster version of satellite based wi-fi and offering it for free to all passengers.

This week Gogo, the major purveyor of inflight wi-fi produced some interesting numbers around how we use their service- see below for an interesting infographic.

RELATED: Gogo to upgrade inflight wi-fi capacity. 

From Gogo:

When it comes to staying connected at 36,000 feet, tablets and smartphones now make up a whopping 67% of the devices being used to connect to Gogo. Tablets are the most preferred device at 35%, followed closely by laptops (33%) and smartphones (32%).

Apple devices are still reigning above the clouds, following the tablet trend with the iPad being the device of choice. Among all mobile devices being used to connect through Gogo, 84 percent carry Apple’s iOS operating system while 16 percent carry the Android operating system. If you look only at the smartphones our customers are using, the iPhone makes up 73 percent and all Android devices make up 26 percent, with Blackberry and Windows based devices each making up less than 1 percent of devices being used in air.

So, what are our passengers doing once they connect at 30,000 feet? It’s no surprise that general Web surfing ranked as the number one in air, online activity users want to do. Besides Web surfing, passengers spend their time in flight accessing personal email, engaging in social media, checking sports scores and shopping. Business travelers ranked accessing their work email and finalizing reports as the most frequent activity above the clouds. Passengers also utilize Gogo to explore their final destination’s weather, entertainment options and directions upon their arrival.

13GO_005_2013Infographic_v5 (2)

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

 

 

Delta & Virgin like ice cream & hot fudge

(Photo: Mike Turner / Flickr)

When news broke over the weekend about the possibility of Delta Air Lines buying a large stake in Virgin Atlantic, I knew I had to get the opinion of Henry Harteveldt, co-founder of The Atmosphere Research Group, and one of the smartest people I know when it comes to the airline biz. Read through his analysis and see how such a deal could affect the fate of San Francisco-based Virgin America

Here’s his take… please read it and let us know how YOU feel about the possibility of a Delta-Virgin tie up- or the possibility of Virgin America joining a global alliance like SkyTeam.

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Atmosphere Research Group co-Founder Henry Harteveldt

This will be one of the best pairings since ice cream and hot fudge.

Delta and Virgin Atlantic have cooperated in the past (the two had a limited code share relationship in the 1990s). Virgin Atlantic will bring both Delta and all of SkyTeam access to London– one of the most important business markets in Europe. Delta, in turn, can help generate more feed for Virgin’s flights through its JFK hub. Importantly, I think both airlines have similar, “customer first” cultures. I think Virgin Atlantic would find itself more welcome and able to have more influence in the SkyTeam alliance, which is smaller than Star Alliance.

For this deal to truly work, the two will need to secure the ability to enter into an antitrust-immunized joint venture or joint business agreement. A joint venture or joint business agreement will give the two airlines the ability to align their flights and fares, while pooling both revenues and expenses. These are common, especially between US and European airlines (American Airlines and BA have a joint business agreement).Delta and Virgin Atlantic have cooperated in the past (the two had a limited code share relationship in the 1990s). Virgin Atlantic will bring both Delta and all of SkyTeam access to London- one of the most important business markets in Europe. Delta, in turn, can help generate more feed for Virgin’s flights through its JFK hub. Importantly, I think both airlines have similar, “customer first” cultures. I think Virgin Atlantic would find itself more welcome and able to have more influence in the SkyTeam alliance, which is smaller than Star Alliance.

This won’t be an easy deal to accomplish. It will have to obtain regulatory approval in both the UK and US. A key part of a deal’s success will hinge on making sure that Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Group work to facilitate a Virgin Atlantic-Delta deal. Partnering with Delta and joining an airline alliance will take Virgin Atlantic in a very different direction compared to its present state.

It’s unclear what impact, if any, this will have on Virgin America. Virgin America is an independent business unit. It doesn’t rely on Virgin Atlantic for a substantial amount of its passenger feed. It would be interesting to see if Delta will invite Virgin America to join SkyTeam, either as a full or affiliate member. A Delta-Virgin America partnership could be beneficial to Bay Area and Los Angeles Basin travelers and businesses, and enable SkyTeam to offer stronger competition in both the Bay Area and Los Angeles region.

Thank you, Henry! - cjm

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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.

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United revamps popular PS flights to New York

The new United PS business class seat will be identical to Continental BusinessFirst seat pictured here. (Photo: United Airlines)

United’s super-popular “Premium Service” (PS) flights on the business-travel-heavy route between SFO and New York-JFK (as well as LAX-JFK) are about to undergo a radical re-do. To me this is great news because the current PS interiors have been tatty and worn out for a while…

Last week United revealed details of the new PS to The BAT, so here’s what you need to know:

>Reconfiguration of all 13 United Boeing 757s offering PS service will begin this October and should be complete by summer of 2013. All seats, walls, floors, bins, lavatories and galleys will be replaced, so they will feel like brand new planes. (No word yet on when you will actually be able to book a new PS flight.)

>The reconfigured aircraft will have business class, Economy Plus (EP) and standard economy seats.

>There will be no first class seatson the new PS aircraft. (Currently, there are 12.)

United’s current PS business class seat. (Photo: United Airlines)

>Reconfigured aircraft will have 28 true-lie-flat business class seats, up from the current 26 cradle-style seats. The new business class PS seat will be the same as Continental’s flatbed BusinessFirst seat on its internationally configured 757s. (See photo above) United says it will call this class of service United BusinessFirst.”

>Each business class seat will have an individual 16-inch video monitor connected to and audio-video on-demand (AVOD) system, a three prong universal 110v electrical outlet and USB port. (No more Dig-E-Players!)

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>In-flight service in business class will be the same—you’ll still get pre-flight cocktails, warm nuts, and two hot towels. (There will still be the peachy Bellinis and other featured cocktails served.)

>There will be 48 Economy Plus seats on the new PS flights, down from 72 in the old version. The downside is that there are fewer EP seats, but the upside is that EP seat pitch on the new PS flights will be 36 inches. (Current PS flights have 34 inches between each coach seat. And as we all know, two inches can make a big difference!)

>There will be 66 standard economy seats on the new PS flights with 31-32 inches of pitch—current PS flights offer EP only.

>Both EP and standard economy seats will have individual 9-inch seatback video screens with access to the AVOD system. (No more fuzzy overhead screens!)

>All PS flights will be getting an upgraded Gogo in-flight wi-fi system that a spokesman said should be faster (9.8 Mbps, up from the current 3.1) and better able to meet the high demand on these flights.

Mock up of American’s “Transcontinental Series” business class seat. (Photo: American Airlines)

>On the competitive front, American has announced that starting in late 2013 it will dump its current 767’s flying between SFO and JFK and replace them with much smaller, but specially outfitted, stretch versions of the Airbus A321 with first, business, Main cabin Extra and standard coach seats. Delta and Virgin America offer the same first class Recaro seat on the route, and have not made or announced any recent changes. (Here’s our post and video about a recent Delta Business Elite flight to JFK.)

How do YOU like to fly to New York? Are you pleased with the changes coming to United’s PS flights? Are these changes a net gain or loss for BATs - Bay Area Travelers? Please leave your comments below.

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Welcome new readers! If this information was helpful to you, please subscribe to The BAT via e-mail- and tell your friends about it, too!

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Want to sit next to a millionaire? Then fly Delta

I get the same feeling writing about this topic as I did when I wrote about the opening of the new Penthouse Club in San Francisco: a little dirty.

But sex and money sell well when it comes to frequent travel, so here goes.

According to a survey by the website SeekingArrangement.com, you have the best chance of meeting a millionaire when flying on Delta Air Lines. The most generous millionaires fly American. The highest-net-worth millionaires fly United, and the cheapest millionaires fly Southwest.

The survey further reveals that 74% of wealthy men frequent airline lounges, 78% are top tier elite level members of airline frequent flyer programs, and 83% fly business class frequently.

Delta declined to comment to The BAT on the survey results.

The website says that that 50,000 millionaires participated via a survey engine built into its website. (According to the Wall Street Journal, there are about three million millionaires in the US.)

SeekingArrangement.com CEO Brandon Wade on TODAY

“Besides an online dating website, traveling by air is one of the easiest ways to meet a rich boyfriend or sugar daddy,” said a press release announcing survey results. (There’s no mention, I might add, of those seeking rich girlfriends or sugar mammas.)

I have to admit I was skeptical when I first read this press release, so I contacted the site’s CEO, Brandon Wade, and asked how he got 50,000 millionaires to participate. He said, “When members who fall into the demographic we are trying to poll log into the site, they are asked to provide us answers to a number of short questions relating to a subject.” The average net worth of those participating in this survey ranged from $3 million to $5 million.

Wade, billed as a “serial online dating entrepreneur” on the press release, says that he started SeekingArrangements.com in San Francisco in 2006, but has since moved operations to Las Vegas (natch!). The website claims to have 1.5 million members worldwide.

The site has a Google rank of 5. Compete.com shows that it gets about 100K unique visits per month.  (Wade frequently appears as an online dating expert on national television and news shows….see his personal website here.)

So what do you think? Is the airplane cabin a happy hunting ground for gold diggers? Or is it a place to find true love? Please leave your comments below.

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Gorgeous optical illusion in Muni tunnel

Thinking about a Rocky Mountain getaway… or an extension of a business trip to Salt Lake City? Then check out this unusual “wrapped” tunnel at SF Muni’s Montgomery Street Station that depicts Utah’s gorgeous Delicate Arch. Or see the video above! Nice job! Does it make you wanna go? During summer, Delta frequently offers lots of very cheap last minute deals between SFO and its hub at SLC. So if this video has got you inspired, keep an eye out for them.