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Catching up on Bay Area Travel News (March 3, 2013)

UnitedBizClass

Big seat with a big smile from London to SFO in United Business Class last summer (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

LIE-FLAT SEATS ON UAL. United said this week that 87% of its international fleet now has true lie-flat business class seating, and it should reach 100% lie-flat seats by the end of March—beating out competitors in the race to all-flat biz class. Hooray for that! I think United’s new business class seats are some of the best out there—comfortable, roomy, excellent entertainment, plenty of room (and power) to get work done. What do you think?

IMPROVING ON-TIME PERFORMANCE. After a year of performance issues, United says that it’s improving, especially here by the Bay. As a matter of fact, employees received $100 bonuses when more than 80% of United flights (domestic and international) clocked in on time during February. Among United hubs, Cleveland performed best during February at 87%. SFO came in second at 83%. (So do you credit United… or Mother Nature? In February, we enjoyed record dry, non-foggy conditions in Northern California.)

New configuration for United PS 757's between SFO and JFK.

New configuration for United P.S. 757′s between SFO and JFK.

NEW PS FLIGHTS COMING TO SFO-JFK. After many fits and starts, it now seems that United’s newly configured PS flights may take off from SFO starting in June (at least according to the UAL website—PR is not committing to a date yet). The newly configured 757s will have 28 lie flat business class seats, 48 Economy Plus seats and 66 standard coach seats. The currently shabby-yet-comfortable P.S. 757 fleet offers only Economy Plus seats, which will be a big loss for non-Elite level flyers who’ve enjoyed the extra space at no extra cost.

DOUBLE POINTS ON SOUTHWEST. Sign up for Southwest’s double-tier-qualifying points promo and you’ll get 12 points (vs just six) on its cheapest fares, 20 points on its standard “anytime” fares and 24 points on business select fares. The promo is good for flights all the way through May 15! This is a no brainer, so get registered now.

SAS Airbus A340 (Drewski2112)

SAS Airbus A340 (Drewski2112)

SAS COMING TO SFO. Scandinavian Star Alliance partner SAS kicks off new nonstops between SFO and its main hub at Copenhagen on April 8. The 11-hour-20-minute flight using an Airbus A340 will depart SFO six days a week (not on Tuesdays). It offers angled lie-flat biz class, premium economy and standard economy seats (see map). Current coach fares are as low as $813 round trip in April. To celebrate the arrival of a new carrier, San Francisco International is sponsoring a free ticket sweepstakes on Facebook. Have you flown SAS lately? How was it? Please leave your comments below. 

Amex "black" card.

Amex “black” card.

NEW AMEX “CENTURION” LOUNGE AT LAS. American Express told The BAT that it is “experimenting” with a new airport lounge concept for its super-spendy “black card” or Centurion cardmembers at Las Vegas McCarran Airport. The new Centurion Lounge is located in next to gate D4 in Concourse D (the one that floats between Terminals 1 and 3) used primarily by United, Delta and American. AMEX says that lounge guests enjoy dishes prepared by a celeb chef (like: polenta waffles with pumpkin compote,  or roast chicken with baby potatoes, shallots, and rosemary) and specialty cocktails prepared by a “mixologist.” Guests also enjoy free wi-fi and shower suites. While Centurion cardholders get in for free, any AMEX cardholder can pay a $50 fee to enter. Pay-to-play lounges are becoming de rigueur at McCarran—for example, if you are flying Virgin America (in the new Terminal 3) you can use Club at LAS for a daily fee of just $35. There’s also a Club at LAS in Terminal D.  Which one will you pick?

AIRPORT LOUNGES AT SFO. Speaking of posh lounges, have you been inside the new Emirates or Cathay Pacific lounges at SFO? Your BAT editor Chris McGinnis recently convinced CNN to come out to SFO for an interview and a look inside. Take a watch! The BAT on CNN! How about that? See below!

PLEASE, RECRUIT YOUR FRIENDS. If you like The BAT, would you please tell your friends and colleagues about it? The ONLY way we grow is via word of mouth from happy readers. Like every online publication, we need more eyeballs and appreciate your support.  Here’s something you can copy and paste into an email TODAY!

Have you ever heard about The Bay Area Traveler—The BAT- for frequent travelers? It’s a free local travel blog that I subscribe to. It’s full of helpful news and advice for frequent travelers who live in the Bay Area…just like us. For example, I first learned that PreCheck was coming to SFO, or that Virgin America was matching United Premier status from The BAT. I think it’s definitely something you could use. See “Subscribe” in the upper right margin of the blog, or just sign up right here. Thanks! ADD: *Your signature*

TSA PRECHECK EXPANDS: If you love PreCheck at Terminals 2 and 3 at SFO, you’ll be pleased to know that you can leave your shoes on when passing through security in five more airports: Austin, Memphis, Nashville and Raleigh-Durham. PreCheck is now available at 40 US airports—however, it’s not in every terminal, and it’s still a random selection—you cannot count on getting it.  What’s been your batting average with PreCheck? Please leave your comments below.

-Chris McGinnis

“Ultra low cost” carrier arrives in Bay Area

Spirit Airlines route mapSpirit Airlines route map

Spirit Airlines, which bills itself as “the ultra low cost carrier,” quietly entered the Bay Area this week, with four daily nonstops between Oakland and Las Vegas.

From Vegas, fliers can fly nonstop to its main hub at Ft Lauderdale- and from there connecting to points in Latin America and Caribbean.

Spirit also offers nonstops from Vegas to Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago-O’Hare, Dallas-Ft Worth and San Diego.

While I would normally get excited about new flights from the Bay, I’m filled with trepidation instead. Why? Spirit has a very strong “you-get-what-you-pay-for” reputation. (Disclosure: I have not flown Spirit yet. This is what I’ve heard anecdotally, online review sites and from media reports.)

A quick scan of Spirit’s OAK-LAS fares shows some good deals, but with some caveats. (Note Spirit fares do not show up on travel search engines…you must shop at spirit.com)

During September and October, Spirit is promoting $9 each way, $18 round trips between Oakland and Las Vegas. Sounds great, but you have to pay a $60 fee to join its “club” to get that fare.

Don’t want to join? Then the base fare jumps to $22 round trip.

But that’s not what you pay. In addition, you will pay Spirit’s unique “passenger usage fee” of $16 per round trip, plus the usual federal taxes, so the round trip ends up at $59.40. (This fee covers the cost of Spirit maintaining its web site, so the only way to avoid this fee is to go to Oakland and buy your tickets at the airport.)

But wait, it does not stop there.

If you carry on a bag, you’ll pay an additional $30 each way, making the total price $119.40. (Want to check your bag at the airport? That will be $40 each way!)

Want to reserve a window seat near the front of the plane, or one next to the person you are traveling with? That’s an extra $14 each way, $28 round trip, so now the ticket price is $147.40

By comparison, the lowest fare on Virgin America for SFO-Las Vegas in mid-September (including all taxes and fees) is $133.40.

Have you ever, or would you fly Spirit? Please leave your comments below.