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Another Airbus A380 arriving at SFO

Singapore Airlines (SIA) has announced that it will be flying its flagship A380 between SFO and Hong Kong with continuing service to Singapore this winter. SIA is the first Asian carrier to fly the double decker A380 into SFO. (Lufthansa and Air France arrived at SFO with the A380 first.)

Most frequent travelers have only dreamed of flying Singapore Airlines, renowned for its top notch service, Singapore girls and over-the-top business and first class cabins. It’s frequently cited as the best airline in the world. Airline spokesperson James Boyd told The BAT, “It’s important to note that the A380 will only be on the SFO route for three months. It’s a great ‘pop-up’ opportunity for Bay Area business travelers to get a taste of our premium flagship service.”

Singapore currently flies Boeing 777s between SFO and Singapore twice a day- one flight stops over in Seoul, the other stops over in Hong Kong. While the B777 service is nice, it’s now a little dated and not near as nice as what SIA offers on its big A380. Flip through the slideshow above to see its famous first class suite and the widest business class seat in the sky.

SIA’s got a super-sexy flight number on its SFO>HKG>SIN run: SQ1, which departs SFO at 10:50 pm and arrives Hong Kong at 5:50 am two days later. Flight time is 15 hours to Hong Kong, plus another four hours to Singapore, so you’ll have plenty of time to soak up the luxury. SQ2 arrives back in SFO at around 8:30 pm.

SIA is a Star Alliance partner, but unfortunately, you cannot redeem United Mileage Plus miles for SIA’s business or first class seats. However, coach seats are available starting at 65,000 miles round trip.

Ready to go? A quick scan of roundtrip fares for mid January between SFO and Singapore shows coach at about $1250; business at $5,900 and first at $12,500.

Have you ever flown Singapore Airlines before? What did you think? 

Singapore Airlines’ flagship A380. (Courtesy: Singapore Airlines)

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Two exotic new hotels in Paris (Slideshow)

Earlier this month in Paris, I had a chance to swing by two of the city’s newest hotels: The W Paris- Opera and the Shangri-La.

Wow! The city of lights hotel scene has got it going on.

The W hotel is so new that the cab driver from the Gare du Nord did not know what I was talking about when I said,  ”S’il vous plaît me prendre à hotel W.” (Thank you, Triplingo!) I had to find the Google map on my mobile phone to show him the way.

This brand new 91-room hotel is located in the center of the city near the famous old Opera House. As in most W hotels, there’s always a scene in the lobby (spilling out onto the sidewalk in summer), with DJ’s, models, wannabe models and assorted poseurs. 

Rooms are small and unusually appointed… for example, there are stickers on the wall and pillows on beds with caricatures of famous French men and women. Throughout the hotel are walls of black enameled sheet metal punctured with holes through which lights sparkle— I was told this sparkle was supposed to represent the melding of New York and Paris.  In the less expensive rooms, bathrooms are separated from the room by a sink and mirror- not a wall or a door. This offers a bare minimum of privacy- the small, black-walled closet-like room for the toilet is separated from the rest of the room by only a sliding door. (See slideshow above) That’s no problem if you have the room to yourself… but not great if sharing with another.

On the upside, the hotel is brand new…and new is good in a popular city like Paris where much of the hotel stock is overused and outdated. Basic wi-fi is free. It has a super-convenient location in the center of the city with easy access to several metro lines. There’s a clean, bright fitness studio on the top floor. Speaking English is no problem, and the young, toned, well-coiffed  staff is eager to please— not a hint of French snootiness. High demand is keeping base rates this fall in the $500 per night range.

The chic new Shangri-La hotel opened in late 2010 and is giving established 5-star hotels like the Four Seasons Georges V or the Le Meurice the jitters. It took four years to restore this building- which was once the home of Napoleon’s grand nephew Roland Bonaparte- located in the Trocadero, a posh neighborhood of embassies and mansions between the Arc d’ Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower.

You’ll find a comfortable blend of Asian hospitality (hot tea delivered to rooms at check in, congee on the breakfast menu) and chic French design.  It’s not a huge hotel- only 81 rooms- about half of which offer dramatic views of the Eiffel Tower. Elegance like this does not come cheaply… room rates start at $900 per night. The Shangri-La suite in the penthouse fetches a cool $23,000 per night. (Flip through the slideshow above for a peek of this spectacular suite!)

And it’s not just the Shangri-La that is giving luxury hoteliers in Paris heartburn… a new Mandarin Oriental just opened near the Place Vendome this summer- just a few blocks away from the famous Paris Ritz hotel, which is closed for the next two years for a complete re-do.

What are your favorite Paris hotels? Please leave your comments below. 

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Apple vs Visa vs United Olympic ads: Who wins?

There are three Olympic ads running this week that have a lot to do with frequent travel AND the Bay Area. They are perfect to instigate commentary and debate on The BAT. Take a gander and tell us which one wins the gold medal in your mind. Leave your comments below.

Apple, which is based here and on which this blog is created each week, has a clever ad depicting how an Apple Genius on board a plane comes to the rescue of passengers in the middle of a flight much like a doctor would.

Visa, a card most BAT readers have in their wallet, which is also Bay Area based, put out a variety of ads, the most dramatic of which shows an Olympic diver descending from the tippy top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

United, which is an official sponsor of the US Olympic Team, offers up an ad meant to tug at our Olympic heartstrings, showing athletes in various stages of departure.

First up, Apple:

Next up, Visa:

Next up, United:

Sorry but you must click over to United to see this ad… it has disabled embedding for some reason….click on the image to view. http://youtu.be/BxMPQFqFmeA

They are all good, but which one gets the gold…and why? Please leave your comments below.

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London hotel rates crash, flights half full…

London’s St Pancras International station… where Eurostar trains depart for Brussels and Paris. Will it fill to the gills? See below for my outlook…. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Yesterday I received an interesting missive about London from the folks at Hotwire- the giant SF-based “opaque” booking site- you know, the kind of site that won’t reveal the name of the provider until you pay. It’s also the kind of site hoteliers flock to when they are desperate to unload unsold inventory at big last-minute discounts.

This is one of many signals we are getting that the Olympics in London might be a big bust for local travel suppliers hoping to cash in big. Your humble BAT editor was working and living in Atlanta during the 1996 Summer Olympics and saw the same phenomenon- hotels raised rates to the sky, local residents renovated homes in the hopes of renting them out to the crush of visitors. Warehouses were converted into huge entertainment venues for visitors.

Then the Olympics came… but the swath of visitors did not. They were scared away by all the warnings ahead of time. Traffic in the city was non-existent. Locals telecommuted or used public transport as instructed. Many left town altogether. Visitors attended events, then returned to their hotels… to sleep, not party all night. Except for the Olympic venues, Atlanta was a ghost town during the ’96 Games.

I wonder if the same thing will happen in London? Based on what I’m hearing, it’s possible. First it was the unprecedented, nearly too-good-to-be-true fare sale offering SFO-London round trips for just $2008 in business class. My United flight to London in early August is half full according to the United web site- there are still 25 out of 49 business class seats available. Coach is less than 75% full. Just five out of 12 first class seats are taken.  This is PEAK summer travel season, folks!

Now this… from Hotwire: 

Hotels across London are offering discounts of up to 50% during the Summer Games. Many have overestimated demand, put their prices too high and are now left with unsold rooms just a few days before the Games are to begin.

These hotels are now offering up to 50% off on discount travel websites like Hotwire.com. Three star and above London hotels are available for under $154 due to lower-than-anticipated demand. Data from discount travel website Hotwire.com show hotel prices through the first half of the games are actually lower than earlier this year.

While many London hotels anticipated a flurry of business from the games, the reality is that the economy is soft, business and leisure travelers who aren’t traveling for the Games are avoiding the city, and even an event as big as the Games couldn’t fill all the rooms in London.

These factors have led hoteliers to turn to secret hotel website Hotwire.com as a safe place where they can discount last minute and fill rooms without tarnishing their brands, and they’ve created some surprising deals for travelers looking for a last minute trip.

Some of the best available hotel rates in Central London are:

  •        5-star hotel in Mayfair for $154 for the week of July 23, 2012
  •        4-star hotel in Westminster has $140 rates through the games and into September
  •        3 or 4-star hotels in Notting Hill-Bayswater for $70 in late July
  •        3 or 4-star hotels in London Docklands have rates ranging from $59-116 during mid to late July and August
  •        3-star hotels in Kensington-Earls Court for $120 in late July

EXTRA: Virgin America is offering a significant 20% discount for flights between August 28 and November 14. Note that this is an unpublished “private sale” (associated with guitar maker Fender) and requires you to sign up in order to receive the discount. Even better: It applies to one or two folks traveling together. To get the deal, you must book your trip by July 31. Sign up here.

20% off means that $400 round trip to New York in October will only cost you $320. So there. The BAT just saved you 80 bucks (or $160 if you plan to travel with a special someone)!  What to thank us? Then TELL YOUR FRIENDS about the BAT- tell them to subscribe just like you did!

What do you think will happen in London? Will it be a teaming kluster or a quaint and efficient European capital during the Games? Are you going? What do you expect? Please leave your comments below. 

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Late summer fare sales require fast action

Southwest’s California flag-themed B737-one of my favorites- at SFO. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Several airlines have launched a pretty good fare sale for late summer trips- starting as soon as late July and lasting into fall months. However, you must act fast- the good deals are available for the next one to three days only.

For example, Virgin America is offering round trips of $156 (all in) for SFO to LA, San Diego or Las Vegas. Chicago is $378 round trip. Washington, DC and Philly are running at about $400 round trip. The popular SFO-JFK run does not seem to be included in this sale…nearly all fares, even on those awful red-eyes are in the $500 range. The sale fares are only good for travel Monday-Thursday from July 31 through September 12. If you fly on Tuesday or Weds, JetBlue will take you down to Long Beach for $130 round trip. To get these fares, you must book by this Wednesday, July 18 at midnight.

Southwest is offering a pretty good fall fare sale, but the deals don’t kick in until August 20 and are good for travel through December 14 (minus some blackout dates around holidays.) I found SFO-Atlanta for as little as $300 round trip (good on Southwest or AirTran). SFO or OAK to Chicago Midway is about $350. There are plenty of other cities on sale from the Bay Area, so just click on the link above to see them. Sale fares on Southwest or AirTran are available on all days except Sunday, and must be booked by this Friday, July 20.

United has Denver or Austin on sale for about $250 round trip (all in) during August and September. New York JFK and Chicago are in the low $400′s all in. Boston for $360 round trip is not bad for August. You can still buzz over to London (everyone I’ve talked to says that it’s as polished and ready as ever) for just $880 round trip in September or October when the crowds have gone home and the weather is at its best. How about SFO-San Juan, Puerto Rico for just $315 round trip? I’ve rarely seen fares from the Bay to the Caribbean as low as that! Midweek trips from the Bay Area to Honolulu are down as low as $450 which is not bad for mid-August. United has not published an end date for booking, but it’s likely similar to other airlines… which are running for the next 24-48 hours only.

Most other major carriers have matched these fares so shop around if you can’t find what you are looking for. Please keep in mind that I checked these fares on Tuesday morning, July 17, so they are subject to change.

It is interesting to see airlines discounting fares for travel during August- typically one of the busiest and most expensive times of the year for air travel. Clearly, demand for summer trips has not met the airlines’ expectations, which is a signal to me that consumers are becoming increasingly skittish.

What about you? Are you up for a late summer vacation? Or are you making plans for business trips this fall? Are these fares low enough to make you jump? 

 

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Virgin America debuts new Banana Republic uniforms

Two Bay Area companies well known for their distinctive style, Virgin America and Banana Republic, have teamed up to create a new line of uniforms for Virgin America’s 2,000+ front-line employees. The new look is dubbed “utility chic.”

Starting on August 8, the new line will make its debut on runways airplane aisles and airport concourses as Virgin’s flight attendants, pilots and airport employees don their new attire.

The project began with what sounds like a “Project Runway” challenge among Banana Republic design teams in New York City. Each team submitted their early designs to a panel of Virgin employees, and the winning design won the chance to create the full collection. Virgin says that the entire process took 18 months, multiple fittings, focus groups (and likely many cross-country SFO-JFK trips) to design. There’s a variety of styles for Virgin America’s pilots, in-flight and guest service employees.

Project Runway’s snappy Tim Gunn (Photo: A+E Networks)

For men, the nine styles include leather jackets, lined mac coats, striped sleeve sweaters, woven shirts and pants. For women, thirteen styles include a classic pencil skirt, slim dress, trousers, leather jacket and trench to start, paired with luxe silk print scarves, slim plaque belts and Virgin America-branded serving aprons for in-flight meal service. All looks include classic aviation touches, such as shoulder tabs and button chest pockets.

Take a spin through the slideshow above and let us know what you think! I for one will miss the pilot’s current all-black (and oh so S-F) uniform- from the looks of the photos provided by Virgin, it will change to a smoky brown. I was also hoping that flight attendant pumps would be red- just like those worn by Virgin Atlantic flight attendants. A spokesperson told The BAT that red pumps (and even boots!) are on the drawing board for next year. I do like the leather jackets!

So come on, channel your inner Tim Gunn, click through the slideshow and tell us what you think about the new styles!   Comments below please! 
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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!