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Anticipating T3E + Google Int’l + New Virgin Visa + More Southwest nonstops

It’s been a while since we did a big catch up on Bay Area Travel News. So here goes! Our next three posts will be dedicated to just catching up!

Entering the new Boarding Area E at SFO's Terminal 3

Entering the new Boarding Area E at SFO’s Terminal 3 opens Jan 28!

NEW T3E TERMINAL OPENING. Anticipation is building for the opening of United’s new T3E terminal at SFO on Tues, Jan 28. The BAT will post photos shortly after the media preview this Friday (24th). BAT Editor Chris McGinnis will attend the community day on Saturday (25th), so come out, crawl all over the gorgeous new terminal,  and say HEY in person! (Look for that mug to the right>>) Community Day is free, but you must register here first and get tickets. We are still trying to find out what will be United’s first arrival and/or departure on the 28th…but it has not revealed that yet…

The Google 767 will soon move home base from Moffett Field to Google Int'l (Photo: Aero Icarus)

The Google 767 pictured here will soon move home base from Moffett Field to Google Int’l (Photo: Aero Icarus)

GOOGLE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT. A private airport terminal for Google at San Jose International Airport is set to break ground in February and be complete by late 2015. According to this CNBC story, Google’s top three execs, Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt are paying for the $82 million facility with their own money—not Google’s. The airport will be able to accommodate up to 60 aircraft (including the Boeing 767 owned by Brin and Page pictured above). Until now, Google has operated its private fleet from Moffett Field under a special agreement with NASA.

BLACKFISH OSCAR SNUB. Remember our recent post about the documentary Blackfish and its controversial ties to Southwest? Well, it appears SeaWorld dodged a bullet last week when the film was NOT selected as a finalist for best documentary by the Academy.

Virgin-base-card-bigNEW VIRGIN CREDIT CARD. This month Virgin America introduced two cool-looking new Visa Signature cards with some nice bennies. The regular card ($49/year) offers a free first checked bag to you and a travel companion, a $150 discount on one companion ticket per year and 20% off all inflight food and bev purchases. It also provides three Elevate points per dollar spent on Virgin America, and one point for everything else. Spend $1000 in 90 days and you get 10K points. The Premium card ($149/year) includes all the above plus it waives all change and cancellation fees on Virgin flights booked with the card. (However you still must pay any difference in fare, a la Southwest Airlines) Plus, you get 15,000 bonus points if you spend $1000 on the card in the first 90 days. The card also offers up to 15K status points when you hit certain spending tiers each year. That unique benefit of waiving change/cancel fees sounds very nice; however, getting out of the fees is an overly convoluted process according the George Hobica over at AirFareWatchDog.

FREE TV ON SOUTHWEST. Southwest and Dish will continue to offer free inflight TV through the end of 2014. Southwest’s TV is different from other airlines in that you must watch it on your own device—it’s not embedded in the seatback. And we hear varying reports about the quality of the signal. Have you watched TV on Southwest? How’d that go for you?

NEW SOUTHWEST NONSTOPS. Southwest Airlines is adding new nonstop flights between Oakland and Baltimore Washington airport (BWI)  starting June 8. Its also adding a second daily nonstop to/from Kansas City on the same date.

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.  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*]

- Chris McGinnis

And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

Southwest: Blackfish backlash

United: T3E & UA500 & 49ers-Seahawks Game fares

What to do if pulled over by the police [Infographic]

What winter storm?

12 wishes for better Bay Area travel in 2014

*How to earn a quick 40,000 United miles*

Are you a “data traveler?”

Virgin SFO-LaGuardia + AA’s newest jet + Global Entry delays + more

New terminal at SFO: hard hat tour (photos)

16 brand new, must see NYC hotels

Update: United p.s. fleet SFO-JFK

***

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Asia on sale + PreCheck newbies + United wi-fi + Free airport parking + Nancy Pelosi

The stunning interior courtyard of the Capella Singapore hotel (Chris McGinnis)

The stunning interior courtyard of the Capella Singapore hotel (Chris McGinnis)

SINGAPORE AIR PUTS ASIA ON SALE. Singapore Airlines offered up some remarkable deals to warm winter destinations throughout Asia this week, but you need to act by Dec 2, or before they sell out. From SFO, fly to Seoul, Hong Kong or Singapore, then connect to over 30 cities in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia or Korea. All inclusive economy fares start as low as $694 (Seoul)… but most are in the $1000 range. That’s a great deal! The window of opportunity for travel is quite large, too, extending from January 15 through May 15. Details/booking here.

(Photo: Jaxworld)

(Photo: Jaxworld)

WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? Have you ever been in the PreCheck line along with someone who has no idea why they are there? Ive noticed is a lot lately. And I’ve heard from BAT readers who wonder the same thing. How could someone in the PreCheck line NOT know what it is, or that they don’t have to remove shoes, belts or laptops when they go through? Turns out it’s because the TSA has vetted them, allowing them to use the PreCheck lane to relieve the pressure on the regular lanes. Here’s what TSA spokesperson Nico Melendez told The BAT: “Currently, TSA’s Secure Flight system uses information provided when making a flight reservation – such as name, date of birth, and gender – to identify and prevent known or suspected terrorists or other individuals from gaining access to airplanes or secure areas of airports. TSA will now use that information to identify passengers who present a lower risk to aviation security and offer those passengers expedited screening. This initiative will occur on a flight-by-flight basis and will not require passengers to enroll in a DHS Trusted Traveler program. If a passenger is eligible for expedited screening for a particular flight, a TSA Pre✓™ indicator will be embedded in the barcode of the boarding pass so that when scanned at the checkpoint, the passenger may be referred to a TSA Pre✓™ lane….This process will allow TSA to maintain its high security standards and create greater efficiency while offering more travelers the benefit of expedited screening through TSA PreCheck lanes.”

Eva Air's Hello Kitty themed plane landed at SFO today! (SFO Facebook page)

Eva Air’s Hello Kitty themed plane landed at SFO today! (SFO Facebook page)

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iPad rentals on Southwest Airlines (Photo: Dave Zatz)

iPad rentals on Southwest Airlines (Photo: Dave Zatz)

SOUTHWEST RENTS IPADS ON THREE ROUTES…Southwest is taking a page from the legacy airlines exploring new ways of offering inflight entertainment. Now it allows travelers to borrow iPad2 devices on flights between Chicago Midway, Denver, and Oakland. Checkout stations in the terminals of these airports will allow travelers to swipe a credit card to borrow a device and return it at their destination. Once on board, Southwest’s partnership with DishTV allows iPad users to stream live TV free of charge to the iPad (or any personal device if you already have one of your own). This unique promotion is available aboard all of Southwest’s wi-fi-equipped aircraft, which by the way, can now offer true gate-to-gate connectivity using its satellite-based Row 44 wi-fi system. Gogo, used by Virgin, Delta and many other carriers does not operate below 10,ooo feet.

FLY BA MUCH? Get the new British Airways Visa Signature® Card and earn a tidy 50,000 Avios points.

UNITED BEATS DELTA TO INTERNATIONAL WIFI CONTEST…United now offers more international, long-haul flights with wi-fi capability than any other North American carrier. Delta had announced its intention to outfit aircraft beginning this year, but snags with certification have caused a slight delay. United, however, already offers the capability aboard 13 of its Boeing 747-400 aircraft flying long-haul routes, mostly from SFO and LAX. More than half of United’s Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft operating domestically feature the same satellite wi-fi system. United still uses the Gogo air-to-ground system on the Boeing 757 transcontinental p.s.  aircraft, flying between JFK and Los Angeles and San Francisco. Overall, there are 100 United aircraft with wifi currently and the number is growing. Have you tried it? How speedy is it?

Oakland's new 236-ft , $33 million control tower is officially dedicated this week (Oakland Int'l Airport)

Oakland’s new 236-ft , $33 million control tower is officially dedicated this week (Oakland Int’l Airport)

FREE HOLIDAY PARKING PROMO AT OAKLAND RETURNS…Between Nov. 28 and Dec. 19, flyers can park free for up to three days in the daily lot at Oakland airport. The only stipulation is that their flight must depart midweek on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. To get a free parking coupon, if you qualify, visit: http://t.co/SayyNzzk81.

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Diane Feinstein flying home from DCA with the Giants last winter (Twitter)

Diane Feinstein flying home from DCA with the Giants last winter (Twitter)

NANCY PELOSI LOVES VIRGIN?…We’ve heard from several BAT readers that Bay Area US rep Nancy Pelosi is now a regular on Virgin America’s daily roundtrip between SFO and Washington-Reagan National Airport. Even more interesting: she flies in coach! Can anyone else verify? And apparently, Diane Feinstein fancies Virgin America, too, but from this photo, it appears the Senator sits up front.

NEW BUY ONBOARD MENU FOR UNITED…Economy travelers have new options on United now that a refreshed Choice menu has been unveiled. No one ever said airplane food is glamorous, but this is as good as it gets in coach these days. The “Bistro on Board” concept will be available on board flights of 3.5 hours or longer within North and Central America. Breakfast menu items include a ham and Swiss baguette; a sweet cheese pastry; and a morning energy selection of a hard-cooked egg, cheese, grapes, a wheat roll and almond butter. The lunch and dinner menu offers  a caprese baguette; a bacon, lettuce and tomato wrap; and a roast beef and cheddar baguette, as well as an Asian-style noodle salad and artisan cheese selection. (Menus change with the seasons) Have you tried it yet? Please leave your comments below. 

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-Chris McGinnis 

And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

Virgin first class sale + Hilton HHonors downgrade + Chase Sapphire w chip + United dumps ExpertFlyer

More A380s + Cathay discounts biz class + SJC courts Asia + Double Elevate pts

>Southwest FINALLY joins PreCheck

>United to allow handhelds below 10K feet

>Travel advice fit for a Queen (Latifah!)

>New landing procedure at SFO should help w delays! Hallelujah!

>Big, bad United MileagePlus surprise 

>Virgin’s new Safety Dance

>Riding the Red Carpet Route to London! 

>Double Miles on United & Southwest

>$100 hotels in NYC 

>Two posh new lounges coming to SFO 

***

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More A380s + Cathay discounts biz class + SJC courts Asia + Double Elevate pts

The first Air France A380 arrived at SFO in June 2011 (Chris McGinnis)

The first Air France A380 was here during summer of 2011…now it’s coming back again! (Chris McGinnis)

NOTE: We’ll spend this week catching up on several snippets of Bay Area travel news that have been accumulating in our inbox….

HERE COME THE A380s…Lufthansa has suspended its Airbus A380 operations from SFO to FRA for the season, but plans to return the double-decker aircraft to the route April 8, 2014. The bigger story is that Air France will deploy a 516-seat A380 on its SFO-Paris nonstops effective March 31, 2014. Last time Air France flew the A380 to SFO was the summer of 2011 when it switched the A380 reserved for the Paris-Tokyo run to SFO due to the earthquake/tsunami/radioactive disaster in Japan.  Now we are hearing rumors about yet another A380 lumbering into SFO in the next year…any guesses?

VIRGIN AMERICA LAUNCHES DOUBLE POINTS…In line with other airlines this fall, Virgin America is jumping on the double points bandwagon offering twice as many Elevate points per flight between now and the end of the year. All cabins and fares are eligible. Elevate members who’ve registered for the “Feel the Earn” offer can also get a boost of up to 25,000 bonus points based on their total qualifying points earned for Virgin America flights in all cabins during that time.  Plus, to make the deal even sweeter, all the bonus points earned will count towards reaching or renewing Elevate Silver or Elevate Gold Status on Virgin America. Full details.

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Cathay Pacific's new business class seat on its B777's (Chris McGinnis)

Cathay Pacific’s new business class seat on its B777′s (Chris McGinnis)

CATHAY PACIFIC DISCOUNTS BIZ CLASS TO HONG KONG…Fancy a trip to Hong Kong over the holidays? Well, Cathay Pacific just gave you a present. By booking before Dec 1, you can save up to $1,500 off the cost of a roundtrip business class ticket for travel during the heart of the holiday season- between Dec 23 and New Year’s Day- a period when most business travelers stay home. The roundtrip cost is $4,689 (all in)  and is valid from SFO and other US gateways to HKG.  If you prefer Cathay’s jumbo 747 from SFO to Hong Kong, remember that it’s only around for one more year. Starting in Oct 2014, Cathay will run only B777s on SFO-HKG. Here’s a previous BAT post on the pros and cons of Cathay’s 747 and 777

SAN JOSE HINTS AT NEW ASIA FLIGHT…The new director of aviation at San Jose Norman Mineta International, Kim Aguirre, announced that the airport is expanding its international terminal from two to four gates. She also noted that the ANA Dreamliner flight to Tokyo Narita is spurring interest from other Asian carriers, and that a new flight to Asia could be announced within the next 12 months. Wanna make any guesses as to what that city or airline that may be?

SOUTHWEST BOOSTS SJC FLIGHTS…What is no secret, however, is that Southwest is planning bulk up its schedules from San Jose beginning April 8, 2014. One new nonstop to Denver, Orange County, San Diego, and Seattle will be added. Southwest currently owns about 50% of all flights to/from SJC.

-Chris McGinnis 

And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

>Southwest FINALLY joins PreCheck

>United to allow handhelds below 10K feet

>Travel advice fit for a Queen (Latifah!)

>New landing procedure at SFO should help w delays! Hallelujah!

>Big, bad United MileagePlus surprise 

>Virgin’s new Safety Dance

>Riding the Red Carpet Route to London! 

>Double Miles on United & Southwest

>$100 hotels in NYC 

>Two posh new lounges coming to SFO 

***

Subscribe to The Bay Area Traveler- The BAT-  via e-mail!

Are YOU signed up for The BAT- The Bay Area Traveler? If not, why not? Subscribe to The BAT via e-mail!

Southwest Airlines (finally) joins PreCheck

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) today announced the expansion of TSA PreCheck to Southwest Airlines, which operates from all three Bay Area Airports. (This does NOT apply to AirTran Airways, which Southwest Airlines purchased in 2012.) 

Today’s announcement makes a total of eight domestic carriers including: Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways and Virgin America. 

As most frequent travelers know, PreCheck allows pre-approved travelers to leave on their shoes, light outerwear and belt, keep their laptop in its case and their 3-1-1 compliant liquids/gels bag in a carry-on in select screening lanes.

The lanes are available at 100 airports nationwide, but not at all terminals leading to Southwest Airlines flights….yet. I touched base with each Bay Area airport this morning for a status on PreCheck lanes leading to Southwest Airlines flights:

  • SAN JOSE: “Yes, it’s our understanding that TSA is working to open Pre-check lanes for Southwest Airlines’ customers in SJC’s Terminal B as early as today. Pre-check lanes have been open in Terminal A since October. Remember that we also offer CLEAR in both of our terminals,” said spokesperson Rosemary Barnes. Southwest operates about half of all flights at SJC.
  • OAKLAND: “Yes, there are PreCheck lanes at the Terminal 2 security checkpoints leading to Southwest gates operating now,” reports spokesperson Kim Domerofski.
  • SAN FRANCISCO: According to the TSA site, there are now PreCheck lanes operating at Terminal 1, boarding area B, which lead to Southwest, US Airways, United and Alaska Air flights.
Passengers who are eligible for TSA PreCheck include U.S. citizens of frequent traveler programs — including Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards — invited by participating airlines. Additionally, U.S. citizens who are members of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler program and Canadian citizens who are members of CBP’s NEXUS program qualify to participate. Later this year TSA will launch an application program, allowing more U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents to enroll in TSA PreCheck.

tsa_precheck_boardingIf a Southwest Airlines passenger is eligible for expedited screening, a TSA PreCheck indicator will be embedded in the barcode of the boarding pass so that when scanned at the checkpoint, the you’ll be granted access to a TSA PreCheck lane. Southwest Airlines will also print a TSA PreCheck indicator directly on the boarding pass so passengers will know in advance that they have been cleared for expedited screening. But remember, the TSA warns that is will always incorporate random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport, and no individual will be guaranteed expedited screening. (which is why I still carry a CLEAR card, which works at both SFO and San Jose)

Here’s how it works:

Elite level Rapid Rewards members will receive notification that he/she is eligible to opt-in to the program and chooses to participate or a passenger includes a Known Traveler Number within a reservation, Southwest Airlines will share certain information with the TSA Secure Flight System.

Note: Only reservations booked after opting-in are eligible for TSA PreCheck.

Trusted Traveler participants will need to provide their CBP-assigned PASS ID number in the “Known Traveler #” field during the booking process at southwest.com® andswabiz.com. The passenger’s Trusted Traveler information will be submitted along with reservation information to TSA’s Secure Flight system. Trusted Traveler program members should also remember to enter their full name, date of birth, and PASS ID exactly as it appears on their membership card.

tsa_precheck_whosflying

Additionally, CBP Trusted Traveler participants can add their PASS ID number to their Rapid Rewards Member profile to have the number automatically sent to TSA when booking reservations. Remember, you must be logged into your Rapid Rewards account when booking a reservation for the information to prepopulate.

For more information, see www.southwest.com/TSAprecheck.

-Chris McGinnis 

And just in case you missed it, here’s what else you need to know about Bay Area Travel over the last month:

>United to allow handhelds below 10K feet

>Travel advice fit for a Queen (Latifah!)

>New landing procedure at SFO should help w delays! Hallelujah!

>Big, bad United MileagePlus surprise 

>Virgin’s new Safety Dance

>Riding the Red Carpet Route to London! 

>Double Miles on United & Southwest

>$100 hotels in NYC 

>Two posh new lounges coming to SFO 

***

Subscribe to The Bay Area Traveler- The BAT-  via e-mail!

Are YOU signed up for The BAT- The Bay Area Traveler? If not, why not? Subscribe to The BAT via e-mail!

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Southwest Airlines revamps Rapid Rewards

(Photo: Andertho / Flickr

Hoping to appeal more to frequent business travelers, Southwest Airlines announced a major re-do of Rapid Rewards, its frequent flyer program, today. The program is switching from a flight-credit based program to a points-based program. Points earned are based on how much money you spend.

The new program is remarkably similar to that of San Francisco-based Virgin America and it’s part of a trend among all airlines to programs that are more based on how much members spend than how far they fly. Southwest’s new program also picked up a unique component from AirTran, which will allow members to “buy” tickets on other airlines to destinations not served by Southwest.

Here are some highlights from a news conference I attended yesterday where Southwest CEO Gary Kelly and program mastermind Ryan Green rolled out the new program:

>EFFECTIVE DATE: New program goes into effect on March 1, 2011.

>EARNING: Members earn points based on fare paid. For example, on a deeply discounted $100 “Wanna Get Away” fare between say, SFO and Denver, you’ll earn 600 points- six points per dollar. If you choose to pay the $200 “Anytime” fare, you’ll earn 2000 points- 10 points per dollar. And if you choose the most expensive “Business Select” fare of $220, you’ll earn 2,640 points- 12 points per dollar.

>REDEEMING: When booking a flight, you will be given the choice of paying with dollars or with points. Using Denver as the example again, if you book the least expensive “Wanna Get Away” fare that normally sells for $100, it will cost 6000 points. The less restrictive $200 “Anytime” fare will cost 20,000 points. Business Select fares ($220) would cost 26,400 points.

>FEWER RESTRICTIONS: Unlike programs offered by legacy carriers where seat availability is murky at best, Rapid Rewards members will be able to redeem their points for every seat on every flight with no blackout dates or seat restrictions. Points expire only if you don’t have earning activity within a 24-month time period.

>TRANSITION: Current credits and awards will maintain their value until they are used or expire. Members’ accounts will automatically be transferred to the new program on March 1, so you can keep your Rapid Rewards number and there’s no need to re-enroll.

>INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS: One of Southwest’s biggest challenges with its old program was that it only offered award flights to Southwest-served destinations in the continental U.S. while competing airline programs offer flights to more attractive far-flung international destinations. With the new program, members can redeem points for flights to over 800 new destinations served by other carriers. Similar to some credit card loyalty plans and AirTran, Southwest has teamed up with a third party travel agent where members can use their points to “buy” tickets on other carriers. (Details are somewhat sketchy here, but if the program is similar to that of AirTran, tickets for international flights will require a hefty redemption of points. . . but at least it’s an option for members who’ve banked lots of points.) In order to take advantage of this option, you must hold the $59/year Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card.

>ELITE LEVELS. Those near top of the heap, A-List Preferred members, will get free Wi-Fi access on all Southwest flights (currently it has close to 100 planes with Wi-Fi with plans to have it fleet wide within two years.) Also, with the new program, members only have to fly 25 one-way segments (down from 32) or earn 35,000 qualifying points to qualify for the A-List. For the new A-List Preferred tier, you must fly 50 one-way segments or earn 70,000 qualifying points. To help build point banks faster, A-List members get a 25 percent booking bonus; Preferred members get a 100 percent bonus. Members who fly at last 100 one-way segments or earn 110,000 points get a Companion Pass, allowing one designated person to fly free with the member for a year.

For a peek and more details, check out the new site here: www.newrapidrewards.com

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