The B.A.T. (Bay Area Traveler) has moved! See www.travelskills.com

October 1, 2009

THE BAT HAS MOVED!! New name: TravelSkills.com www.travelskills.com

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris @ 2:19 pm

Hey Folks: THE BAT has taken wing and moved up a notch with a new name and a new URL.

http://www.travelskills.com

http://www.travelskills.com

 

Thanks

Chris

Advertisements

September 17, 2009

Double Miles De Rigueur

Filed under: American Airlines,Mileage Plus,Southwest,United Airlines — Chris @ 11:17 pm

Most of the Bay Area’s biggest carriers are piling on the miles for frequent flyers this fall, making it easier than ever to attain or maintain elite status for next year. American gets the credit for kicking off this latest mileage bonus trend, followed by United. Then today, Southwest joined the party. Here are the various deals:

>Southwest: Rapid Rewards members who book and travel between Sept 17 and Oct 31 get one bonus Rapid Rewards credit per one-way flight in addition to normal earnings. This means you’ll earn four credits for every round trip, so if you make four round trips during the promotional period, you’ll earn 16 credits, enough for a free flight. Business Select customers will REALLY like this offer because they’ll earn 4.5 credits per round trip for flights less than 750 miles and six round trip credits for longer flights. Registration is required: www.southwest.com/rrbonus

>American AAdvantage members get double elite qualifying miles now through Dec 15. Register at www.aa.com/elite

>United Mileage Plus is offering double miles OR double segments, but not both through Dec 15. Register for double miles here: at www.united.com/offer/mpw049. If you typically fly more short-stage flights, go for the segments. Register here: www.united.com/offer/mpw059.

Also on the mileage front…..

Elite bonuses: United is making a special offer to Elite members who will earn at least 35,000 miles by the end of the year. They’ll get to choose between a one-time Red Carpet Club pass ($50 value) and 7,500 bonus miles. If you are Premier Exec and earn at least 75,000 by the end of the year, you get two Red Carpet passes ($100 value) or 15,000 miles. 1K Members who earn at least 125k miles get two systemwide upgrades or 25,000 miles. (You must sign on to your Mileage Plus account to register.)

American’s making a similar offer to it’s elite flyers: Gold members who fly between 40,000 and 50,000 miles by year’s end will be able to choose between two 500-mile upgrades, a one day Admirals Club pass or 7,500 bonus miles. Platinums who fly 75,000 to 100,000 miles choose four 500-mile upgrades or two Admirals Club one-day passes, or 15,000 bonus miles or one-year Gold status for a friend. Executive Plat members who fly 125,000 EQMs by year’s end can choose two one-way systemwide upgrades, a one-year Admirals Club membership, 25,000 bonus miles or the ability to gift a friend AAdvantage Gold status for a year.

September 9, 2009

Ready to throw your iPhone out the window? (video)

Filed under: technology — Chris @ 8:29 pm

Frequent travelers living the Bay Area have lovingly embraced the iPhone perhaps more than anyone else in the country. (Ooooh! Ahhhhh! Kewl! Hey, check out this new app! Lemme take your pic!)

But that love is getting put to the test as iPhone users, who pay significantly more for their phones and their service plans than most other cellular users, experience dropped calls and slow data retrieval with no end in sight.

Paying a premium should mean that you get premium quality in return. But based on anecdotal evidence, and a recent rash of negativity in the blogosphere, it’s clear that iPhone users, especially those in the Bay Area, have had it.

Interestingly, most of the vitriol is directed at AT&T, and not Apple, the maker of the iPhone. (AT&T holds an exclusive contract as the sole provider of the iPhone…for now.)

For most of the last two years, AT&T has acted in true Ma Bell fashion remaining mostly silent on the issue, or offering up vague statements about billion dollar network upgrades. None of that made folks who have to walk outside their home or office to get a signal feel any better.

But now that the complaining has reached fever pitch, AT&T is launching a social media campaign to fight back.

So, iPhone users, meet “Seth the Blogger Guy” in this AT&T-produced video and let us know what you think. Do you believe what he’s saying? Do you think your service is going to get better? Or do you still want to throw your iPhone out the window? PLEASE leave your comments below!

Like what you are reading? Then be sure and SUBSCRIBE to The BAT so you don’t miss a single nugget of info. Look to the right>>>> and click on the SUBSCRIBE links! RSS or email! Thanks! Tell all your friends to do the same! –chris

September 3, 2009

$100/day for a compact car? You betcha!

Filed under: Car Rental — Chris @ 12:58 am

CAR RENTAL RATES SOAR. Car rental rates are one area where travelers are seeing HIGHER rates this summer.  Significantly higher in a lot of cases. In mid-June, weekly airport rental rates for a compact car averaged about $350, compared with just $210 a year ago — a 65 percent jump, according to the New York Times. The reason is basic supply and demand. While demand is down slightly, rental agencies have cut their fleets by even more, creating their own shortage and jacking up prices. One smart way to get around higher car rental rates is to buy a package deal—where you get airfare and car rental together in a package— by doing so, you can save about 30% off your rate.

Click here to watch your BAT editor Chris McGinnis explain this trend on CNN!

Summer Hotel News (and a review: Palomar Atlanta)

Filed under: hotels,travel deals — Chris @ 12:46 am

RATES CRASHING. Hotel rates are WAY down, too. That’s because hotels can’t just go park excess hotel rooms in the desert like airlines can park planes. This means there are a LOT of unsold hotel rooms going at bargain basement prices—- and we are talking some of the most popular destinations in the country like Las Vegas, New York, San Francisco and Hawaii. European rates have tanked, too!

Examples of average hotel rate declines this summer
In US:
•    Las Vegas: -25%
•    New York: -25%
•    San Francisco: -23%
•    Honolulu: -18%

In Europe:
•    Barcelona: -35%
•    London: -25%
•    Rome: -23%
(Source: Expedia.com)

TOUGH TIMES. The first half of 2009 was brutal for the hotel industry. According to Smith Travel Research, occupancy fell 11% in the first six months of 2009. The average daily rate dipped below the bellwether $100 mark to $98.66. Revenue per available room slipped 19%. Ouch. However, the outlook for hotels is improving as the economy seems to be warming up.

CANDLEWOOD SUITES HITS NYC. We always love a NEW hotel in NYC and here’s the latest from InterContinental: “Candlewood Suites is bringing a full-scale apartment experience at a midscale hotel price to business and leisure travelers at a prime location just one block from Times Square. Guestrooms are all-studio suites with wide rooms, including a full kitchen with full-size refrigerator, stove top, dishwasher and microwave, and stocked with pots, pans, plates, glassware and utensils; comfortable recliner; large workspace with desk chair; and deluxe bedding.  Unlike most New York City midscale hotels, the Candlewood Suites offers amenities typically found in apartment buildings, including a complimentary 24-hour fitness center, complete with cardio and weight machines, and complimentary onsite laundry for guests. Location: 339 West 39th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues—over near the Port Authority. Rates in August start at about $220 per night. When we checked rates for Sept and Oct, the hotel was already sold out most nights! www.candlewoodsuites.com

AN ALTERNATIVE TO TRIPADVISOR. Check out this very helpful new hotel review site where hotel guests post their own VIDEOS of hotel stays. Very revealing!

MORE FREE INTERNET. So here’s a positive trend that we are hearing about more frequently: Many full-service hotel brands are FINALLY getting the message that guests are tired of paying for wi-fi when they can get it free at most limited service brands. For example, Hyatt now offers free wi-fi in all hotels to platinum and diamond members of its Gold Passport program. InterContinental Ambassors get it free, too. We are hearing that many west coast luxury properties, such as Ritz-Carltons are also offering it for free. Let’s hope the trend continues!

DISINTEREST IN LOYALTY PROGRAMS? Membership in hotel, airline and car rental loyalty programs has declined 31.2 percent since 2007, according to a new study from the loyalty research company Colloquy. The results, based on interviews with 2,152 U.S. consumers, indicate there still is interest in loyalty programs, but travelers are picking fewer carriers and hoteliers with which to invest their time and money.

Between our business trips, press trips and personal travel, we stay at a LOT of hotels. We’d like to share our experiences with BAT readers here in the Hotel Category. Palomar01

HOTEL PALOMAR-ATLANTA. A few months ago, the new Hotel Palomar in Midtown Atlanta hosted us for one night. The 21-story, 304 room hotel is just off I-75/85 which runs north/south through the center of downtown. It’s a brand new-from-the-ground-up hotel at 12th and West Peachtree. Rates generally run in the $150 range, but we’ve seen specials as low as $99 per night.

We stayed there on a Saturday night in late May. Having had many positive experiences at other Kimpton Group hotels scattered around the country, we had high expectations, and we are pleased to report those expectations were met this time around.

For a hotel that had only been open a few short months, we did not detect the slightest bit of just-opened jitters. All the staff, from the bellhops who greeted us on the street, the front desk staff, housekeepers…everyone was completely on their game. We are used to giving a wide berth to the staff at brand new hotels as they work through opening kinks, but that was definitely not necessary at the Palomar.

We really liked the modern, yet comfortable design of our room. Lots of ambers, browns, grays and tans in both wood and stone with a splash of red and orange here and there. Nice desk with an Aeron-like chair. Wi-fi is free for members of Kimpton’s In-Touch loyalty program. Flat screen TV. A nice bright and modern bathroom with a big tub-less shower.

Overall, it had the mod feel of a W Hotel without the disco-y dark corridors throbbing to a deep beat which always strain us when traveling on business.  We had an outstanding meal in the hotel restaurant called Pacci and then spent several hours on the rooftop deck, complete with its own screened in porch (nice southern touch amidst all the steel and glass towers of Midtown).

The only downside was the enforced valet parking @$30 per night (plus tip). There’s no self-park option, which is too bad considering that the hotel parking lot is located right next to the hotel…and about 100 feet from the valet stand. Next time we’ll ditch the car and take MARTA!


August 31, 2009

Summer Travel Blues

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris @ 2:21 pm

Hey BAT Readers!

Here we are in tail end of the dog days of summer in the midst of a recession that won’t stop dogging us! (I recently heard Joie de Vivre hotels CEO  Chip Conley refer to the situation as a “repression”— a combination of a recession and a depression!) We were hoping that summer was going to be a turning point or a bottom to the travel industry’s tailspin, but based on recently released 2nd quarter numbers from airlines and hotel chains, we just are not there yet. Airline revenue is down about 25% compared to this time last year. Average hotel rates have declined below $100 per night-– for the first time since 2007 (currently at about $97).

Business travel is still in the pits. Leisure travel is a hair better, but still not good. It seems like the travel industry is stuck in a “less worse” situation. But…bad industry news is good for consumers, at least in the short run…airfares are exceptionally low as are hotel rates nearly everywhere. Airport security lines are no longer an issue (except on Sunday afternoons!) Airline and hotel employees are treating customers a lot better for the most part.

Longer term, the news is not so good for consumers who should expect fewer flights on older, smaller and dirtier planes. Ancillary fees will continue to bloat. Hotels could start to appear frayed and tatty as renovations get postponed and staff get overworked. Rental cars might get older, smellier and clunkier.

Wish we had better news! For now, we’ll keep muddling through and chronicling all the changes for you, dear readers. Thanks for tuning in!

Best,
Chris McGinnis
Editor

Check out my latest travel tips segment on TV

****

 

Summer Airline News: Bag fees, AA shrinkage, nerds, Wi-Fi, more

BAG FEES CONTINUE TO RISE. Virgin America has increased its bag fee to $20 for every checked bag. Meanwhile, nearly every major carrier has quietly raised fees for checked bags to $25 for the first, and $30 for the second (that’s an additional $110 round trip if you check two bags…). Some airlines will knock off $5 per bag if you pay the fee online. For international flights, the new custom is one bag free, then $50 for the second bag. (As usual, fees don’t apply to first/business or elite level frequent flyers.) Southwest remains the only major carrier not charging for checked bags.

AA SHRINKS IN THE BAY. American has eliminated the once popular “Nerd Bird” flights between San Jose and Austin, (is the techie crowd switching over to more teleconferencing? Or is it the economy?) It’s also cut its RJ flights between San Jose and San Diego and reduced frequencies between SJC and Orange County.  With Virgin America, Southwest, United and American all offering nonstop flights between SFO and Orange County, you just knew that one of them had to pull the plug. American will stop flying the route on Nov. 18. We think it’s only a matter of time before the great, shrinking United does the same.

HEY NERDS: YOU CAN STILL GET THERE FROM HERE. About the time American announced it was dumping the Nerd Bird flights, Alaska Air swooped in and announced a single new daily nonstop between SJC and Austin. The flight originates in Portland.

JETBLUE: MORE SFO, LESS OAK AND SJC. Hat tip to the fantastic Cranky Flier blog for this tidbit: “JetBlue will kill one JFK and one Washington/Dulles flight from Oakland. Those airplanes will now become a second daily flight from SFO to both JFK and Boston. JetBlue will also add two more daily flights to Long Beach from SFO and a single additional daily flight from Oakland to Long Beach. Those new Long Beach slots are coming from the three daily Long Beach – San Jose flights which are going away.”

MORE CREDIT CARD OFFERS FROM UAL. Chase is now offering United customers some new credit card flavors. The one that tempts me the most (since I lost Premier status) includes access to EconomyPlus seats ($275/yr). Another provides includes membership to the Red Carpet Club ($375/yr). Another gives Mileage Plus bonuses (such as triple miles for United purchases, double miles for everything else), paving the way to faster free flights ($130/yr). Details here.

UNITED CUTS REDEMPTION FEES. United has unilaterally dumped those obnoxious $75 fees for last minute Mileage Plus redemptions. Good move! Seemed mighty unfair to charge a fee for something that did not cost the airline a penny! (Interesting….other airlines have not matched this move.)

MY WI-FI EXPERIENCE. Your BAT editor has used in-flight wi-fi twice so far and was very satisfied with the experiences (The Gogo Inflight Wi-Fi system is now available on all Virgin America and AirTran flights and on about 60% of Delta planes. It’s also on American’s flights between SFO and JFK and should be on United’s PS flights at some point later this year.)  Signing on is simple. The connection is as good as the one I have at my office (except when streaming video.) The only downside is that wi-fi hogs battery power  (and the only carrier that offers in-seat power at ALL seats is Virgin America.) So my laptop shut down a couple hours into the four-hour AirTran flight between SFO and ATL—so I’m not sure I got my three-hour’s worth for $12.95.

ON-TIME PERFORMANCE CONTINUES TO IMPROVE. The DOT says that 76.1% of the flights operated by the nation’s 19 largest airlines arrived on time in June, compared with just 70.8% in June 2008. There’s a combination of factors at play here, including less congestion and more padding of schedules on the part of airlines. HOWEVER, NYC airports are still in the pits. Despite on-time improvements nearly everywhere, New York’s three airports are STILL stuck at the bottom of the list for major airports. JFK, Newark and LaGuardia airports ranked 29th, 30th and 31st, respectively, for on-time arrivals at the nation’s 31 largest airports.

PLANES ARE STILL FULL. Don’t’ think that the down economy means you might find an empty seat next to you on the plane this summer. Airlines are pulling their large planes out of the skies, parking them in the desert, and using smaller planes instead. They are also cutting back on flight frequencies. As a result, most major carrier planes are running 80-90 percent full this summer…about the same as last summer.

HOW MUCH ARE THEY MAKING IN LUGGAGE FEES? According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, airlines are raking in the bucks when it comes to those obnoxious new checked luggage fees. American leads the pack at $108 million. Delta’s earned $103 million in fees. Which airline has made the LEAST on baggage fees (since it does not charge for the first two bags)? Southwest, of course, at just $6 million. And it even managed to turn a profit in the second quarter!

AMEX HONORING CLEAR CARD DISPUTES. If you charged your Clear Card on AMEX and disputed it, it looks like you should be getting your money back. BAT reader D. Cumpston was the first to email us with the good news: “I got a very welcome letter from AMEX last week saying, ‘We would like to advise you that the status of your claim on your account from Verified Identity Pass Inc. We suspended the amount of $179 and advised you we would contact the merchant on your behalf. Outcome: This dispute has been resolved in your favor. The merchant has not yet provided the information necessary to resolve your claim. Therefore we have issued a credit to your account and removed the previously suspended amount…’ NICE!” Thanks, Amex!

SPEAKING OF CLEAR CARD. After several recent Sunday afternoon flights and LOOOONG lines at SFO security (which looked much worse than they ended up being….they actually  moved very fast) your BAT editor is still missing his CLEAR card fast track. It was such a nice insurance policy against security line disaster. Anyway….There are some rumors floating around about the possibility of a resuscitated program. Stay tuned as we sniff these out! But don’t get your hopes up.

NEW TERMINAL B AT SAN JOSE: The new Terminal B at San Jose International opened last month for Southwest Airlines flyers (only) since the carrier has laid claim to its first five gates. Delta and Alaska Airlines will move in when six new gates open in Terminal B next summer. For now, all other airlines use Terminal A, which is also under renovation, part of a much needed $1.3 billion makeover of the Silicon Valley airport.

****

Like what you are reading? Then be sure and SUBSCRIBE to The BAT so you don’t miss a single nugget of info. Look to the right>>>> and click on the SUBSCRIBE links! RSS or email! Thanks! Tell all your friends to do the same! –chris

August 27, 2009

New Hotel in Santa Clara (Video)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris @ 6:09 pm

I made the following video for my Best Western blog at www.youmustbetrippin.com and it’s sorta gone viral (nearly 1000 views as of Aug 27)

It’s a video report on the opening of the cool new Hotel Avatar in Santa Clara. Very clever re-do of the classic motel with all the modern amenities you’d expect, like free and fast wifi, nice pool, gym with elliptical trainers, etc.

Check out the two min video and see for yourself:

July 17, 2009

United Discounts Award Travel (Act by July 24)

Filed under: Mileage Plus,United Airlines — Chris @ 8:29 pm

United Airlines discounted the number of miles needed for free coach class trips this week.

I think this is an example of just how far airlines are willing to go to keep seats filled on their planes….they are discounting fares AND  rewards.  Great news for business travelers who want to use their miles to for late summer vacation or fall business trips.

United’s deal is limited to flights between August and November, and the discounts are really meaningful. For example, you can get a free round trip from the mainland to Hawaii for just 30,000 miles, down from 40,000. Fly to Europe for 44,000 miles down from 55,000. A domestic award trip is down to 20,000 miles from 25,000.

United Round Trip Award Discounts:
•    North America:  was 25,000 miles, now 20,000
•    Hawaii    : was 40,000 miles, now 30,000
•    Europe: was 55,000, now 44,000
•    Australia: was 80,000, now 64,000
(Source: United Airlines)

Act fast: You must book your trip between July 15 and July 24 for travel between August 18 and November 18.

Details: http://www.united.com/page/article/0,6722,53097,00.html

July 1, 2009

USE FASTRAK TO PAY FOR SFO PARKING

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris @ 2:53 pm

(Good news from SFO!) Customers with credit card backed FasTrak accounts can now use FasTrak at any of SFO’s onsite airport garages, including Long-Term Parking. FasTrak makes it quick and easy for customers to get in and out of the airport’s parking garages and lots: simply use a “FasTrak Available” lane to enter (no ticket will be issued) and, upon exiting the garage, use a “FasTrak Available” lane and obtain a receipt.

In addition to increasing speed and efficiency at garage entrances and exits, FasTrak will reduce harmful emissions caused by engine idling.  “FasTrak is a great convenience for travelers and helps reduce emissions,” said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.  “It helps move people quickly in and out of the garages without fumbling for cash, or waiting in line – and gets them on their way.  It is just one piece of a larger approach in creating the sort of places where we all want to live, with the right infrastructure to support them.”

There are more than one million FasTrak users in the Bay Area.  For complete information about FasTrak, including online enrollment, visit www.bayareafastrak.org.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.