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August 31, 2009

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.

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June 8, 2009

GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS RE: UPGRADES ON UNITED

Filed under: International,Mileage Plus,united,United Airlines — Chris @ 5:08 pm

First the good news: Starting July 1, Mileage Plus members will be able to upgrade to using miles from ALL domestic and international coach fares, even the cheapity cheapest ones from which upgrades are currently forbidden.  (This sets UAL apart from other most other carriers, which currently disallow upgrades from the cheapest coach fares.)

Now the bad news: Starting July 1, you’ll have to make a “co-payment” of $50 to $500 for the honor of using your hard earned miles to upgrade off of those cheap fares.

Want to upgrade on that bargain coach fare from SFO to Honolulu? That’ll be 17,500 miles plus $250-$500 extra bucks. How about an upgrade from that awesome coach-class round trip deal you scored for your flight to Europe this summer? That will be 20,000 miles plus $250-$500. (Painful, but not a bad deal for business class to Europe.)

Generally, you’ll only pay with miles if you book the pricier Y, B, C or D class of ticket. All other classes of tickets will require the copay.

United details here:
http://www.united.com/page/article/0,6722,52895,00.html

January 21, 2009

Food Getting More Glorious…for Some.

Filed under: International,Virgin America — Chris @ 5:49 pm

If you are a frequent traveler on our favorite hometown airline, Virgin America, you should be pleased to read about the recent upgrades to its in-flight menu. (We are still mesmerized by the “Food Button” on the seatback, where you place your order, pay for it with the swipe of a credit card, and it magically appears from the back of the plane in minutes…amazing!) Some descriptions of new items: “La Brea Granola with Mixed Berries and Milk — Crunchy and slightly sweet. This intense, earthy granola is made from a wonderful combination of dried fruit, nuts and grains. Paired with berries and milk.” fc-tapasAnd this: Vegetarian Chop Salad — A mixture of romaine, basil, garbanzo beans, cucumbers, red and green bell pepper, sugar snap peas, olives, grape tomatoes, parmesan and cheddar cheeses, partnered with a creamy cilantro dressing.” Those in first class get their fab food for free and this dessert sounds TDF….”Trio of Dessert Tapas: Creamy Lemon curd, Chocolate pot de Crème, Vanilla Panna Cotta.” Yum!

Speaking of In-Flight Food.
Here’s an interesting excerpt from an article from the WSJ about improvements in premium class food service. (As usual, Singapore Air is the star performer here…)  “International airlines are beefing up food spending as a differentiating draw for premium customers — even U.S. airline spending on food has increased recently. In the third quarter last year, the six big U.S. airlines that fly internationally increased their spending on food by 8.5% — the biggest increase in any category besides fuel, according to Department of Transportation data. The same airlines cut labor expenses and maintenance expenses in the same period and slashed advertising more than 22%.)

January 14, 2009

Dirt Cheap Down Under.

Filed under: International — Chris @ 6:08 pm

In case you have not been watching, the U.S. to Australia market is about to explode. For years, flights between the two countries have been controlled by a QANTAS-UNITED duopoly and travelers have paid dearly. However, in the last few months a new Australian carrier (V-Australia) and Delta have announced new non-stops between LAX and Sydney. (V-Austra

Opera House from my room at Park Hyatt Sydney

lia cranks up in Feb. Delta won’t start until July.) In any case, we are already seeing results. When fares to Australia drop below $1000, it makes my ears prick up and as of today, fare searches on Kayak.com show round trip fares on QANTAS between SFO and SYD at just $882 for travel in February. That’s INCLUDING all taxes and fees. So if you’ve been wanting to check out the land down under, now’s the time. Amazingly, business class fares remain out of site…currently $10,300 round trip! I’m not sure that business class seat is worth that sort of premium….do you? For those of you interested in checking out the famous Sydney Mardi Gras celebration, you’re in luck…fares around the faboo March 7 parade and party remain in the $880 to $1200 range.

January 13, 2009

Airlines Scale Back China Flights Among Others

Filed under: International,SFO,united — Chris @ 4:46 pm
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(From Ted Reed at thestreet.com) China provides the most striking example of stalled growth. Delays in starting new China service have been sought by American, Northwest, United and US Airways. Continental and Delta have asked to scale back frequencies. Additionally, American has given up routes, including Chicago-Buenos Aires and Miami-Barranquilla: United has given up San Francisco/Nagoya and Los Angeles/Hong Kong, and Delta has ceased flying Atlanta/Vienna and scrapped Raleigh-Durham/Paris.

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