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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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April 15, 2009

SFO TO NY-LAGUARDIA ON SOUTHWEST?

Filed under: SFO,Southwest,Virgin America — Chris @ 11:41 pm

Yes, you can. If you are tired of that long traffic-clogged haul in from JFK to Manhattan and would prefer to fly into La Guardia instead, time to consider Southwest. Starting June 28, you can jump on a SW flight at SFO at 12:15 pm, buzz over to Chicago Midway where you’ll cool your heels for 40 minutes, then jet on to La Guardia arriving at 10:35 pm. Compare that to **United’s nonstop flight departing SFO at 12:40 am and arriving Kennedy at 9:26 pm. That means the SW flight is about 90 minutes longer in total travel time, but your cab or carfare from LGA to the city is significantly cheaper. And SW won’t charge to check your bags. As we go to press here, competitive nonstop flights  to JFK (mid-July) are running $279 roundtrip and Southwest’s into LGA are $340. Let’s see how long that discrepancy lasts… Thoughts?

**We updated and corrected this info based on the feedback received below. Apologies.

NEW ROUND OF FARE CUTS TO HAWAII

Filed under: SFO,United Airlines — Chris @ 11:36 pm

United Airlines announced $311 (all in) roundtrip fares from SFO-HNL this week– good for trips through mid-May. Looking out into the more popular summer months, fares are still decent, the lowest running about $340 or so for roundtrip off-peak flights. I’m sorta thinking that we are going to see a big last minute rush for summer travel later this spring, so if you are thinking about heading to HI this summer, you may want to go ahead an book. Farecast.com says these fares are at a 67-day low and predicts that fares will increase.

March 31, 2009

Filed under: SFO,United Airlines,Virgin America — Chris @ 1:50 am

SFO AIRLINES IN JEOPARDY?
We all know that the airline industry is in dire straits this year as demand plummets. But what’s really scary for SFO travelers are the recent reports suggesting two of the airport’s major players, United and Virgin America, are teetering near extinction. In recent weeks there has been a new batch of stories about red ink and questions about ownership at Virgin America. (Thankfully a lot of that hullaballoo has passed…but still…) Then last week, our colleague Joe Brancatelli, who writes a must-read business travel blog (www.joesentme.com) suggested that United might not make it through this year. Some key lines from his post: “The airline is literally disappearing before our eyes. Forty percent of what flies as United Airlines now is actually operated by a grab bag of commuter carriers. What is left of the actual United Airlines has largely abandoned Latin America and turned huge chunks of its European capacity over to the Star Alliance . . . And the carrier is quickly burning through its miniscule cash reserves. Time is running out on the nation’s worst-managed major airline and a merger, dismemberment or liquidation seems far more likely than a revival of its fortunes.
Is it time to cash in those big banks of United miles? We love our Virgin America, but should questions about its financial standing or ownership scare us away? Let me know what you all are thinking! Post your comments below.
unitedvirgin_america_logo

Filed under: Mileage Plus,SFO,Southwest,United Airlines — Chris @ 1:34 am

SOUTHWEST DARK ROAST. Starting this May, Southwest Airlines coffee-posterswill unveil a new onboard coffee service dubbed “LIFT.” The new dark roast coffee will be served in a larger cup with a sleeve made out of 99% post consumer paper product.  Best of all, Southwest is dumping those awful packets of powdered creamer and replacing them with “liquid creamer.” (No word yet on if it’s real cream or just a liquid version of the powdered stuff…)

FEWER LOST BAGS? You betcha! Here’s a silver lining to all those dark and stormy stories about obnoxious airlines fees. After rising steadily over the last decade, the number of bags lost or misplaced by US airlines fell by 25% in 2008. How is that? The decline can be directly attributed to new airline policies of charging for checked baggage says SITA, a major provider of airline automation systems.

SPEAKING OF BAG FEES. SFO-based Virgin America has joined the ranks of every other airline in the country (except Southwest) by adopting a $15 fee for checked bags. The new fee is a bit unusual in that it’s imposed on the first TEN check bags. (other airlines charge $25 for the second bag…) Previously, Virgin did not charge for the first checked bag, but charged $25 for the second and $50 for the third. Some good fee news? The Virgin fee for ticket changes made online is now $50, down from $75.

40,000 UAL MILES TO EUROPE. United is offering MileagePlus members a short window to redeem just 40,000 miles for a round trip coach award to Europe instead of the standard 55,000 miles. Good for trips between now and May 14 with some dates around Easter (April 12) blacked out.

February 25, 2009

Southwest Charms Me

Filed under: OAK,SFO,Southwest,United Airlines,Virgin America — Chris @ 8:10 pm

southwest_airlines_logoYour BAT editor flew Southwest for the first time in a L-O-O-O-N-G time last week (SFO-PHX-SFO). Having fallen for the sexy charms of Virgin America and swayed by the miles and upgrades from United in recent years, I’d neglected good ole Southwest. I won’t from now on. Overall the experience was simple, hassle-free, a great value, and generally exceeded my expectations. I’ll be back for more. Some of the changes I noticed:

  • >Easier boarding. The new boarding process works like a charm. Here’s how: you check in and queue up online for your flight exactly 24 hours prior to departure time. My first flight departed at 8:20 a.m. and I was on southwest.com at 8:21 a.m. the day before. I ended up 31st in line and had no problem scoring an exit row window seat. (I was 59th on the way back and got a window on row 10 with an empty seat next to me.) Legroom was fine…probably 32 or 33 inches, which is just above industry average.
  • >Business Travelers. At boarding, I did notice that agents now allow Business Select ticket holders (higher fare class) and A-List (elite members of its Rapid Rewards program who fly at least 16 round trips per year) to board first, a signal to me that Southwest is definitely out to snare more business travelers who have steered clear due to the old boarding process.
  • >Modified Cattle Call. Southwest seems to have done away with the most distasteful and uncivil part of its boarding process that’s often derided as a “cattle call.” It’s not assigned seating, but it’s not so bad. (However, I’d be more frustrated with it if I were in a meeting or elsewhere at the 24-hour mark and missed my chance to get to the head of the line…and ended up with a middle seat on a full flight.)
  • >Planes in both directions were about 80% full, clean, new and serviced by friendly and efficient flight crews. (Can’t wait to try its onboard Wi-Fi, which is currently in beta.)
  • >Pay on board. I liked paying for a cocktail on the return flight with my credit card, which was swiped through one of those handheld wireless doo-dads. Easy.
  • >Southwest.com. I’m still not in love with booking flights on southwest.com. It’s a more unwieldy experience than the other airline or booking sites we all use frequently. I’ve heard the site is getting an overhaul soon. So we’ll see about that.
  • >Terminal 1. Southwest operates out of SFO’s terminal 1, which is sorta drab compared to the bright and modern international terminal where I catch Virgin America flights. However, Virgin doesn’t flight to Phoenix.  Security lines at 7:30 a.m. where manageable, but I breezed right through using my Clear Card.
  • I fly SW out of Oakland in a coupla weeks and will report back on my experience here in THE BAT!

What do YOU think about Southwest? Have you flown them recently? How was your experience? 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 right>>>> and click on the SUBSCRIBE links! Thanks! Tell all your friends to do the same! –chris

January 28, 2009

More Flights and Lower Fares between the Bay and the O.C.

Over the last couple weeks both Southwest and Virgin America have announced five new nonstops per day between SFO and Orange County’s John Wayne Airport.  (Yes, that’s ten new round trips per day in addition to existing nonstops offered by American and United.) As a result, a fare war has erupted. When Southwest announced its flights on Jan 14, it offered introductory fares of $69 each way. When Virgin announced yesterday, its lowest fares came in at $59 each way. With that news, Southwest lowered rates on some flights to just $49 each way.  Virgin flights crank up April 30. Southwest flights begin May 9.  Given the choice, I’d fly Virgin America for many reasons: in-flight seat back TV, assigned seats, full-size, two-class Airbus jets and departures from the nice new International terminal at SFO.  The Southwest cattle call at boarding and the tired CRJ service from American and United just don’t cut it…and since they no longer offer 500-mile minimums on shorter flights, frequent flyer program loyalty is out the window. Thoughts? Which one would YOU fly? Please leave your comments below….

January 21, 2009

Hawaii Continues to be a Steal from the Bay Area (How about $245 round trip?)

Filed under: Mileage Plus,SFO,SJC,united — Chris @ 6:06 pm

Your BAT editor will flap his BAT wings later this week for a much-needed trip to Honolulu. I could not resist the $370 roundtrip fare (SFO-HNL) on United when I booked the trip just two weeks prior to departure. Well, I thought that was a great deal until I was pinged by the folks at the new “insider deals” website www.travel-ticker.com and found Hawaiian Air offering nonstops from San Jose to Honolulu for just $245 roundtrip (!) on certain days over the next two weeks.waikiki (Sorry if the fare is no longer there when you read this…we can’t do much about that. But it was there on Monday Jan 21 and it’s a good illustration as to how low the airlines are willing to go to get us on those Hawaii-bound flights.) If you are looking for deals this winter, check out Travel-Ticker, which was launched by the folks at Hotwire (which by the way, is based right here in SF.) The difference between Travel-Ticker and Hotwire is that the former “names names” meaning that you know the provider when you make the booking. Hotwire is an “opaque” site, which means that you book based on price, and only after paying do you learn which airline, rental car company or hotel you’ll be using.

Here’s what we scraped from the Hawaiian Air site to get that $245 fare:

Trip Summary

DEPARTING
Thursday January 29, 2009
San Jose, CA to Oahu – Honolulu
SJC to HNL, Flight HA43
9:00 AM – 12:30 PM
RETURNING
Tuesday February 03, 2009
Oahu – Honolulu to San Jose, CA
HNL to SJC, Flight HA44
2:10 PM – 9:10 PM
Actual Price
Per Ticket
$224.08
Price for 1 Passenger
$224.08
Taxes & Fees
$21.20
Electronic Travel Discount

Air Travel Cost

$245.28

January 14, 2009

BART to the Airport? Be Wary of Possible Changes

Filed under: BART,OAK,SFO — Chris @ 7:49 pm

With a $92 million deficit, BART is starting to look at service cuts to save money—many of which could affect frequent travelers who use BART to get to/from SFO or OAK. Today’s SF Chronicle reports that the agency could quickly move forward with plans to reduce service at many stations on nights and weekends, running trains every 20 minutes instead of every 15 minutes.  Also on the table: charging to park at stations on weekends (now free) as well as a $1 increase to existing parking rates. BART is also talking about starting service an hour later in the morning and ending it an hour earlier at nightnot good for BAT readers taking early morning flights back east, or arriving back late at night. Stay tuned.

Fly Nonstop from SFO/OAK/SJC to NYC-LaGuardia or DC-National?

Filed under: airports,OAK,SFO,SJC — Chris @ 12:38 am
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Maybe so! Our buddies over at the Cranky Flier tipped us off to this interesting tidbit:  Apparently Sen. John McCain is busy in Washington trying to abolish the silly, outdated “perimeter rules” that forbid airlines from offering non-stop flights to the more convenient New York-LaGuardia or Washington-National from most cities west of the Mississippi. (A few exceptions have slipped through the cracks, such as flights from Denver, Phoenix and Vegas and a handful of Alaska Air flights from LA and Seattle.) The rules were instituted back in the 60’s when the government wanted to promote the use of JFK and Dulles airports. Stay tuned for more on this one. I for one will not miss that LONG ride into DC from Dulles or the traffic choked haul to Manhattan from JFK.

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