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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.

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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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

June 3, 2009

Has the Economy Turned Around?

Filed under: Southwest,television segments — Chris @ 12:19 am

Southwest Airlines seems to think so. We really like this clever new, feel-good ad campaign. To us it’s clear that SWA is going after business travelers. Big time. Check the ad out (less than one minute) and let us know what you think! Is Southwest an airline you’d choose for business travel? Why or why not? Be sure and leave your comments below.

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.

HEY FATTY, PAY UP.

Filed under: Southwest,United Airlines — Chris @ 11:39 pm

From the LA Times: “As of Wednesday, passengers who were too large to fit comfortably in a coach seat could be required to buy a second ticket or upgrade to business class, where seats are larger, if United’s flight attendants can’t find two open seats for them…. Southwest Airlines requires passengers who can’t comfortably lower their armrests to purchase tickets for two adjacent seats. Southwest will refund the cost of the second seat if a flight isn’t sold out.”

March 31, 2009

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.

March 25, 2009

Two Travel Videos Worth Watching

Filed under: Southwest — Chris @ 12:33 am

MOVE THAT PLANE. In case you missed the online video of the  removal of the US Airways plane that ditched in the Hudson, here it is. Very interesting to visualize just how big the planes we fly on really are.  Seeing them on the airport tarmac is one thing, but seeing one rolling down a city street provides a whole new perspective! Very cool!

WORTH THE TWO MINUTES. This video of a Southwest flight attendant rapping the pre-flight announcement is classic and is a great glimpse into its in-flight experience.

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

February 20, 2009

This and that….

Filed under: Business Travel,Southwest,united — Chris @ 1:19 am

>Southwest has announced that it will start flying into Boston later this year. (But no nonstops from the Bay Area…) That’s on the heels of its arrival next month into Minneapolis, and then New York La Guardia by June.  BATS from the SF side of the Bay rejoiced with Southwest came back to SFO. Anyway, the pattern seems to be clear: Southwest wants to be flying into major airports that business travelers like to use and seems to have moved away from its previous habit of using mostly secondary airports.

>United has discounted the number of miles needed for an award ticket to Europe to just 40,000 from the standard 55,000. Good for trips through May 14 except Apr 6-15.

>We just knew this was going to happen: A recent survey by the Association of Corporate Travel Executives reveals that excitement about “green” travel is waning as the economy drags along. The survey reported that 79 percent of companies see cost cutting as a top concern while environmentally sustainable travel is a priority with only 17 percent.

>Nothing like a little competition! Now that Delta and V-Australia are adding nonstops to Sydney (from LAX), United has suddenly found it important to install the new lie-flat seats in business and first class on 747 flights to Sydney from SFO and LAX.

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….

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