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

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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

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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 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.

June 26, 2009

BRINGING YOUR MOD NEW IPHONE OVERSEAS THIS SUMMER?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris @ 12:04 am

Then be prepared for surprises on your bill. Especially if you want to send your Eiffel Tower snaps to the folks back home. (When you are traveling overseas, AT&T charges 50 cents per text and $1.30 per photo.)

It’s best to use your PDA as a phone, and not a browser or email reader, according to a really helpful article in the NYT. Vague data roaming charges seem to be the culprit here.  Save your data heavy communicating for when you’ve got wi-fi access.

Here’s an excerpt: “AT&T and T-Mobile web sites state the cost to use data when roaming. But it’s priced in megabytes, a measurement that means nothing to most people. (Can you imagine if your wireless plan told you how many MB of data you could use, rather than how many minutes you had?) How much data you use to send a text or visit a Web site depends on whom you’re asking. T-Mobile’s site says that a text message uses about 3KB, and visiting a Web site will eat up between 250 to 500 KB a page, depending on how many images are on the site. AT&T’s site does not state an equivalency between Web-page access and the amount of data used, although a spokesman said that the company would add that information soon. According to AT&T, visiting a Web site could use 50 to 75 KB a page and checking three e-mail messages could eat up 60 KB.”

“AT&T offers monthly packages …starting at $25 for 20MB. That could be the amount of data you’d use to watch 10 video clips or visit 40 Web sites.”

June 6, 2009

Under the Golden Gate Bridge [VIDEO]

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris @ 12:42 am
Tags: , ,

You may be used to departing SF by jet, but have you ever wondered what it’s like to cruise out under the Golden Gate Bridge on the deck of a giant cruise ship? THE BAT was there on May 8 on the Star Princess with the new FLIP camera and took this fantastic one minute video of the experience.  Enjoy!

May 13, 2009

SUMMER TRAVEL SPIN

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris @ 4:20 pm

I’ve been tracking travel trends since 1988. Every year at abstatisticsout this time, the news is flush with polls, prognostications and predictions for the upcoming summer travel season. So let’s examine this week’s AP-Gfk poll that produced the following gloomy headlines:  “Fewer Americans Vacationing This Summer,” and “Americans Scale Back Vacation Plans.”

Really? You know you can spin a poll number any way you’d like, so here’s another way of looking at the AP-Gfk Poll of 1000 U.S. adults taken April 16-20:

>Despite the gloom and doom, two-thirds of Americans HAVE NOT canceled at least one trip this year because of financial concerns.

>Given the state of the economy, a startling 42% of Americans plan to take a leisure trip this summer, down only seven points since 2005 (from 49%) when the economy was in significantly better shape.

>Two-thirds of those who make more than $100,000 per year will take a vacation this summer. Half of those earning $50,000 to $100,000 will do the same.

>The “staycation” is dead: The poll found that 80 percent of those planning a trip this summer WILL NOT stay closer to home this summer due to economic worries, while 77 percent plan to stay at a hotel and NOT in the guest room or on the sofa of friends and families.

(click here to read the alternate version/analysis of the AP-Gfk Poll numbers)

What do YOU think? How would YOU translate the poll number? How have your summer travel plans changed? Have they? Please leave your comments below! Or, shoot me an email: chris@travelskills.com

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April 30, 2009

VIDEO– The BAT Covers Virgin America Party at SFO

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris @ 12:20 am

Hey Folks: THE BAT was invited to Virgin America’s inaugural party for its new Orange County-SFO flights today. (OC is the SF-based carrier’s ninth destination.) If you’ve ever wondered how Richard Branson likes to kick off new flights, take a look at this video and you’ll see free lunches, beautiful people, a groovy band, surfboards, organic cocktails— all at gate A-12 at SFO!

Key observation: In his speech, Branson refers to Virgin America as “them” and “they” (not “us” or “we”) which is smart considering the carrier’s thorny ownership issues.

This is our first foray into video reporting on THE BAT. We are just learning how to use our new FLIP camera and the new editing software on the new MAC. So please chime in with your thoughts and constructive criticism!

Here’s the link to the 3 minute video. Enjoy! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gq_DWGX87ik

April 2, 2009

CAN YOU AFFORD A HALF MOON BAY BOONDOGGLE?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris @ 12:54 am

I can’t hear the words “Half Moon Bay” and not think about the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay there with its sunset bagpipes and those dramatic fires overlooking the golf links and the swells of the big green Pacific. It’s one of my favorite Ritz-Carltons anywhere in the world. (Current rates start at $304 per night, which includes the mandatory $25 “resort fee.” Parking is $45. Internet access is free. There are 14,000 sq feet of meeting space)ritz_carlton_half_moon_bay1

But the resort has been a poster child for the impact of the “AIG effect” on business travel. According to the New York Times and other sources, the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay has suffered 32 event cancellations worth $2 million in the last four months.  Staff hours have been reduced by as much as 25%. Ouch!

But there’s another side to this story. The only other hotel on the public golf course down there is the Best Western Half Moon Bay Lodge. (Disclosure: I write a blog for Best Western at www.youmustbetrippin.com)

Current rates for a king room start at $139. A deluxe king with a fireplace and balcony overlooking the golf course goes for $169 per night. There is no resort fee and no charge for parking. Breakfast and high speed Internet are included. There’s meeting space for up to 65 people.

bwhalfmoonbaySounds like a pretty good deal to me and I was curious to find out how business at the stepsister hotel was doing. The answer? Not so bad. I talked to hotel marketing manager Lori Keller who said that while group bookings and meetings are down everywhere, “we are seeing companies that would never have considered booking a meeting at a Best Western now contacting us.”

“While we have had two state government meetings cancel for 2009… we have had no corporate meeting cancellations,” she adds.

A side-by-side comparison is really not prudent here because we are really looking at apples to oranges. BUT…. I’m wondering what BAT readers think about the current trend of “trading down” from posh resorts that appear excessive to more moderate spots.

In the current tough economic climate, do you expect to get more invitations to more moderately priced boondoggles? Would you rather go to a meeting at a place like the Best Western Half Moon Bay Lodge than no meeting at all?

Please be sure and leave your comments below…

March 25, 2009

Mixed Bag of Travel News and Tips

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chris @ 12:42 am

(the following are some recent top line items from our sister publication, THE TICKET)

BIG SALE ON HILTONS IN NYC. It’s amazing to see how fast and how far hotel rates in NYC have fallen. For a glimpse of this crash, check out the page and calendars Hilton has set up to hawk its NYC properties. During March and April you can score the Millennium Hilton near Wall Street for as little at $119. The Waldorf can be had for around $175. And at the NY Hilton at Rockefeller Center rates are $159. (Less than a year ago, rooms at any of these hotels were fetching $400+.)

LIQUIDS BAN EVAPORATING. According to several reports, the British government is preparing to relax its ban on liquids, which limits passengers to carrying 100 milliliter bottles, as it introduces improved X-ray machines at airports. Remember, the ban on liquids and gels came as a result of a British investigation that found a terror cell planning to use liquids to blow up a plane. Britain was the first to impose the ban, so now that it will likely be the first to get rid of it, other nations might follow.

DO YOU PDA? According to PhoCusWright Consulting, nearly one fifth (18.9%) of U.S. mobile consumers are now carrying smartphones, with 49.2% planning to purchase one in the next two years. (Your BAT editor really really wants to get an i-Phone but AT&T service is weak at his home office in Noe Valley.)

MARRIOTT POINTS FOR AIRPORT LOUNGE ACCESS. Marriott Rewards has teamed up with Priority Pass, a membership program that offers access to more than 600 VIP lounges at airports worldwide. Redeem your Marriott points for discounts on annual program fees. Priority Pass is a great card for international travelers who may fly coach, but would like business class lounge access. Instead of a hefty one-time fee, you pay for a membership, and then a per-visit fee. Marriott Rewards members who want to pay for their membership to Priority Pass (normally $99 per year) can join at the special rate of 20,000 Rewards points (then $27 per visit).  Click here for more information .

TAX SEASON SECRET: To simplify record keeping for meal deductions, consider the IRS’s little-known “standard meal allowance.” Instead of keeping track of receipts for three daily meals, you can deduct a total $39 per day for meals and incidentals. (Which means if your total meal costs come out to be less than $39, you’ll come out ahead.) Here’s what the IRS says: “For travel in 2008, the rate for most small localities in the United States is $39 a day from January 1 through December 31, 2008. Most major cities and many other localities in the U. S. are designated as high-cost areas, qualifying for higher standard meal allowances.” These higher allowances can be found on the always helpful  GSA per diem Web site.

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