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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.

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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.”

MORE WI-FI ON AA FLIGHTS.

Filed under: American Airlines,technology,Virgin America — Chris @ 11:37 pm

If you’ve enjoyed the awesomeness of in-flight Wi-Fi on American’s flights between SFO and NYC, you’ll get a charge out of this news: The carrier announced that it will expand Wi-Fi access to another 300 aircraft (all MD-80’s and 737-800’s) over the next two years. Delta already has 100 planes equipped with the same system and intends to have it’s entire fleet wired in the next year. Virgin America will have it’s entire fleet wired by June; Alaska and Southwest are ready to join the bandwagon soon.

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.

BELEAGUERED OAK GETS MORE LOW FARE FLIGHTS.

Filed under: OAK — Chris @ 11:32 pm

Over the last year, Oakland has remained near the top of the list of airports losing flights as airlines cut capacity. However, Allegiant Air, which specializes in serving small cities without nonstop flights to major tourist destinations is stepping in. Starting June 8, it will offer twice weekly nonstop flights (using MD-80’s) between OAK and Eugene, OR. The carrier also offers three weekly flights between OAK and Bellingham, Washington, located between Seattle and Vancouver. http://www.allegiantair.com

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…

April 1, 2009

RAIL RIDER RANT. FORGET THE $5’s.

Filed under: airports,BART — Chris @ 12:48 am

This is not really travel related…but it is transportation related. And I’m sure most BAT readers jump on BART or MUNI from time to time to get to or from the airport,  so here goes.

Last week I took MUNI home from my One-on-One class at the Apple store downtown. (Makin’ movies on my Mac! But I digress…)

I got stuck in the Powell Street station with the wrong sized bills and finding change to purchase my fare turned into a frustrating farce.

So I wrote a letter to SF Chronicle columnist CW Nevius, and he posted part of it!

So here’s the email I wrote (copying Mayor Newsom, SFMTA head Nathaniel Ford and my pal Angela Jackson at the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau.) At the bottom is the link to Nevius’ column—and excellent reader commentary.

Hello there and thanks for your great work about what’s not working in SF! I read it every day in the paper delivered to my house (yes, I read the real paper!)

Here’s my observation and recent experience:

I am a travel writer living in SF and have experienced and enjoyed many of the world’s best municipal railways on my frequent journeys.

What kind of world-class city for visitors (or residents) is San Francisco if its most central Muni Railway/BART station cannot change a $5 bill?

This has happened to me more than once over the last year at the Powell St station (ground zero for tourists). I can’t imagine what it might be like for our many visitors who may not have a firm command of our language or our currency.

So here we go….

I walk into the Muni station with a $5 bill, a $10 bill and a $20 bill expecting to buy a $1.50 Muni fare.

I soon discover that none of the machines can accept a $5 bill.

So I walk over and ask the booth agent on duty how to buy my $1.50 fare.

He tells me that there are no machines that change $5 bills, but there are machines that will change my $10 or $20.

So I go back to that machine, insert my $20, and get back…. you guessed it…four $5 bills.

So I go back to the agent and ask again.

This time he informs me again that there are no machines that change $5 anywhere in the station. He tells me that I need to go into the adjacent Westfield Shopping Center and buy something in order to get the proper change for Muni.

You’ve got to be kidding me!

San Francisco can do better than this!

Can someone please install or modify the current change machines to accommodate a $5 bill?

This would be a smart way to spend some of the $67 million SFMTA is getting as part of the stimulus package.

Thanks for your consideration of this issue!

Chris McGinnis, Editor, THE BAT, http://www.batsf.wordpress.com
Noe Valley

And VOILA! My rant shows up in the paper!

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.

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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