Archive for November, 2009

Airlines Launch “Cyber Monday” Fare Sales

Cyber MondayA handful of the major airlines are using “Cyber Monday” to offer deeply discounted airfare prices to travelers.  United Airlines, JetBlue, and Virgin America have all just announced special one-day prices, with all of them practically giving flights away to select destinations starting at $39 each way.

JetBlue has limited its discount travel window to Dec. 1-17 in an effort to fill all the empty seats that fly between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The Daily Travel & Deal blog from the LA Times provides a more detailed analysis of this particular offer.

United’s sale is for travel in the contiguous U.S. and Canada from Jan. 5-Feb. 11.  Travel to and from Hawaii is Jan. 11-Feb. 11.   A 3-night, Friday night or Saturday night minimum stay is required for travel within the contiguous 48 United States and to Hawaii.   No minimum night stay is required for travel to Canada.

Virgin America’s sale is the broadest, with the promotion lasting until Dec. 8 and travel permitted Dec. 3- May 23.  However, certain peak travel days around the winter holidays are blacked out.

Hopefully we’ll see competing airlines match prices on overlapping routes.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • Continental Airlines said today that credit and debit cards will be accepted for purchases onboard most its aircraft starting Tuesday. Flight attendants will use hand-held devices to process the card payments for purchases of alcoholic beverages and headsets.  The airline said that the new cashless system will be available on all Continental mainline flights, except for service to and from China.
  • Yapta’s hotel booking partner Orbitz.com, recently announced it has enhanced its Low Price Guarantee, giving customers ironclad confidence they’re getting the lowest possible hotel prices. Under the new program, customers who find their prepaid hotel room available for a lower price on any site, including Orbitz, can receive a refund for the difference and a $50 discount on a future hotel or vacation package booking. Plus, Orbitz now allows customers to submit a claim right up to the time of the property’s cancellation deadline.
  • In celebration of its new blog, CheapOair is launching a “@CheapOair 12 Days of Travel” contest where travel-minded Tweeps can win daily holiday gifts including travel and retail gift certificates, and a grand prize on day 12 for free round trip airline tickets within the domestic U.S.  The 12 day contest starts today and ends on Fri., Dec. 11th.  For this contest, followers of the CheapOair Twitter account will be asked to “re-tweet” that day’s message or go to the CheapOair travel blog to find that day’s message to “re-tweet”.  For more information, visit http://contests.cheapoair.com/.

Don’t be a Turkey, Arrive at the Airport Early

thanksgiving-travelWith cuts in seat capacity by most major U.S. airlines, planes will be packed to the gills (or should we say gobbler?) during the Thanksgiving travel period – so travel officials are encouraging passengers to plan adequate time for check-in and security screening.

Today, Wednesday and Sunday are typically the busiest Thanksgiving travel days at most airports, so you should be at ticket counters at least two hours before departure.  Here’s some more helpful Turkey day travel tips:

  • Check with airlines before leaving for the airport to confirm whether flights are on time.

  • Get boarding passes and pay checked-luggage fees in advance online, if possible.  Most airlines now charge $15 to $20 each way to check a bag.

  • Leave holiday presents unwrapped.

  • At security-screening checkpoints, those traveling with children or carrying “medically exempt liquids” should take advantage of  special family and exempt-liquid screening lanes, wherever available.
  • Consider using your airport’s satellite parking lots.  When doing so, allow extra time for shuttle-bus travel from lot to terminal.  The satellite lots will likely be more affordable than on-site airport parking – and you’ll avoid the crush of the holiday airport traffic.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • The DOT is fining three airlines a total of $175,000 for the Aug. 8th delay that trapped 47 people on a regional jet overnight in Rochester, Minn.  The federal findings — and the first penalties for keeping passengers stuck on a plane — accuse Continental Airlines, ExpressJet Holdings, and Mesaba of unfair and deceptive practices in air transportation.  Contiental and ExpressJet were fined $50,000 each, while Mesaba was fined $75,000.
  • Earlier this week, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines successfully demonstrated the use of renewable jet fuel on the first test flight to carry passengers.  The KLM demonstration is the fifth biofuel-blend test flight in the past two years. Like previous flights by Continental Airlines, Air New Zealand and Japan Airlines, the KLM test used renewable jet fuel developed by UOP, a subsidiary of Honeywell International Inc. The flight was powered by a blend of 50 percent traditional kerosene and 50 percent biofuel derived from camelina running in one engine of a Boeing 747.
  • Jaunted.com recently listed the top 10 gross things that people do on airplanes.  While their list is tragically accurate, the comments are just as priceless.  Similarly, Travelocity recently surveyed over sixteen thousand North Americans to find out about their attitudes and their preferences while traveling.  So what did they find that annoys travelers the most?  Oversized carry-on luggage.  (Poor hygiene also ranked really high.)

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Tipping Etiquette for Your Next Trip

USA TODAY asked etiquette and hospitality experts and hotel companies for advice on what to tip at hotels in the USA. Their responses aren’t consistent in every instance, but there’s a consensus for some common tiptipjarping situations:

Valet parking staff. Don’t tip a hotel staff member who opens a guest’s car door at the hotel entrance or parks the car in a valet lot. The valet who retrieves the car from the parking lot should be given $2 to $5.

•Bellmen. The common tip is $1 to $2 per bag. More can be given if the bags are heavy or the bellman provides other services.

Maids. They should receive $1 to $5 daily. “The tip should be paid daily to ensure it goes to the person that took care of your room,” says etiquette expert Patricia Rossi.

•Concierges. No tip is needed for directions, restaurant recommendations or answers to simple questions. A $10 to $50 tip is recommended for a concierge who obtains hard-to-get event tickets or a table at a popular premier restaurant.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • US Airways said today it will add a 5 percent surcharge to all U.S. flights on or after May 8.  Spokeswoman Valerie Wunder says the surcharge will protect the airline in case fuel prices rise or other costs increase.  Separately, Delta, Northwest and United have bumped the surcharge on some busy days next March to $30 each way from $20 — and to $50 on the day after the Super Bowl.
  • United Airlines and Continental Airlines will begin giving unlimited free upgrades to elite members of each other’s frequent flier programs beginning in mid 2010, the two carriers announced Tuesday. The free upgrades apply to domestic flights and only when space is available.
  • The popular hotel-review website TripAdvisor will soon be able to add – for a fee - a hotel’s direct website address, telephone number and email address to it’s hotel listings.  Consumers will start to notice the additional information starting Jan. 4, 2010.  TripAdvisor will charge hoteliers yearly subscription fees ranging from $600 for the smallest of properties to $15,000 a year to hotels with up to 1,000 rooms.  With the economy squeezing hotels’ business these days, TripAdvisor for now will discount fees by 50%.

Should Congress Step Back into Airline Matters?

Reuters reports that many of the major U.S. airlines have asked the Obama administration to resist any calls to re-regulate or otherwise intervene in airline operations in an attempt to ensure the industry’s viability.deregulation

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today chaired a private conference to discuss the competitiveness of an industry that continues to struggle financially after restructuring earlier this decade.  LaHood said the agency would establish an advisory committee to study the matter and formulate recommendations.

Consumer complaints about cost cutting, deteriorating service, flight delays and a series of high profile maintenance lapses have prompted scrutiny from policymakers and Congress.

Some members have questioned whether the airline business model is broken and unions, which have lost tens of thousands of jobs since 2001, are pressing for change.

LaHood requested input from airline executives, labor and analysts about topics the transportation panel should review. The conference covered financial, safety, labor and operational issues, participants said afterward.

Major airlines are nervous about congressional or administration intervention in their operations and say their weak financial state should not be a pretext for federal action.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • JetBlue kicked off long awaited changes to TrueBlue, its frequent flier program.  In its announcement, JetBlue stressed that the program would have no blackout dates and that every seat on every plane would be available for booking with TrueBlue points.  Second, the airline said its members’ points would not expire, as long as they took at least one flight per year, or made a purchase with a JetBlue-branded American Express card. Previously, points expired after a year, but could be extended by using the JetBlue card.  For more details, check out the In Transit blog from the New York Times.
  • An airplane part fell from the sky and landed on the front lawn of a home on Long Island, New York.  Authorities are looking into how it happened.  Officers found a 3-foot-by-4-foot cone-shaped piece of metal.  Investigators determined it had fallen from a commercial airplane.
  • Mike Tyson was arrested after getting into a scuffle at Los Angeles International airport with a photographer.  There’s apparently two sides to this story.

Google Offers Free Holiday WiFi in 47 airports

Google is planning to foot the bill for WiFi at 47 of the nation’s airports for the rest of the year, beginning TueGoogle wifisday.

With some travelers spending more time on the ground in airports than on planes during the busy flying season, now seemed an especially fitting time to offer up the perk, Google said.

The list includes the international airports in Miami and Orlando, which are among the world’s 30 busiest airports, as well as five others in Florida. Travelers through smaller airports, such as Montana’s Billings and Bozeman, will also benefit.

Upon signing in, users will be asked if they want to set Google as their homepage or try the Google Chrome browser.

The company is also running a charity campaign to raise money for three nonprofit groups: Engineers without Borders, One Economy Corporation and Climate Savers Computing Initiative. When Google WiFi users first log on, the landing page will offer them the option of donating to the organizations. Google will match donations of up to $250,000 per airport.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • British police have charged a United Airlines pilot with being over the alcohol limit while on the job at London’s Heathrow Airport.  Scotland Yard say they have charged 51-year-old Erwin Vermont Washington with having too much alcohol in his system while working as a member of aviation staff.  Police and airline officials say that Washington was pulled from United Airlines Flight 949, due to fly from London’s Heathrow Airport to Chicago around noon on Monday, after a co-worker suspected him of being drunk.  The flight was canceled and the plane’s 124 passengers were put on other flights.
  • The Air Transport Association said Monday it expects a 4% decline in the number of people traveling over the Thanksgiving Day holiday, reflecting the erosion in demand with the smaller economy. But with seat-capacity cuts and steep airfare discounting across the industry, planes are likely to remain full, the trade group said.  The busiest travel days are expected to be Nov. 20, 25, 29 and 30.
  • Continental Airlines has started offering wider, lie-flat sleeper seats on long-haul international routes to catch up with some of its top rivals. British Airways and Delta Air Lines, competitors in the New York market, already offer business class lie-flat seats on many routes.  The maiden voyage of Continental’s new seats, on a Boeing 777, flew a week ago to Newark Liberty International Airport from Tokyo.
  • Air Canada announced it will now automatically notify travelers about canceled trips through e-mail and text messaging, aiming to ease airport lineups and waits for the call center.  Canada’s largest carrier will also provide details directly to consumers about rebooked flights.  During last winter’s Christmas holidays, Air Canada was flooded with complaints after being forced to cancel or delay flights due to snowstorms.

Flight attendants at American Airlines say they will hold mock strikes around the country this month and could seekAmerican Airlines Layoffs permission for real strikes early next year.  The union is protesting stalled contract talks with American, the nation’s second largest airline.  The Association of Professional Flight Attendants said yesterday that the Nov. 18 protests at airports around the country would show that some flights wouldn’t operate during a real strike.

“This is only a symbolic demonstration to show management that flight attendants are willing and able to do whatever is necessary to get a fair contract,” said union President Laura Glading.

The union, which represents about 18,000 workers, said it would not disrupt service during the holidays.

If there is no agreement by January, the union said it will ask federal officials to declare a 30-day cooling-off period, the last step before a strike.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • European Parliament lawmakers today demanded that U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano ease restrictions for Europeans traveling to the United States, saying plans to impose a new $10 (euro6.73) entry fee are unfair.  Citizens from many European Union countries already have to fill in an online visa waiver form before they travel to the U.S., but could face an additional charge when they arrive, which many EU officials and lawmakers fear amounts to a new visa restriction.
  • The U.S. Travel Association today announced that projected modest 2010 increases in leisure, business and international inbound travel will enable the industry to add nearly 90,000 American jobs.  Leisure travel is expected to rise 2%, business travel is projected to increase by 2.5% and international inbound travel will increase by nearly3%. These job gains come on the heels of 400,000 combined travel industry job losses in 2008 and 2009.

“To coincide with the new movie ‘Up in the Air,‘ with George Clooney, American Airlines is having an auction and a sweepstakes.  You’ll need to use AAdvantage miles to bid on travel, movie and ‘experience-’ related items in the auction, but entering the contest, which has prizes that include a trip to Los Angeles and 260,000 AAdvantage miles, is free. You’ll just need to watch the trailer and then enter your details.  (Auction bids and sweepstakes entries must be in by Jan 5, 2010.)

And Hilton (which seems to have a part in the Up in the Air movie) is also having an Up in the Air sweepstakes.  You can enter by booking a Hilton stay, but if you’re not heading out on the road before January 18, 2010 you can enter for free by ’sending your hand-printed name, address and phone number on 3” x 5” paper to Hilton ‘Up In The Air’ Sweepstakes Alternate Entry, P.O. Box 8600, Westport, CT 06888′”

Expedia Hangs Up its Phone Booking Fees

Expedia.com today announced that they’ve eliminated their $20 booking fee for travel reservations made over the phone.  Here’s what the NYTimes reported frexpediaom their In Transit blog:

“It’s the latest move in a fee war that has been playing out over the past several months among online travel agencies. Earlier this year, Expedia eliminated online fees for changing or canceling car rentals, cruises, hotels and most flights. It also did away with online booking fees for flights. Orbitz and Travelocity quickly followed suit, eliminating flight booking fees in June and later scrapping change and cancel penalties on hotel reservations.

Expedia wouldn’t say exactly what percentage of its bookings are made by phone, but Forrester Research estimates about 10 percent. The move gives Expedia a pricing advantage over airlines, which levy surcharges for phone bookings, said Henry H. Harteveldt, principal travel analyst at Forrester. Still, he does not expect that airlines will match Expedia’s decision.

But how about other online travel agencies? No word yet on whether Orbitz or Travelocity will eliminate their $25 charges for booking flights by phone.”

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • Amie O’Shaughnessy, editor of family travel site Ciao Bambino! shares her top tips to make family travels smoother, and rounds up some great holiday escapes.  Check them out here.
  • The travel blog Jaunted has compiled five of the best ways to top off your mileage account and gain some extra miles without even leaving the ground.  “Everyone wants to be able to make it rain with excess miles, and with a little work and creativity, you’ll be doing just that.”

  • Scripps Networks Interactive Inc. has won a bidding war to control Cox Communications Inc.’s Travel Channel, the companies announced today.  Scripps has been aggressively pursuing international expansion. It has announced joint ventures to launch the Food Network in other countries. Travel Channel is seen as a network that could sell well internationally, aiding expansion, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Get into Travel with Twitter

twitter

As someone who uses Twitter every day to stay in tune with the travel community, I took great interest in Twitter’s new “Lists” feature as it makes it really simple to follow travel vanguards from around the world.  It also makes being found on Twitter (based on your area of “expertise”) much more likely.  In only a few days, Yapta has already been included on 53 lists related to travel.  (Pausing for a Sally Field moment here.)  However, what I appreciate most is seeing who others are following from the world of travel and expanding my own universe.

Earlier today, the popular travel blog Jaunted compiled a handful of their favorite travel-centric Twitter lists.  For those of you who are new to the Twitter game and want to be part of the travel scene, these “top five Twitter travel lists” may give you a jump-start:

@EverywhereTrip/Travel
Compiled by Gary Arndt, otherwise known as “EverywhereTrip” on Twitter owing to the fact that he’s perpetually traveling around the world, this list is also one of the top-ranked on Twitter right now. It’s not a massively large list as it follows only 279, but that just means that it’s well-curated and an easy jumping-off point for getting into travel lists.

@travelpod/list
This is a 500-er, meaning that Travelpod has chosen to feature 500 of the top Twitter travelers in their sizable list, giving you a taste of everyone that’s out there in the world of virtual vagabonding.

@eurapart/travel-500
Here’s yet another 500-er that we’ve found to have quite a good cross section of travel twitters. From MSN Travel to folks chewing the fat over Amazing Race, it’s a good variety. Of course you’ll find us all warm and snug in there as well.

@jessicadebra/travel-tweets
Okay, the last 500 list, we promise. This one comes from a regular old traveler, not a travel website or other media outlet. We love lists like these because the intel comes from those on the ground, actually out there hopping on trains and grabbing the planes.

@IngridaLM/travelers
At 388-strong, this travel list sure doubles up on some folks from the previous lists we’ve mentioned, but when it comes to reading updates from the road and travel tips, our theory is the more the merrier.

Here’ some more travel news you can use:

  • American Airlines is making holiday travel shopping a little more colorful.  The airline has broken out their lowest fares into a holiday calendar for November, December and January that’s color-coded for “low,” “lower” and “lowest” fares.  Some fares start at $56 each way and are available to a number of major locations, including Baltimore, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, Washington DC, Miami and Dallas.
  • ABC News notes that airlines are cutting money-losing flights during the current travel slump, and that can cause headaches for passengers who bought tickets on those trips.  The airlines will usually rebook a passenger on another flight close to the original schedule.  But sometimes the change can mean a delay of several hours — even overnight.  Most U.S. airlines say they will offer a full refund if they put you on a new flight that arrives more than 90 minutes earlier or later than you had planned.  But if air fares have risen since you bought your ticket, the refund doesn’t always cover the cost of buying another ticket on a different airline.
  • An Arizona couple is accused of stealing at least 1,000 pieces of luggage from the Phoenix airport and stashing — or at times, selling — the suitcases.  Keith & Stacy King were arrested at their home and were charged with burglary and tampering with evidence  for allegedly stealing luggage from Sky Harbor Airport, then allegedly selling the luggage (and its contents) by hosting regular yard sales.  Airport officials grew suspicious when Keith King visited the airport more than 60 times recently without ever boarding a plane – and walking off with luggage.

  • Miami-Dade officials are proceeding with a plan to install slot machines at the airport.  Commissioners voted Tuesday to apply for a permit, despite staunch opposition from local casinos and race tracks and the long odds it would be approved in Tallahassee.  They want gaming proceeds to repay debt that funded an airport expansion.

Humbug: Airlines Double Holiday Surcharges

dollar plane

In early October, we noted that American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and US Airways added $10 surcharges to airfare for flights on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and for Jan. 2nd and 3rd – the busiest days for holiday travel.  Well, let’s now make that $20 each way!  Delta, American, United, US Airways and Northwest Airlines all announced that they have boosted their surcharge on some routes.

This could have a real financial impact for those traveling with large families during the holidays.  For instance, a family of five would have to add $200 to their total cost of travel.  That’s not insignificant.  In fact, it may be enough to keep some people at home this year.

What do you think?  Are these surcharges enough to sink your travel plans?  Or will you be flexible around the holidays and travel on off-peak dates?

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • Omni Hotels have launched a 72-hour sale for stays between Dec. 2 and Feb. 10, excluding New Year’s Eve.  If you book by Thursday (11/5), you can get up to 40% off a room in cities such as Austin, Chicago, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Ft. Worth, San Diego, New Orleans, San Antonio, Houston & Tucson.  Of course, the offer is subject to availability and can not be combined with other special offers.
  • Another day, another bird strike that diverts a plane.  This time it was a Delta Air Lines flight from Phoenix bound for Salt Lake City that was forced to make an early landing after it was hit by a flock of birds.  Airport authorities reported that the windshield of the plane was cracked, but nobody was injured.  According to FAA records, there have been 600 bird strikes nationwide this year and bird strikes cause 600 million dollars in damage to aircraft every year.
  • The state of Florida is suing online travel reservation companies over hotel taxes, the latest in a string of lawsuits nationwide claiming the sites owe local authorities millions of dollars.  Attorney General Bill McCollum sued Expedia and Orbitz today, claiming they failed to pay Florida the full amount of taxes collected on hotel room rentals through their sites.  Consumers are charged a rate when they book a room online, and the company later reimburses the hotels a lesser amount, allowing them to pocket service fees. The taxes are paid on that less expensive rate, prompting legal action by cities and states that claim they’re being cheated out of millions of dollars in tax dollars.

Should Airlines Offer Adult-Only Flights?

kid flightsAfter Southwest Airlines kicked a cranky 2-year old and his mother off a flight last week, there seems to be growing support for adult-only flights.  As a parent of two kids under the age of five, I’ve learned to tolerate the ruckus that kids can make on planes and sympathize with the parents doing all they can to calm their little bundles of joy.  However, according to a recent survey conducted by MSNBC, I may be in the vast minority.  A full 76% of those polled support Southwest’s decision to give mom and child the boot.   The survey was also flush with interesting comments – including talk of adult-only flights.

I suppose if pets can have their own exclusive flights, it only makes sense that there should be adult-only flights as well, right?  Perhaps that would better serve those passengers less tolerant of kids – and prevent parents from suffering the embarrassment of a rowdy child.

Would you pay a little extra for a flight with no kids?  Got an opinion?  Post it here.

Here’s some more travel news you can use:

  • Northwest Airlines Flight 195 out of Minneapolis was apparently “attacked” by Pigeons Saturday afternoon while taking off for Las Vegas.   The pilot announced the bird strike about 15 minutes into the flight and decided to return to MSP because of suspected engine damage. The plane landed safely and there were no injuries in the incident. The passengers experienced a two-hour delay due to the attack.
  • As of last week, both Continental Airlines and Air China have agreed to share frequent flier points so that travelers may earn miles easier.  Now, Air China PhoenixMiles members will earn Status Mileage on all scheduled flights run by Continental. They can also redeem Award Travel for any round-trip flights and Award Upgrades involving Continental.  Continental OnePass members can also accrue EQM and EQP on flights, and redeem Award Travel and Upgrades for round-trips with Air China.
  • Virgin Atlantic today introduced a new iPhone app that’s designed to help travelers overcome their fear of flying.   The “Flying Without Fear” app contains a personal introduction by Sir Richard Branson, a video-based in-flight explanation from start to finish of a flight, relaxation exercises and fear therapy, a fear attack button for emergencies with breathing exercises and quick tips – among other features.  As a bonus, users of the app are offered 2,000 points when joining Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club.  The app is available for $4.99.
  • JetBlue, the largest domestic carrier serving Boston,  has become the official airline of Boston College Athletics.  According to a press release, JetBlue’s sponsorship of the Eagles (financial terms not disclosed) includes fixed and electronic signage in Boston College athletic facilities including Alumni Stadium, home of Boston College football and Conte Forum, home of Boston College basketball and hockey. Additional sponsorship elements include on-field, on-court and on-ice promotions; a comprehensive online marketing program featuring rotating web banners and fixed advertising positions on bceagles.com; a branded email promotional campaign; and print advertisements in Boston College Athletic publications and in-game program guides.