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A long, hot and expensive summer ahead

A record number of foreign visitors expected in US this summer (Photo: Prayitno / Flickr)

A record number of foreign visitors expected in US this summer. Yosemite Valley. (Photo: Prayitno / Flickr)

A long, cold winter in much of the U.S., combined with an improving economy and increasing consumer confidence mean that the upcoming summer travel season will be busy, crowded and more expensive than last summer.

Here’s some evidence of a strong season ahead: The number of advance bookings for summer stays at Best Western’s 2,200+ hotels in the US are already up 9.5% compared to this time last year. Plus, business travelers have come back in droves–the Global Business Travel Association recently had to increase its spending growth forecast for 2014 last week to 7.1% this year, compared to its previous prediction of 6.6%. The Airlines Reporting Corporation says that summer airfares are already up 4% compared to last summer– and don’t forget that last summer’s airfares were painfully high.
Nonetheless, summer is the best time of year to get out and see the world, visit family and friends, or just get away from the grind to relax and renew. And with the economy percolating along, business travel is as important as ever.
So here’s my advice on making the best of the coming summer season.

HIGH PRICES. High demand is going to mean high prices, especially for those planning to visit popular destinations along the coasts, near national parks and amusement parks in the U.S. Remember, you will not only be competing with fellow Americans for those airplane seats, restaurant tables and hotel rooms–the U.S. Department of Commerce expects a record 72.2 million tourists from other countries in 2014. Perennially popular European destinations such as London, Paris and Rome will remain stubbornly expensive for summer visitors.

July 4 is on a Friday this year. Cavallo Point in Marin County, CA (Photo Chris McGinnis)

July 4 is on a Friday this year. Cavallo Point in Marin County, CA (Photo Chris McGinnis)

WHEN TO BOOK? Make air and hotel reservations now if you plan to travel on or around the summer’s long weekends (Memorial Day, July 4 or Labor Day) and just about any time during the “peak of the peak” weeks of July and early August. If you don’t make reservations early on, you’ll not only be shut out of any price breaks, but you’ll likely to have to settle for less desirable middle seats on the plane, or “garden views” instead of water or skyline views at hotels. You might also not be able to find the right size rental car for you or your family.

CALENDAR CHECK. Memorial Day is Monday May 26th this year. The 4th of July falls on a Friday this year, making for a compact, very busy, crowded weekend. And Labor Day is Monday, September 1.

FLEXIBILITY COUNTS. While summer is the most expensive time of year to travel with “deals” few and far between, those who can travel in early June or late August are most likely to pay the lowest rates. For those with schedules not dictated by school calendars, the “shoulder seasons” of May and September offer the very best rates due to lower demand. Generally speaking, summer airfares are least expensive for trips on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

US DOLLAR. Canada has become newly affordable due to a recent 10% decline in the value of its dollar compared to the US dollar. (Currently, a Canadian dollar goes for about .90 US cents) As a result, demand for vacations in Canada is up– for example, Best Western reports that advance bookings for summer stays at its hotels in Canada are up 17.7% compared to this time last year.

EUROPE. Despite economic doldrums in Europe, the euro and British pound have held up relatively well. For example, right now you need nearly 1.70 US dollars to buy a British pound or $1.40 for a euro. Airfares from the US to Europe are up 7% over last year, according to the Airlines Reporting Corporation. You can avoid high costs and still enjoy a European adventure by heading to eastern European countries that don’t use the euro such as Poland, Hungary, Turkey or Croatia. Among western European countries, the least expensive are the “PIGS”–Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain.

Editor Chris McGinnis hitting the road

Editor Chris McGinnis hitting the road

HIT THE ROAD. It doesn’t cost a cent to check your bag in the trunk of your car! If high airfares and increasing fees could keep you grounded this summer, take a road trip instead. The average price per gallon across the US should run about $3.57 this summer, a penny less than last summer. While we’ll likely see the typical early summer bump up in gasoline prices, the overall trend is down. According to the US Energy Information Agency, the average price of a gallon of gas in the US fell from $3.63 in 2012 to an average of $3.51/gal in 2013. This year, the agency expects the average price to continue to fall to $3.45 and even lower–to $3.37 per gallon in 2015.

THE BIG THREE. When shopping around for the best hotel rates, be sure you are comparing apples to apples. This means you always need to know what’s included in the rate…and what’s not. You’ll find the most value at hotels that include the “big three” amenities in their rates: wi-fi, breakfast and parking. If you can’t tell what’s included in the rate from a hotel’s website, always call to find out before you click the “buy” button! A family of four can start off the day saving about $40 by staying at a hotel that includes breakfast in the rate. And you could end up paying $50+ for parking at some downtown hotels.

--Chris McGinnis

(Chris McGinnis is Best Western’s travel trends expert and business travel blogger on youmustbetrippin.com where this post originally appeared)


Help us help you by getting a new credit card via links from The TICKET!
Help us help you by getting a new credit card via links from The TICKET!

CREDIT CARDS DESPERATE TO GIVE YOU $400. Last month  Time Magazine ran a story about how banks are battling for the biz of folks with good jobs, good credit and high spending. Sounds like the typical TICKET reader to me! The  best card with the biggest bonuses for business travelers: Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard. Why don’t you take the banks up on their offer? You’ll get $400 in award travel, and you’ll help out The TICKET when (and only when) you order up a new card from our links. So just do it!

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Delta’s big hair + New biz class seat + Sky Club experiments + High value customers + Eastern Airlines?

A younger version of Deltalina (click to view video)

A younger version of Deltalina (click to view video)

DELTA’S BIG HAIR MOMENT…Have you seen the new 1980′s themed safety video airing aboard Delta flights? Now that the holiday-themed demo has been put away for the season, travelers have a new video to capture their attention. Highlights include a cameo by a younger Deltalina finger wagging the no-smoking gesture and plenty of big hair, leggings, and boom boxes hailing from decades ago. The video was shot on board a 777 aircraft in Detroit and took nearly 20 hours to produce. It includes the new update regarding FAA-approved mobile devices available for use at any time on board while in airplane mode. The idea for the 80s theme came from Delta’s first safety video ever, which launched during the 1980s on board its flights. It was, no doubt, a bit less humorous and entertaining back then. The YouTube version of the video has gone viral in the socialmediasphere–  already amassing 1.3 million views.

FinlandiaSKY CLUB AMENITIES GET AN UPGRADE…Taking some of the sting out of recent membership price increase and limits on guests, Delta Sky Clubs are experimenting with new upgrades. (Check out TICKET reader reaction to the changes here on our Facebook page.)In test market clubs between mid-February and April, a variety of new snacks and services will be offered along with surveys for members to complete. The most popular amenities based on this feedback will be implemented nationwide once the test is complete. The complimentary new items being tested include sandwiches, antipasto items, hot soups, evening desserts, smoothies, and larger breakfast bagels. Manicures, shoeshines, and massage chairs will also be available on a complimentary basis. Due to customer feedback, the well vodka is switching to the Finlandia brand. The test markets include the F and A-17 clubs in Atlanta, the A-38 club in Detroit, the D club at LaGuardia, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Los Angeles, Miami, and Seattle/Tacoma among others. 

INTERNATIONAL LOUNGE ACCESS GETS PARTIAL AXE…Not all Delta-related lounge news is positive though. Delta quietly pared down the list of overseas lounges that SkyTeam Elite Plus members can access when traveling in cities without a Delta club. Previously, numerous third-party lounges permitted access for SkyTeam Elite Plus members flying in economy from cities like Athens, Barcelona, Brussels, Nice, Quito, Stockholm, and Zurich. The term “third-party lounge” is being renamed “business lounge” meaning that only business class travelers will have access. Delta had to pay the lounges for access by its SkyTeam Elite Plus flyers traveling in economy, and this change is certainly a cost-cutting measure that comes at the expense of SkyTeam benefits for Elite Plus flyers. The change is effective on May 1, and it is best to check the drop-down menu on Delta.com to verify if you will have lounge access. Sky Club members have a separate list of clubs that they can access, and SkyTeam Elite Plus members can still access SkyTeam-branded or SkyTeam airline lounges no matter what class of service they are flying.

Air France's new biz class seat coming to its B777s starting this June

Air France’s new biz class seat coming to its B777s starting this June

AIR FRANCE UNVEILS NEW FLAT BED BUSINESS SEAT…Air France has finally joined the lie-flat crowd with a mod new business class seat that transitions to a completely flat bed in a cocoon shell with a new 16-inch video screen. Replacing those irritating angled lie flat seats is going to take about two years, so don’t expect to see them in Atlanta any time soon. First up for the new seats are Air France’s 44 Boeing 777s. After that, its Airbus A330s and A380s will get the new seats. However, Air France’s 747s (which fly to Atlanta during summer months) won’t get the new seats since the jumbos are being phased out of its fleet. Here’s an in-depth look at the new seat from our mates at Australian Business Traveler.

ARE YOU A DELTA HVC?  It’s not just miles that can get you extra special treatment at the airport from Delta… it’s also cold hard cash. According to a new report from Ideaworks, “high value customers” or HVC’s aren’t necessarily frequent travelers. Instead they possess enough disposable income to buy super-elite perks from airlines (like airport escorts, private security screening or Porsche rides across the airport ramp). According to IdeaWorks, Delta’s program is called “VIP Select Service” and is available at ATL, LAX, JFK and SFO. Fees for such services vary, but start at $125 for one passenger. Interested? The report includes this email address for queries: VIPselect@Delta.com

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DELTA POSTS ENORMOUS PROFIT… Delta President Ed Bastian attributes Delta’s recent spate of fat quarterly profits to reduced flying by airlines, which allows more profitable fares and fuller airplanes. If you note happier employees this month, it’s because Delta provides a profit sharing check when the airline does well. This is Delta’s fourth year of posting profits, which is no doubt one of the reasons that industry magazine Air Transport World recently named Delta Air Lines the “Airline of the Year” for 2012.

AMERICAN DROPS ATL-LAGUARDIA NONSTOPS…As part of the American-US Airways merger, AA has realigned its flying schedule from the New York market launching service to dozens of new airports across the country. However, to do so, it had to drop other routes, which includes its regional jet flying from Atlanta to LaGuardia. The new American can only operate a fixed number of departures from the airport due to the limited slots it holds at LGA. This leaves Delta and AirTran/Southwest as the only carriers in the busy ATL-LGA market.

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 9.28.48 PMDEAL ON MOBILE OFFICE SPACE. Regus, the outfit that rents office space to business travelers and mobile workers in over 1,800 locations around the world, is offering a nice deal via Amazon Local. The $20 Mobile Worker Pack deal offers two hours usage of of a professional meeting room for up to four people, plus five visits to a Regus Business Lounge, refreshments, and access to administrative support. Retail value for this pack is $260, so The TICKET just saved you $240! Check it out here. 

MORE ROCKETMILES. Remember when The TICKET wrote about Rocketmiles when it launched last year? Rocketmiles is a hotel booking website that offers travelers gigantic frequent flyer mile bonuses (7,000 – 15,000 in many cases) for staying at its carefully curated list of upscale hotels. Well, it seems the business is working because Rocketmiles just secured $6.5 million more in funding from Silicon Valley VCs. Not bad! When you check out the site Rocketmiles from this link, both you and The TICKET earn 1,000 bonus miles, so check it out and help us out!

ATLANTA AIRPORT CONSIDERING FREE WIFI…The airport authority is seeking approval for a wireless infrastructure upgrade that could pave the way for free wi-fi airport-wide. A new system would need to support the high number of travelers that would no doubt take advantage of it. Projections are that nearly 15,000 people could log on at one time; the current pay system that was installed in 2005 can only handle 4,000 users simultaneously. The upgrade could cost as much as $6 million and may be in place as early as this spring. You may remember that plans were in place to offer free wi-fi by last fall, but the bidding process among potential providers was riddled with hiccups that delayed the overall process.

Eastern Airlines back in the day!

Eastern Airlines back in the day!

UNLIKELY BUT TRUE. An outfit in Florida has filed papers to resuscitate the Eastern Airlines brand. While there’s a LOT more to cranking up a new airline than filing papers, it’s interesting to see Atlanta’s one-time #2 carrier back in the news. A press release states, “Eastern Air Lines Group, Inc. was formed to re-launch Eastern Air Lines as a passenger airline using the Airbus A320 aircraft from its main base of operations at Miami International Airport (“MIA”).  Eastern’s headquarters is located in Building 5A at MIA. Eastern Air Lines Group, Inc. is not affiliated with the former Eastern Air Lines, which operated from 1928 to 1991 as one of the largest U.S. domestic air carriers.” Follow Eastern on Twitter.

LAGUARDIA AIRPORT GETS OVERALL IMPROVEMENTS…New York state will begin a $3.6 billion upgrade project for La Guardia that includes a new central terminal building with fancier food and shopping outlets and free wireless Internet. Delta does not operate from the central terminal building, and its terminals C and D are not as dilapidated as the rest of the airport facility. However, Southwest and AirTran do use the older central terminal. Common complaints include few escalators, limited full-service restaurants, low ceilings, and poor maintenance upkeep. Construction on the new facility, once plans are approved, could begin by the end of the year. 

WHAT’S IN YOUR WALLET? With all the changes (and devaluations) coming to our cherished frequent flyer programs, it’s a good idea to starting focusing on other ways to earn free trips—such as credit card programs. Over the last year, the new Barclaycard World Arrivals card has shot to the top of a lot of comparison charts when it comes to rewards cards. That’s because it offers a value of $2 for every $100 spent, special bonuses for travel-related points redemptions, no irritating foreign transaction fees…and a nice 40,000 point sign-up bonus (that’s one free $400 ticket with no blackout dates).  The $89 annual fee is waived for the first year. When you get a Barclaycard World Arrivals card via links in The TICKET, we earn a small commission… so come on and help us out if you are in the market for a new card! Thanks. More info here.

Chris McGinnis  & Ramsey Qubein

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Track MQMs + Coach upgrade + Economy Comfort MQDs + Delta’s secret 360 club + More

2014 MEDALLION TRACKER NOW ONLINE…No need to worry about Delta keeping tabs on your status for the New Year. A new tracker is now available on Delta.com under the My Delta section of your SkyMiles profile. It keeps check of your Medallion qualification metrics: MQMs (miles), MDQs (dollars), and MQS’ (segments)… it will also keep track of your Delta American Express credit card spend (as you remember, spending $25,000 in 2014 will provide a waiver for meeting Medallion Qualification Dollar spend next year). Effective Jan. 1, the tracker will also appear on the Delta app. Happy flying (and spending) in the New Year!

MORE ECONOMY CLASS COMFORT…Delta has boosted its international economy class with some nice recent enhancements. Delta offered many of these benefits nearly a decade ago, but cut back in economic hard times. The goodies are back for travelers though. In addition to recently announced free cocktails for economy passengers, now everyone will receive a large bottle of water and small amenity kit with eyeshades and socks among other travel items on long-haul flights. Delta is the only North American airline to offer these added benefits to coach passengers.

DELTA SEAT PURCHASES QUALIFY FOR MQD SPENDING…Purchasing Economy Comfort or a preferred exit row/bulkhead seat on your next flight in 2014? Well, you have more incentive now. That purchase will count toward your MQD spend. Previously, Economy Comfort brought more than added legroom; on international flights, it also brought free cocktails. This new MQD perk sweetens the pot, especially if you are getting close to hitting a threshold.

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DELTA CEO SAYS NO TO LOUD TALKERS…In a sigh of relief for most airline passengers and crew, Delta CEO Richard Anderson has publicly stated that there will be no in-flight cell phone calls permitted aboard Delta aircraft, even if other airlines decide to allow it. Other airlines, including Southwest, have also come forward saying they would not allow it on their flights. (Texting during flight? Bring it on, airlines. But please keep it cheap.)

LESS BUSINESS, MORE ECONOMY SEATING…Delta is pulling BusinessElite seats from several of its 777 and 767 aircraft in the coming year to make room for extra rows of Economy. Certain routes stimulate more demand in the back of the aircraft, and this will give Delta more flexibility to maximize revenue in certain markets. Certain 767s will lose 14 seats up front and gain 20 in Economy while 777s will lose 7 seats up front and gain 24 in Economy. There is already a subset of 767s in the Delta system that has fewer BusinessElite seats.

Delta 360 members are likely the ones getting views like this (from a Porsche on the tarmac) (Photo: Delta)

Delta 360 members are likely the ones getting views like this (from a Porsche on the tarmac) (Photo: Delta)

DELTA 360 TESTED FOR TOP ATLANTA FLYERS…Delta has been quietly sending out invitations to Delta 360, its high-revenue, elite offering (similar to United Global Services and American Concierge Key). There is no published revenue amount to qualify, and invitations were only sent to a subset of customers mostly in the Atlanta area. If it goes well, Delta hopes to expand the program, which comes with a dedicated reservations line and special monitoring of flights on the day of travel to proactively assist with connections and rebooking, if necessary. It seems to be a super-secret trial program right now reserved for Delta’s highest mileage, biggest spenders.  Surprised TICKET reader (and 2 million miler) LR provided us with a heads up on the program last month. He wrote: “Did I miss the article on Delta’s new 360 Priority program? I got an invite to 360 about a month ago, and when I called the Diamond line last night I was routed to a very competent 360 operator.  Pretty interesting.” Have you received an invitation? Noticed anything different when you travel so far? Please leave your comments below. 

MORE SEATTLE FLIGHTS…New Delta flights from Seattle bound for Juneau, Alaska and San Jose, California will keep flyers on the go. Also planned is an extra Seattle-Anchorage flight to leading to three daily nonstops in the peak summer season. This furthers the battle between Delta and hometown carrier Alaska Airlines. This Delta/Alaska tussle has re-kindled talk of an eventual Delta takeover of Alaska Air… what do you think?

Green Coat Airport ValetAVOID HOLIDAY HASSLES WITH VALET PARKING AT ATL! Have you noticed the flurry of men and women in green blazers on the lower level passenger pick up areas at ATL? They are new parking valet attendants from GreenCoat Auto Concierge & Valet service. For $20 per day, you can now drive to the airport, leave your car with a GreenCoat at the terminal, and head off on your trip. The valet will drive your car to a secure, indoor, off-airport lot and park it. When you return, just call GreenCoat and let them know you’re coming, and an attendant will bring your car back to the airport terminal, hand it over to you, and you drive home. Nice! GreenCoat has just signed on as a sponsor of The TICKET so you’ll be hearing more about the service in coming months. Give it a try and let us know how it goes! NOTE: ADVANCE RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED. Special for TICKET readers: First timers get 1,000 Delta SkyMiles! 

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HOLLYWOOD SNEAK PEEK…During December passengers aboard Delta flights are enjoying a sneak peek at the new movie, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” Lucky TICKET contributor Ramsey Qubein chatted with one of the movie co-stars, Kristen Wiig, in Seattle as she returned from filming in Iceland earlier this year. Visitors to Delta’s Facebook page between Dec. 4-27 have the chance to win up to 50,000 SkyMiles through the Mitty-inspired “Stop Dreaming and Start Doing” sweepstakes.

Delta's newest jet, the Boeing 737-900 (Photo: Drewski / Flickr)

Delta’s newest jet, the Boeing 737-900 (Photo: Drewski / Flickr)

NEW SPIRIT OF SEATTLE PLANE…Delta has dubbed one of its newest Boeing B737-900 aircraft, the “Spirit of Seattle,” in honor of local customers and employees. The plane features a special livery and promotes its recent expansion at Sea-Tac. Flight attendants are also wearing pins commemorating the Spirit of Seattle. Expanded service from Seattle includes new flights to Fairbanks, Alaska and Vancouver, Canada, both of which will begin next summer. Have you flown on the 737-900, Delta’s newest aircraft? What do you think? By the end of the year, Delta will have a dozen of the shiny new jets in operation.

TICKET NEWS HITS FACEBOOK FIRST. When there’s news you need to know, The TICKET frequently posts it on our Facebook page first (and eventually it makes its way into a The TICKET.) So if you want to be among the first to know, join the thousands of TICKET readers who get a regular dose of fare deals, travel news, and advice via our Facebook page. Come on and join the fun…and stay informed.

GERMANY GOES ALL LIE-FLAT…If you are traveling between the U.S. and Germany on Delta, all business class seats now feature the latest flat-bed product with staggered single seats by the windows and two seats in the center section. Delta flies to Germany from Atlanta, Detroit, and JFK. From Atlanta, Delta flies to Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich, and Stuttgart.

KLM New business class

FLAT-BED SEATS COMING TO KLM’s ATL FLIGHTS…Eventually. SkyTeam partner KLM is rolling out new flat-bed business class seats on its aircraft beginning with the Boeing 747 fleet of aircraft. Five aircraft feature the new seating and are appearing on routes like San Francisco and JFK to Amsterdam. The new seats extend to sleeping cocoons with larger entertainment screens than business class on Lufthansa and British Airways. By late spring 2014, the entire fleet of jumbo jets will be retrofitted guaranteeing flat-bed seats up front on 747 flights from Houston, San Francisco, Chicago, and JFK to Amsterdam among other international destinations in the KLM route network. Next up for the new seating will be the B777-200 fleet. Plans are in place to have flat-bed seating on all KLM long-haul aircraft in the coming years. For now, KLM flies the Airbus A330 to Atlanta, which still has the angled flat seats, but these will be updated over time as well.

DELTA TO BOOST DALLAS FLIGHTS…Delta is planning to expand its operation at Dallas Love Field should it get the green light from the U.S. Department of Justice. It has to bid on the gates, which are being made available thanks to the merger between American and US Airways. The new flights would include nonstop service to Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and New York LaGuardia. Additional frequencies on the existing route to Atlanta would also be added.

WHAT’S IN YOUR WALLET? With all the changes (and devaluations) coming to our cherished frequent flyer programs, it’s a good idea to starting focusing on other ways to earn free trips—such as credit card programs. Over the last year, the new Barclaycard World Arrivals card has shot to the top of a lot of comparison charts when it comes to rewards cards. That’s because it offers a value of $2 for every $100 spent, special bonuses for travel-related points redemptions, no irritating foreign transaction fees…and a nice 40,000 point sign-up bonus (that’s one free $400 ticket with no blackout dates).  The $89 annual fee is waived for the first year. When you get a Barclaycard World Arrivals card via links in The TICKET, we earn a small commission… so come on and help us out if you are in the market for a new card! Thanks. More info here.

Chris McGinnis & Ramsey Qubein 

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Best & worst days for holiday trips

(Photo: Bert Kaufmann)

(Photo: Bert Kaufmann)

Holiday travel season usually mimics the peak summer travel season, which this year was very busy and very expensive, so I expect the same for the upcoming holiday season.

Screen Shot 2013-11-30 at 9.26.07 AMWhen’s the best time to buy airline tickets? Due to high demand, there simply are not any real airfare “deals” on the peak days around Christmas and New Year’s this year. Travelers who want the most convenient flights on their preferred airlines should book as soon as possible to get seats on those flights…otherwise they will likely be stuck paying the same high price for “dog flights” that depart super early or late, they’ll have to sit in those dreaded middle seats, or make several stops en route to their destinations. My favorite sites for shopping for air travel this year: Kayak.com and Routehappy.com.

Should I drive or fly this year? I always stick to the five-hour rule: If you can drive to your destination in five hours or less, it’s likely smarter to hit the road instead of the skies during the holidays. This is especially true for families traveling together. Good news this year is that gasoline prices are at their lowest in many years. One of my favorite new smartphone apps for driving trips is Waze, a GPS-based mapping tool that uses information provided by other drivers to help you avoid traffic, road hazards…and speed traps.

Screen Shot 2013-12-01 at 1.18.27 PM

What are the best days for traveling this year? The good news about this year’s holiday season is that it is longer than usual with Christmas and New Year’s falling on Wednesdays– the full season will be over two weeks long, which means more wiggle room for travelers. (Compared to a season when Christmas and New Year’s both fall on say, Sunday, which makes for a much more compact, crowded and expensive season.) Smart travelers will depart on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and return on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day to avoid the biggest crowds and snag the lowest fares.

London in January? Why not? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

London in January? Why not? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Are there any alternatives or hidden secrets to getting good deals this year? If you have the flexibility to travel during the slowest times of year, the so called “dead weeks” of early December and early January, you can save 50%-70% on airfare or hotels. For example, airfares to Europe can be remarkably inexpensive during winter months. The best sites to shop for these dead week deals: Hotwire.com, Priceline.com and TravelZoo.com. It’s also a good idea to check out airline or hotel social media streams on sites like Twitter or Facebook to look for short term, last minute sales.

Is now a good time to redeem points or miles for trips? It’s nearly impossible to use airline frequent flyer awards during the blacked out, heavily restricted peak holiday season. Instead of dealing with those frustrations, focus on your credit card points! For example, the when redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you are not subject to blackouts or other restrictions. If a seat is available on any airline, you can get it!

What about airline baggage fees? If possible, avoid checking bags during the holidays– the risk of your bag getting lost and ruining your trip is just too high. Try to learn to live out of a carry on. If you have too much for a carry on, ship your bags ahead of time, but do so at the “ground” rate at UPS, FEDEX or the Postal Service. Shipping a 25 lb bag via next-day or two-day express is just too expensive.

What’s a good way to avoid holiday travel stress? Always try to book nonstop flights because you double your chances of a delay or cancellation with a one stop flight, even though you might save a few bucks. Another stress-busting move: Consider staying over in a hotel when visiting families during the holidays– rates at new hotels like a locally owned Best Western in or near suburban office parks hit annual lows during holidays (due to the lack of business travelers), and facilities are usually new and nice. Having your own space at a hotel is a big relief for both the traveler and the host during the stressy holidays.

Doesn't that look more appealing than a lumpy sofa bed? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Doesn’t that look more appealing than a lumpy sofa bed at the in-laws? (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

‘Tis the season for Holiday Travel and I’m pleased to announce that I’ve teamed up with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card to produce a series of travel tips and advice for those heading over the river and through the woods this year. 

Chris McGinnis 

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First fall/winter fare sale worth a look

SouthwestTail

Southwest Airlines announced a three-day, nationwide fare sale today that will likely be matched by most other airlines across the country within 24 hours.

The prices are decent, but these fares are not available on key dates around the Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Years season. (See fare chart below.) Today, Travelocity reported that holiday airfares are 7% higher than last year’s holiday season…and last year was expensive.

These fare only apply to trips during the so-called “dead weeks” in early December and early January. They do not include travel on busy Fridays and Sundays.

However, if you have the flexibility to travel during the dead weeks, these fares represent good value. Here’s why:

>They are perfect for business travelers who may want to visit a client one last time this year, or early next year.

>They offer some good opportunities for end-of-year “mileage runners” hoping to gain or maintain elite status.

>They are also a nice break for flexible fliers who may not be able to shell out the big bucks for overpriced flights on key dates around the holidays.

>If you are planning to ski this year, Southwest offers plenty of great deals to cities near western ski resorts.

Here’s the Southwest fine print. Look for similar fares (with identical restrictions) to pop up on other carriers within one or two days.

These low fares are available for purchase on southwest.com starting Tuesday, Oct 8 through Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, 11:59 p.m. for the respective time zone of the originating city, for travel every day of the week except Fridays and Sundays, Dec. 4 through Dec. 18, 2013, and Jan. 7 through Feb. 12, 2014. For travel up to 500 miles, fares are $49 one-way. For travel 501 to 1,000 miles, fares are $99 one-way.  For travel 1,001 to 1,500 miles, fares are $129 one-way.  For travel 1,501 plus miles, fares are $149 one-way.

 Route Thanksgiving Peak: Nov 27-Dec 1 roundtrips Dead Week Deal: Dec 11-14 roundtrips
ATL-New York LGA $550 $197
ATL-Chicago MDW $355 $197
ATL-Orlando $375 $98
ATL-Denver $415 $238
ATL-LAX $573 $337

(Nonstop fares searched on Southwest.com Oct 8, 2014 and subject to availability and change)

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Chris McGinnis

*****

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More SkyMiles devaluations + Award holds + Aspen + Albany

Are Delta's lie-flat business class seats worth 25% more? (Delta Air Lines)

Are Delta’s lie-flat business class seats worth 25% more? (Delta Air Lines)

DELTA RAISES AWARD PRICES BY 25%…Thought Delta had punched you in the gut enough already? It ain’t over. Delta is bumping up the prices for those already scarce low-level BusinessElite seats by as much as 25 percent for flights after June 1, 2014. The advance notice is appreciated to allow flyers to book trips at the 100,000 level, but only if they can find them using Delta’s frustrating delta.com website. The pricing tool is often broken or confusing, and the calendar feature can be misleading showing low-level awards when they are not really there. Delta claims this change is actually positive, in a way, since the introduction of new flat-bed seats across the fleet (coming soon to 757s flying overseas) and new amenities like Tumi amenity kits and Westin Heavenly Bed pillows and duvets have made the flying experience better (hence, the seats are more valuable). We believe, however, that those upgrades were actually just catching up with the competition. Burn your miles now before they are devalued yet again. Tell us what you think! Please leave your comments below.

AWARD HOLDS GONE…Delta has also shortened the window to hold awards down to 48 hours on delta.com. The change goes into effect Sept. 9 and is hailed as a positive since it will free up seats for people ready to book awards. While this may be the case in some situations, Delta is making it seem that it will drastically improve award availability. However, it’s almost guaranteed that delta.com will still deliver the same clunky errors and poor award space results as before. Still, Diamond and Platinum Medallion members can book rewards and cancel or modify them prior to 72 hours before departure.

Tokyo Haneda NaritaDELTA CEO WANTS TO MOVE TOKYO HUB TO HANEDA…Richard Anderson is urging the Japanese government to open the country’s skies to greater competition from non-Japanese airlines and wants to move Delta’s Narita hub to the more convenient Haneda airport. (It’s located just 30 minutes south of central Tokyo while Narita is 90+ mins to the east.) The government controls the slot restrictions heavily at Haneda and often prioritizes domestic carriers All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines before catering to foreign companies. Ever wonder why some of Delta’s Haneda flights have such odd departure and arrival times? Slots. The government contends that the airport is full and that adding more than the planned 42 daytime slots coming next spring could pose a safety concern. Delta wants 25 more slots in order to make the move. Have you flown into Haneda; what did you think?

NONSTOP SEATTLE TO SEOUL AND HONG KONG…Delta is beefing up its Seattle presence even further adding nonstop flights to Seoul Incheon and Hong Kong. The Seoul flight will operate aboard a Boeing 767-300ER while the Hong Kong flight will ply the route using an Airbus A330-200. Both are outfitted with lie-flat beds in BusinessElite and Economy Comfort seating. This announcement continues the growth at Seattle/Tacoma, but also comes in the shadow of Delta announcing the cancellation of nonstop Seattle to Osaka service.

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Entry at Albany's shiny new terminal (Photo: Charles B. Gillespie)

Entry at Albany’s shiny new terminal (Photo: Charles B. Gillespie)

BRAND NEW TERMINAL FOR ALBANY. The Southwest Georgia Regional Airport in Albany debuted a shiny new $11 million terminal earlier this month, which replaced the aging McAfee Terminal. Delta Connection serves the airport with three 50-min flights per day to/from Atlanta. Roundtrip fares are about $250. (Hat tip to long time TICKET reader Charles Gillespie for bringing this to our attention!)

Lines at Global Entry kiosks? Oh my! (Chris McGinnis)

Lines at Global Entry kiosks? Oh my! (Chris McGinnis)

DISAPPOINTMENT WITH CUSTOMS & BORDER PROTECTION…The traveling public is not the only group of people annoyed with the inefficiency of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Long entry times at numerous airports (including Delta’s new terminal 4 at JFK) have created a tremendous backlog of missed flights and delayed passengers. Each passenger traveling internationally pays a portion of taxes included in their ticket to support the immigration and customs process so it is only fair to have this service rendered appropriately and efficiently. Even Global Entry kiosks, hailed by many as a time saver, are often not functioning or have lengthy lines of their own. Delta’s CEO recently joined the chorus of rants about CBP saying, “I think it’s an embarrassment for our government that as much as we as an industry pay into Customs And Border Patrol that we have issues at not just JFK but at Newark, at Chicago, at Los Angeles where we cannot seem to get our government to perform a very basic service. And those of us that travel extensively around the world and go to countries like Japan and China and Europe, Customs is a breeze. And in the U.S. despite all the investment that we make as an industry – we collect a fee from every passenger – we cannot get the kinds of levels of support … we’re pursuing every avenue in Washington and in Congress to get this problem solved.” Relatively speaking, CBP does a pretty good job at ATL. Agree or disagree? Have you experienced lengthy waits at U.S. entry points recently?

SKI BUMS GET NEW SERVICE…Delta will add new nonstop, daily, seasonal service to Aspen/Snowmass, Colo. from Atlanta and Saturday-only flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul beginning Dec. 21. The flights will be operated with CRJ-700 regional jets featuring nine first class, eight Economy Comfort, and 65 economy class seats. Aspen’s airport cannot accommodate larger aircraft, which is why the CRJ-700 is performing this lengthy flight. Aspen is providing Delta with financial incentives to offer the new flights.

MORE DL LOVE FOR LAX…Delta is extending its chauffeur-driven Porsche service to the tarmac of Los Angeles International Airport. In a service similar to what’s offered in Atlanta, high-valued passengers, especially those with extremely tight connections, will be shuttled to their next gate in style. Like Atlanta’s offering, it is an unexpected offering that is never guaranteed, but meant to surprise important travelers with wallet power to continue being loyal to the widget.

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Delta's party in LA w actor John Stamos (Overallsite.com)

Delta’s party in LA w actor John Stamos (Overallsite.com)

STAR POWER…If you thought Atlanta and New York were the only thing on Delta marketing folks’ minds, think again. The power list at its latest LA glamour party included local bigwigs and Hollywood celebrities including John Stamos. Why that one singular star was invited is vague, but the effort by Delta to make in-roads in the Hollywood and greater LAX market is not. As one of the U.S.’s biggest travel markets, the impressive market share by Delta is growing. Most recently, announcements to launch daily Cancun and Puerto Vallarta year-round service and double-daily Guadalajara summertime flights and Delta’s new LAX-SFO California Shuttle have bolstered the schedule.

CENTRAL U.S. TO CARIBBEAN BOOSTED…Delta is following the footsteps of package-tour and charter operators (a la USA 3000 Airlines) and launching service from Middle America to the Caribbean on weekends when planes are otherwise sitting idle from operating business-heavy flight schedules. New flights from Pittsburgh to Punta Cana and Nassau have been added to the schedule, which already includes Saturday-only flights to Cancun and regular flights to Paris. Indianapolis also picks up weekly service to Punta Cana and Nassau in the winter in addition to its weekly Cancun flight. Atlanta flyers should only find joy in these announcements as it boosts upgrade possibility from Atlanta by diverting Medallion-stronghold Midwestern traffic to nonstop flying.

TSA STILL TELLING ATLANTA PASSENGERS NO GUNS…As if you did not know by now, guns are not allowed on airplanes. As reported in The TICKET last month, TSA officials in Atlanta are still reporting record numbers of passengers passing through security with armed weapons. (ATL holds the dubious title of the airport where this happens most often.) Warnings were recently issued by TSA officials in Atlanta of jail sentences and fines up to $7,500 of passengers caught bringing armed weaponry through the checkpoint. While TSA is far from perfect (seen more random gate checks of your coffee and ID at the gate lately? Thank your tax dollars for that), there seems to be a subset of travelers that has not watched the news in over a decade. Keep your eyes peeled at security!

SOUTHWEST NO-SHOW POLICY TAKES EFFECT…Beginning Sept. 13, the full no-show policy will go into effect on Southwest tickets. Customers who cancel a Wanna Get Away or Ding fare before departure can reuse their funds toward future travel without a change fee as in the past. Customers with other fully refundable fares either request a refund or hold funds for future travel. HOWEVER, if the ticket is not canceled prior to departure (no show), travelers lose the entire value of the ticket.

Chris McGinnis

*****

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Chris in Clark Howard’s new book!

clark howard book

Clark’s new book is a real page turner!

By now you’ve probably heard that Clark Howard has a new book out … it’s called Living Large for the Long Haul and just rolled off the presses this month. ($12 on Amazon.com)

What you may not know is that Clark included an entire chapter (six pages!) called “The Savvy Business Traveler” about yours truly, TICKET editor Chris McGinnis! Yep, buy the book and flip to page 205 and you can see it for yourself!

Via an interview with me, Clark explains how my life (going all the way back to my childhood!) led to a career as a travel correspondent and consultant. He also reveals a lot of my top tips and best advice for business travelers. Of course and as usual, the book is peppered full of great practical and advice and tips…so buy it!

I’d like to highlight a few paragraphs from the chapter that I thought might stimulate a little dialog here on The TICKET. Take a read and please respond below!

Interestingly, Chris does not believe business travel is more difficult today than it was a generation or two ago.

‘I know I’ll get a lot of disagreement on this one, but having watched business travel closely over the last twenty years, I’m confident to say that business travel has improved enormously, and this has a lot to do with the transparency brought on by the Internet.’

Chris says that we have far more control over our trips than we used to– and control is all important to the business traveler.

‘Think of all the other advances we have now… Wi-Fi on planes; no smoking on planes; safer, new hotels; big, bright airport terminals; seats that fold into flat beds for sleeping on overnight flights; modern trains from airport to city; a fast and easy rental car process. All of these were dreams of business travelers back in what many like to call ‘the golden age of travel,’ when everyone dressed up to fly. Hogwash!

So dear TICKET reader… what do you think? Is business travel better or worse than it was in ‘the golden age of travel?” In your eyes, is the experience getting better…or worse? Please leave your comments below. 

*****

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Delta/Virgin done + pricey summer travel + PreCheck @ SFO + mess at United

Virgin Atlantic's route map

New places to go! Virgin Atlantic’s route map

DELTA AND VIRGIN ATLANTIC INK DEAL. Delta’s recent acquisition of 49% of Virgin Atlantic Airways is now complete, paving the way for the roll out of new benefits for travelers. Immediately, Delta Platinum, and Diamond Medallion members plus business class flyers gain access to Virgin Clubhouses (oases of luxury with restaurant menus, luxury bars, beauty salons, and spas all with Virgin’s compliments). Unfortunately, those of you flying from London-Heathrow to Atlanta (or New York) on Delta will still be using Heathrow’s nice but more prosaic SkyTeam lounge since Virgin flights do not depart from terminal four where Delta flights leave. However, if you are a Delta Platinum and Diamond Medallion member flying back to the states on Virgin, you’ll have access to its super-posh Clubhouse in Heathrow’s Terminal 3. Now there’s a reason to arrive early at the airport! Have you flown Virgin before? What did you think? Please leave your comments below. 

Virgin's super posh, recently renovated Clubhouse at JFK. Seen it yet? (Virgin Atlantic)

Virgin’s super posh, recently renovated Clubhouse at JFK. Seen it yet? (Virgin Atlantic)

DELTA-VIRGIN DEAL BOOSTS NYC-LONDON FREQUENCIES. There are no current plans for Virgin Atlantic to fly to Atlanta, according to a Delta spokesperson. But the key  development of this new partnership is that Delta and Virgin will now offer 9-10 flights daily (depending on the seasonal schedule) on New York – London, one of the world’s busiest and most lucrative routes. In addition to reciprocal lounge access, Delta flyers will earn mileage on Virgin flights and have access to priority check-in and boarding plus increased baggage allowance. Would you fly to London via New York (JFK or EWR), Boston or Washington DC instead of nonstop on Delta from ATL to fly on Virgin Atlantic or to sample its clubhouses? Please leave your comments below.

DELTA FINED FOR IMPROPER BUMPS. This just in from New York Times:  The government has fined Delta $750,000 for bumping some passengers involuntarily, without offering compensation or seeking volunteers first. Airlines sometimes sell too many tickets for a flight, and have to move, or “bump,” them to a later flight. If travelers do not volunteer, the airline has to compensate them. The Transportation Department said Wednesday that in March 2012 it visited the Atlanta headquarters of Delta and reviewed 310 complaints about how it handled overbookings from November 2010 to January 2012. The agency said it found numerous cases where Delta had failed to tell overbooked passengers about their rights to receive payments, failed to provide written notice, or failed to seek volunteers before bumping passengers involuntarily. Full story here. 

PRICEY SUMMER. This is expected to be the busiest summer travel season since before the recession of 2008. The peak of the peak summer travel season, which runs from roughly June 21 through August 10 this year, is now upon us. Airlines say that the busiest days of this summer will be Thursdays and Fridays, so avoid those if you can. Since this is THE most expensive, most crowded time of year to travel, try to postpone trips until late August if you can, and you may get through this summer with your wallet and sanity intact. (Check out my in-person travel tips in the above video, which is part of a summer travel project I’ve been working on with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.)

United flight attendants improvisation when toilet paper ran low. (Credit: Unknown)

United flight attendants improvised when toilet paper ran low on an London-SFO flight (Credit: Unknown)

UNUSUAL TP ON UNITED? By now you’ve likely heard about United flight 931 from London to San Francisco that somehow took off… without enough toilet paper. United uses a 747-400 on the 10-hour daylight flight from Heathrow, which has nine lavatories. Over the last week, the story has gone viral. A quick Google news search using “United Toilet Paper” shows at least 28 stories have run so far.While the story was originally posted on FlyerTalk, here’s our favorite take on it, from the Daily Beast: “Is it us, or does flying keep getting crappier? Every airline seems to be cutting back on something, but United took it to a whole new level by taking off for a ten-hour flight without [enough] toilet paper on board. Some quick thinking flight attendants stocked the bathrooms with cocktail napkins, but the effort didn’t sit well with passengers. In a statement, United said, ‘We apologize to our customers on this flight for the inconvenience and would like the opportunity to welcome them back.’” Another good headline from USA Today: “United is wiping up after a customer service mess.” CNN confirmed that the lavatories lacking TP were in the coach section, not in business or first class. Thoughts please! Leave them below in the comments section.

Precheck logo TMPRE CHECK ARRIVES AT SAN FRANCISCO. Delta flyers soon will have access to the speedy PreCheck lane when traveling on from SFO’s Terminal 1 Boarding Area c used by Delta. The lanes are expected to open in mid-July.

NEW SEATTLE-SHANGHAI SERVICE. Delta continues to bolster its Seattle-Tacoma gateway with international flights and has added nonstop Seattle-Shanghai service using a Boeing 767 aircraft fully equipped with lie-flat beds in BusinessElite and a retrofitted Economy Comfort cabin. Delta’s commitment to growing Seattle is also evidenced by Alaska Airlines’ recent announcement that it will drop all other international codeshare agreements (including Qantas and Emirates) to focus on its partnership with Delta. In the SEA-TAC gate areas, Delta has also added popular charging stations for those needing a power boost. We are hearing rumors about a potential new Delta nonstop between Seattle and London-Heathrow. Stay tuned!

MEMPHIS HUB OFFICIALLY AXED. Delta has finally announced the closure of its hub operation in Memphis, meaning more than a dozen cities lose nonstop flights to the one-time Northwest Airlines hub. Most of these flights used gas-guzzling CRJ-200 50-seat regional jets that Delta is phasing out anyway. This will funnel more traffic through the Atlanta hub, but Memphis will still maintain flights to major cities including Los Angeles, Boston, Washington DC.

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CINCINNATI SAFE, ACCORDING TO DELTA CEO. Richard Anderson publicly announced that Delta’s Cincinnati hub will continue to operate despite speculation that Delta might dump it, too based on the raft of recent cuts there.  For now, Delta still maintains a significant presence including nonstop service to Paris Charles de Gaulle. Anderson was even quoted as saying, “the hub is doing quite well…we feel really good about where are service levels are there.” What do you think… will CVG survive? Please leave your comments below.

Delta CEO Ricard Anderson (Delta Air Lines)

Delta CEO Ricard Anderson (Delta Air Lines)

DELTA CEO HAILED AS A HERO. Richard Anderson grabbed the spotlight in a positive way after quietly giving up his seat to a distressed traveler on her way to pick up her daughter from a diabetes camp. She has had experienced a trail of delayed and canceled flights throughout the day. In a classy move, neither Delta nor Anderson flaunted the act of kindness until the traveler publicly commented about the incident via a thank you letter on Facebook that went viral. Apparently,  Anderson even helped her lift her bag into the overhead, then sat upfront in the jumpseat with pilots for the flight.

UNITED FOLLOWS DELTA IN REVENUE REQUIREMENT FOR ELITES. Delta’s move to establish revenue requirements for flyers looking to maintain elite status  caught the eye of United, which followed suit this month with an even more harsh plan. United’s revenue requirements include similar spending levels and a credit card-spending pathway to avoid the revenue thresholds. However, United’s top-level, Premier 1K, (equivalent to Delta’s Diamond) does not qualify for an exemption no matter how much you spend on a co-branded United credit card. Flyers must spend $10,000 if they wish to maintain that top level of elite benefits. Like Delta, the changes go into effect in 2014 for 2015 elite qualification. Now the big question is whether or not American will join the club. What do you think?

ATL TO GET TOUCH-SCREEN GUIDES. A $2.1 million project to replace existing signage in Atlanta’s terminals with interactive screens is set to begin, pending a final approval from the city. These new signs will be easier to use and allow passengers to look up information about the entire airport such as the location of certain shops or restaurants. The old-school, static signs now are location-specific.

ANOTHER ATL NONSTOP TO SAO PAULO COMING. Delta has received preliminary approval for a second-daily nonstop between ATL and Sao Paulo. If approved, it will feature all lie-flat seating in business, plus several rows of Economy Comfort seats (which are now fitted on all mainline aircraft).

Delta's new Sky Deck at ATL. (Photo: Brad Bell)

Delta’s new Sky Deck at ATL. (Photo: Brad Bell)

SKY DECK OPEN AT ATLANTA TERMINAL F. The long-awaited Sky Deck at the Sky Club has opened allowing al fresco seating for club guests as they await their flights. See photos of JFK deck here. Views of the tarmac and aircraft below are captivating, and they are similar to those found at the newly opened Sky Deck at JFK terminal four. Outdoor seating was designed by Thom Felicia in partnership with Architectural Digest magazine. Have you tried it yet? Or are you waiting for the summer humidity to die down?

The apple-sized Beacon Phoenix wireless speaker in my NYC hotel room (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

The apple-sized Beacon Phoenix wireless speaker in my NYC hotel room (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

PORTABLE BLUETOOTH SPEAKERS. Last month Beacon Audio sent me one of their new, fist-sized, Phoenix Bluetooth speakers ($49-$99 depending on where you buy it) for a test drive. I’m no audiophile, but this tough, rubberized, rechargeable and travel-friendly speaker packs a wallop of sound that’s great for jamming on iTunes in the hotel shower—it also adds a deeper dimension to watching videos on my iPad. I plan on bringing it to the beach later this summer. Do you pack a portable speaker for your listening pleasure when on the road? What’s your speaker of choice? Why? Please leave your comments below.

Chris McGinnis & Ramsey Qubein

*****

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