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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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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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16 brand new must-see NYC hotels

A brand new Marriott Courtyard AND Residence  Inn open in this skyscraper near Central Park (Photo: Marriott)

A brand new Marriott Courtyard AND Residence Inn open in December in this skyscraper near the SW corner of Central Park (Photo: Marriott)

New hotels are sprouting up throughout New York City like mushrooms after a storm—New York has added more than 5,000 rooms in the last two years, and by the end of 2014, it will boast over 100,000, according to NYC & Company, the city’s tourism organization.

See my Google slideshow of new hotels here- photos and captions 

In December alone, Marriott will open two brand new hotels inside the same building: a 378-room Courtyard and a 261-room Residence Inn. The soaring steel and glass tower near the southwest corner of Central Park is now the tallest hotel building in the western hemisphere. Also in December, Hyatt opens the brand new-from-the-ground-up 487-room, 54-story Hyatt Times Square.

Check out the view from this room at the brand new Viceroy Hotel on 57th St. (Photo: Viceroy Hotel)

Check out the view from this room at the brand new Viceroy Hotel on 57th St. (Photo: Viceroy Hotel)

While heavy demand is keeping hotel prices high, many of Manhattans newest hotels are in the less expensive category—for example, in an area between the Empire State Building and Herald Square (just south of Times Square)… there is a concentration of brand new mid-priced, big brand hotels such as Best Western PremierHilton Garden InnHoliday Inn Express or Marriott Courtyard  (among others). These hotels offer relatively good deals, new (but small), modern rooms, free wi-fi, breakfast and points in your favorite hotel loyalty program– definitely worth checking out.

While most business travelers have likely spent the night at hotels in the popular, central Midtown or Times Square areas, demand has prompted a hotel building boom across all five boroughs of the city, providing a slew of brand new, upscale options in areas like the Upper West Side (NYLO hotel), Greenwich Village (The Jade Hotel) Brooklyn (Wythe Hotel) or Queens (Z Hotel).

Despite all the new construction, upscale hotels in NYC are expensive. It’s difficult to find a decent hotel room for less than $400 per night. Of course there are some times of year when rooms go for much less than that (like early January) but for the most part, you are going to have to part with a lot of cash for a nice room in NYC.

See my Google slideshow of new hotels here- photos and captions 

A few more highlights:

New Triplex Suites atop the New York Palace hotel have huge outdoor decks w Jacuzzis (Chris McGinnis)

New Triplex Suites atop the New York Palace hotel have huge outdoor decks w Jacuzzis (Chris McGinnis)

The opulent 909-room New York Palace hotel (on Madison Ave in Midtown) just completed a major $140 million re-do of all rooms and suites. Its triplex suites (see photo) are unlike anything I’ve ever seen in NYC. Wowza!

The mod, eclectic 178-room Hyatt Union Square opened in April 2013 one block south of Union Square Park on Fourth Ave and 13th St.

Hilton devotees should be pleased to know that  the new 463-suite Conrad New York hotel in Battery Park City (near Freedom Tower) took the place of the one time Embassy Suites in the same building. It’s now much more upscale, and full of downtown financial types from Wall Street or the Goldman Sachs building next door (which incidentally owns the hotel.)

The chic 240-room Viceroy New York opened in October 2013 on West 57th Street near Carnegie Hall– and right next door to the Parker Meridien.  The urbane 208-room Quin hotel opened down the street last earlier this month.

The new 60-room High Line Hotel (on the west side of town in Chelsea) is part of a mixed-use block that is part hotel, part Episcopal seminary and part residential building.

It’s fashionista central at the new 197-room Refinery Hotel, located in the garment district near Bryant Park.

See my Google slideshow of new hotels here- photos and captions 

Have you visited New York City recently? Where did you stay? Please leave your comments below

Chris McGinnis 

AVOID 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 1000 Delta SkyMiles! >>See ad…click on ad>>

In case you missed it:

Try the new Greencoat Valet Parking at ATL and earn 1,000 SkyMiles

Did I get it right about Atlanta? 

Southwest, but not AirTran, joins PreCheck

ATL ranks last + more Delta devaluations + 747 refurb complete + loaded guns

Holiday travel advice fit for a Queen

New rules about using electronics onboard

ATL Valet Parking + IHOP + SkyMiles downgrade + 717 delay + Double miles + Hot Nuts

8 things to like about Delta’s new California Shuttle

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Did I get it right about Atlanta?

Have you been inside the mode new Hyatt Atlanta Midtown hotel at 10th & Peachtree yet? (Chris McGinnis)

Have you been inside the mod new Hyatt Atlanta Midtown hotel at 10th & Peachtree yet? (Chris McGinnis)

As many TICKET readers may know, I wear a lot of hats in the travel biz… one of my roles is Business Travel Columnist for BBC… I write the monthly “BBC Business Trip” column which features what’s new, exciting, helpful or interesting about major business travel destinations around the world.

This month, I wrote about our home town, Atlanta and I’d like to hear what you all think… did I get it right? What did I leave out? What sort of advice would you give a business traveler headed to Atlanta for a few days? 

Here’s the introduction to my story… click on the links provided to read the whole thing. 

Business Trip Atlanta BBCLike its official symbol, the phoenix, Atlanta is rising from the ashes of the recent recession, maintaining its position as the commercial capital of the fast-growing southeastern US.

Over the last five years Atlanta has added a $1.4 billion international airport terminal, opened or renovated a slew of hotels, attracted additional national and regional business headquarters, and spurred development of once decaying downtown neighbourhoods with multimillion dollar mixed-use developments and parks.

Evidence of Atlanta’s comeback: overnight visitation was up 9% in 2012 compared to 2011, according to the city’s Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. In October 2013, Korean Air added daily 407-seat Airbus A380 nonstop flights between Atlanta and Seoul. The city ranked fourth in the US for meetings and conventions in 2012, after Orlando, Chicago and Las Vegas. Its surprisingly sophisticated and dynamic dining scene continues to enthuse visitors and locals alike – Atlantans dine out more often than New York or Chicago residents, and enjoy restaurant prices well below the national average, according to Zagat.

Most business travellers arriving in Atlanta will meet, eat and sleep somewhere along the north-south corridor, which starts in the city’s central core (downtown) and moves north to MidtownBuckhead and the sprawling Perimeter Centre/Dunwoody area, which has more office space than downtown. Stick close to this spine and you can get around easily by taxi or MARTA (the city’s rapid rail system).  But if business takes you into the tech-heavy northern suburbs such as Marietta, Alpharetta or Gwinnett County, a rental car is necessary to traverse the sprawl.

I wrote about the new mod new Hyatt in Midtown (a down to the studs revamp), the chic Le Meridien out by Perimeter Mall, the classy Mandarin Oriental near Lenox and the popular St Regis, Buckhead. For dining, I suggested The Optimist, King + Duke, KR Steakbar and the unusual new Gunshow. I suggested a walk or ride along the new Eastside Trail and Beltline, and talked a bit about southern manners.

Please take a read and let me know what I may have missed! What would YOU suggest to an international business traveler coming to ATL? (Leave your comments below) And use this as a resource to send out to colleagues coming into town.

Chris McGinnis 

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ATL ranks last + more Delta devaluations + 747 refurb complete + loaded guns

Tempting, yes. Healthy? Not so much. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Tempting, yes. Healthy? Not so much. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

ATLANTA AIRPORT FOOD RANKS LAST. First, the good news: Overall, airport fare has become a lot healthier in recent years… we’ve come a long way from those wizened wieners and dried out triangles of pizza from years gone by. According to a new study from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, 76% of airport restaurants offer at least one cholesterol free, plant-based entrée such as salads, veggie soups, wraps or burgers—that’s up from just 57% in 2001. Now the bad news… all those yummy Chick-fil-a sandwiches with waffle fries, Varsity dogs and rings with F.O.s and IHOP pancakes have put our airport at the bottom of the list when it comes to healthy food. According to the study, only 51% of the restaurants at ATL offer at least one high-fiber, cholesterol free option. ATL has ranked last for the past three years. Airports in Denver, Detroit, Chicago and Los Angeles ranked first, with over 80% of restaurants offering healthy options. What’s your favorite restaurant or food stand at ATL? Does it offer anything “healthy?” Please leave your comments below.

One Flew South at ATL Concourse E has some healthy options (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

One Flew South at ATL Concourse E has some healthy options (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

IN SEARCH OF HEALTHY FOOD? Here are some suggestions from the Physicians Committee for finding healthy food at ATL: Fresh Healthy Café (Concourse C) may be travelers best bet with fresh kale wraps, dairy- and gluten-free salads, mega berry smoothies, and spiced apple oatmeal bowls. Try cauliflower and parsnip soup, edamame, and garden mint sushi at One Flew South (Concourse E) or stop by D8 Grill for a black bean burger. Checkpoint Grill (Concourse T) offers fire-roasted tomato soup and a grilled Southern vegetable plate, overflowing with grilled asparagus, collard greens, and a side of sweet potato fries.

AWARD CHART CHANGES PART DEUX…Following United’s move last week to drastically increase mileage prices, Delta has taken the knife to its SkyMiles chart yet again. Despite already announced increases beginning June 1, 2014, Delta is raising rates for awards for travel on or after Feb. 1, 2014, clearly an opportunity Delta did not want to miss for snatching away more hard-earned miles. Take a peek and you’ll see increases on popular awards including low-level awards in first class to Hawaii (up 5K from 85,000 to 90,000 miles) and business class to the South Asian subcontinent (up 20K from 120,000 to 140,000 miles) and in low-level economy to Hawaii (up 5k from 40,000 to 45,000 miles), the Middle East (80,000 to 85,000 miles), and the South Asian subcontinent (80,000 to 85,000 miles). And if you are crazy enough to redeem high-level awards for business class travel, increases to Africa and most of Asia are also in place. These are additional increases set to take effect before the third devaluation in June. Confused yet? There are now THREE charts to muddle through: current, interim (Feb 1-May 31, 2014), and new. Good grief! Thoughts please at the bottom!

DOUBLE MILES FROM SEATTLE…Delta is really sinking its teeth into the Seattle market and is offering double miles AND double MQMs on all Delta-operated flights between SEA and Anchorage, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland, San Diego, and San Francisco. In what is direct, head-to-head competition with partner Alaska Airlines, this is certain to get some attention from local flyers. Even better, the promotion lasts until October 31, 2014. When was the last time you saw a year-round promotion? Maybe it’s time to move to Seattle! Register here

Virgin Atlantic's Clubhouse spa at London Heathrow Terminal 2 (Josh Friedman)

Virgin Atlantic’s Clubhouse spa at London Heathrow Terminal 3 (Photo: Josh Friedman)

DELTA MAKES BIG LONDON CHANGES…In partnership with Virgin Atlantic, Delta is moving its JFK, Boston, and Seattle nonstops to terminal 3 at Heathrow beginning April 2, 2014. This is a big plus for passengers excited about using Virgin’s famous Clubhouse lounge. All other Delta flights will continue to operate from the newly-renovated-but-still-not-as-sexy terminal 4 including the nonstop flights to Atlanta. This may cause some initial confusion, and passengers connecting at Heathrow from other SkyTeam flights (a minority of travelers overall), will have to switch terminals. Delta is also adding a second nonstop from Heathrow to Detroit beginning June 1, 2014. Virgin and Delta are also re-timing some of their flights to spread out frequency on the London-New York route with a total of nine departures daily including departure every 30 minutes during the early evening peak from New York.

AMEX POINT TRANSFER BONUS. American Express is offering a 20% bonus on points transfers to partner British Airways through Dec 31… and a 30% bonus on transfers to Virgin Atlantic through Nov 30.

 Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard - $89 Annual Fee Card 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.

All of Delta's 747's now refurbed (Photo: Redlegsfan)

All of Delta’s 747′s now refurbed (Photo: Redlegsfan)

DELTA COMPLETES 747 REFURB…All of Delta’s 747s are now equipped with comfortable flat-bed seating in BusinessElite. With 16 747s in the fleet and a full schedule between the U.S. and Asia, it is no easy task to pull them aside for interior refitting. The main deck biz class features 1-2-1 seating in the main section with 1-1 seating upstairs and in the lower deck’s nose section. These aircraft also received new economy class upgrades with entertainment systems installed at all seats, which was a much-needed and, now appreciated, overhaul.

HILTON OFFERS DOUBLE MQMs…Earn 250 MQMs with every two-night qualifying stay at a Hilton family property between now and Dec. 13, 2013. Plus, you will receive double SkyMiles if you have opted to receive points and miles with your Hilton HHonors account. Click here to register.

TSA SETS NEW RECORD FOR GUNS FOUND; ATL #1…The total tally for guns found year-to-date in coat pockets or in carry-on bags at airports across the U.S. comes to more than 1,500. The majority of the guns were loaded, and a third of them even had a bullet in the chamber. Atlanta is still the number one airport for guns discovered at TSA checkpoints with 91 found so far this year. Plans are in place to increase the signage indicating that weapons are not allowed. Perhaps these people forget they have them with them? Or are they trying to prove a point? Or were they living in a cave for the past decade? What do you think?

EXPERTFLYER LOSES UPGRADE DATA…If you use ExpertFlyer.com to access upgrade data, both Delta and United have nixed some of this information from public view via the service. Both airlines prefer to keep this information private, but for Delta frequent flyers searching for certain upgrade availability, it was often the best way to find RU/OU classes (complimentary domestic and Caribbean/Central American upgrades). If you are a Medallion and buying a ticket within your upgrade window, Delta.com will still show if upgrade inventory is there, but ExpertFlyer gave this information in advance of the upgrade window. Luckily, the inventory for systemwide certificate or mileage upgrades (RP/OP) still shows on ExpertFlyer.

NEW FLAT-BED SEATS ON JFK-LAX…Delta is placing three Boeing 757 aircraft equipped with new Business Elite flat bed seats onto the premium JFK-LAX run beginning July 1, 2014. Tickets are now available for purchase. By 2015, all flights on this route will feature the flat bed seats up front. These aircraft are primarily used on long-haul flying to Europe and South America plus these premium transcontinental flights between JFK and LAX, SFO, and SEA. LAX will be the first to see officially these on the schedule; if you know your summer plans, the beds are open for booking!

Chris McGinnis & Ramsey Qubein

*****

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ATL Valet Parking + IHOP + SkyMiles downgrade + 717 delay + Double miles + Hot Nuts

The first ever airport IHOP opened last month at ATL (Chris McGinnis)

The first ever airport IHOP opened last month at ATL (Chris McGinnis)

FIRST AIRPORT IHOP LOCATION OPENS IN ATLANTA…Need a maple or boysenberry syrup-drenched griddle before takeoff or a carb reload after landing? Well, ATL can now proudly proclaim that it is the first airport to offer an IHOP at its terminal. The restaurant is dubbed “IHOP Express,” and it’s open 24 hours a day. It’s located before security in the main terminal atrium with seating for 100. A “to go” section will be available for those that prefer their pancakes on the plane instead of having them in the restaurant to enjoy. IHOP says it plans to open other airport locations in the near future.

VALET PARKING ARRIVES 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 1000 Delta SkyMiles! >>See ad…click on ad>>

Delta Boeing 717

DELTA BOEING 717 DELAYS DUE TO CERTIFICATION ISSUES…The Boeing 717s coming from AirTran to the Delta fleet were originally supposed to enter service in September, but snags with FAA certification of the aircraft have pushed the first flight into late October. (First flight to Newark was on Friday Oct 25) One of the problems that had arisen involved tray tables in the emergency exit rows, which needed to be reworked before approved. The rows were readjusted to accommodate for Delta’s Economy Comfort seating. The updated 717s will eventually replace many of Delta’s ancient DC-9s and cramped CRJs.

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SKY MILES AWARD BOOKING HOLDS BITE THE DUST…Delta quietly discontinued its policy for 48-hour courtesy holds on award bookings for elite members. This change was proposed to be a positive for customers since it will make more award space available rather than having it tied up in “holds” for customers. However, for many passengers, the reverse is true since it means that travelers will have to lock in their trip right away, and using the clunky delta.com reservation process makes that even more cumbersome since finding connecting flights on award partners and organizing hotels make things more complex. Just when you thought the Delta award booking process could not get more difficult, it got worse. If you don’t have free mileage redeposit as a Diamond or Platinum Medallion, how will this  change affect you? Please leave your comments below.

Progress on Delta's installation of flat bed seating

Progress on Delta’s installation of flat bed seating

MORE DELTA UPDATES:  Delta will soon add new flat bed business class seats on its 767-300 flights between ATL and Zurich. Currently 69% of Delta’s international fleet have lie-flat biz class seats. Delta’s once per week nonstops between ATL and Freeport, Bahamas starting Dec 19. Delta will test the waters in Haiti with a new nonstop 737 flight between ATL and Port-au-Prince starting next June, but the seasonal service will only run through August.

DELTA’S HOLIDAY SAFETY VIDEO. It’s not even Halloween yet! But with everyone already talking about the holiday travel season, Delta’s just released its new holiday themed pre-flight safety video. Check it out for a few cameos from familiar faces…and the same kinda cute ‘n corny antics from the current pre-flight video collection. Insiders say that Delta’s already working on a new round of in-flight safety videos…we’ve heard that some of Delta’s top brass ordered the update… stay tuned! What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

DOUBLE SOUTHWEST RAPID REWARDS POINTS…Between now and Nov. 21, Rapid Rewards members will receive double points on Southwest flights. To register for the promotion, visit www.southwest.com/nationwidedouble. New Southwest flights from ATL to Jacksonville, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Boston, and San Antonio crank up next April (replacing AirTran service), and sale fares as low as $99 one way are in place to kick off the new schedule. Travelers to or from San Juan can enjoy triple Rapid Rewards points for travel between now and Dec. 12 no matter what their destination or origination.

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No more hot nuts on Delta's overseas flights (Photo: SFO777/FlyerTalk)

No more hot nuts on Delta’s overseas flights (Photo: SFO777/FlyerTalk)

NO MORE HOT NUTS?…Delta has revamped Business Elite meal service again, and some customers may have strong feelings about the changes. In the new service, hot nuts have been eliminated from the cocktail service, and customers are pushed right into the appetizer along with their first drink. (However, packaged nuts are offered with pre-flight beverages before take off.) In addition, drinks and trays are delivered from an economy class-style cart cleverly disguised with a cloth to hide its industrial side. The soup and salad course are now served together. The overall change is meant to speed up meal service to allow for more sleeping time, which some customers may appreciate, but for others…the change could be perceived as a downgrade to the more robust offerings that the Business Elite brand was based upon when launched. What do you think about these changes? Have you noticed them yet? Please leave your comments below. 

AMERICAN EXPRESS CENTURION LOUNGE OPENS AT DFW…Following a recent opening in Las Vegas, Amex has opened another Centurion Lounge; this time, at Dallas-Fort Worth’s international terminal D. The airport lounge is swankier than most facilities in the U.S. because it features its own spa (offering 15-minute treatments to all entrants for free), more substantial food menus in partnership with Dean Fearing of Fearing’s restaurant in Dallas, signature cocktails by Jim Meehan, and concierge services that go beyond just airline issues to extend to destination assistance. The best news of all is that American Express Platinum (Note: NOT SkyMiles Platinum) cardholders now receive free access to the Centurion lounge system (previously, it was reserved only for Centurion or “black” cardholders). Access comes with two guests or one’s spouse and children and includes all Centurion lounges in the system including Las Vegas. Day passes for $50 are open to cardholders of other American Express cards. Our sister publication The B.A.T. reports that a new Centurion Lounge will open at San Francisco International next summer, located in United’s Terminal 3. (Delta, Southwest & AirTran fly out of Terminal 1)

$100 HOTEL ROOMS IN NYC? YEP. Anyone who has traveled to New York recently has felt the pain of some of the highest hotel rates in the country. But that will change during the cold dark weeks of early January. From Jan 3-12, you’ll find rates of $100, $200 and $300 available at a variety of properties, (many of which currently go for nearly $500 a night), so the savings can be substantial. For example, the popular Affinia Manhattan is going for $100 per night; the hip and brand new Refinery Hotel (garment district) and Jade hotel (Greenwich Village) are going for $200 per night. For $300 you can squeeze in the trendy new Thompson LES (Lower East Side) for $300. For a full listing of participating hotels and how to get the discount see this. 

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DELTA MOST PUNCTUAL U.S. AIRLINE IN SEPTEMBER…Would it surprise you to learn that Delta had the most on-time flights of any major U.S. airline in September? We here at The Ticket have been impressed with the smooth operation of our Delta flights over the past few months, and Delta’s 89.3 percent of on-time arrivals in September, according to FlightStats, is not surprising. On-time flights are defined as those that arrive within 15 minutes of schedule. Behind Delta was Alaska with 86.8 percent and Virgin America with 84.8 percent. Southwest had a poor showing with only 76.6 percent of its flights arriving on time in September. What have been your recent experiences?

DELTA DOUBLES UP TO SAO PAULO…Beginning in March 2014, Delta will place a second aircraft on the daily service rotation to Sao Paulo, Brazil. Like all other Sao Paulo flights, the second flight will feature full flat-bed seats in Business Elite and Economy Comfort seating in the main cabin. Delta secured the extra landing slot from the Brazilian authorities, and it is made even more beneficial for travelers thanks to the codeshare possibilities with Brazilian airline partner GOL

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Ramsey Qubein & Chris McGinnis

*****

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  • Earn 2X miles on all purchases
  • No mileage caps or foreign transaction fees
  • Get 10% miles back when you redeem for travel statement credits (i.e. redeem 25,000 miles for travel and get 2,500 miles back)
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  • Easily redeem your miles for statement credits towards all or a portion of your travel purchases within the last 90 days
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Elements of Sky Priority for sale + Food at ATL + Southwest devalues + MQDs + PreCheck + SPG upgrades + Delta’s Porsches

Summer's officially over and it's time to hit the road and skies again. (DickTay2000)

Summer’s officially over and it’s time to hit the road and skies again. (DickTay2000)

SOME SKY PRIORITY BENEFITS FOR SALE…Delta is putting elements of Sky Priority and other travel benefits up for sale for general SkyMiles members between now and Jan. 5. The cost is $199 and applies to up to eight additional travelers in the same record, which is an extraordinary value for a family or group of colleagues that travels together and checks luggage. Medallion members cannot purchase this benefit. The Smart Travel Pack, as Delta is calling it, includes one free checked bag per person, priority boarding, a discount for Economy Comfort seating (half off on domestic flights and 25 percent off on international flights), and access to preferred seating. The member that buys the package will also receive a benefit of 20 percent more SkyMiles. While it is good to see Delta making additional revenue, it could come at the expense of Medallion members who book tickets at the last minute since they may now have fewer preferred exit row and bulkhead seats to choose from…was that not the point of introducing the preferred seating in the first place? However, Medallions and first class passengers will probably still hold priority in boarding, but it certainly increases the percentage of people that have first crack at the overhead bins. Pretty much everyone has priority boarding these days! How do you feel about this move? Please leave your comments below.

UPDATE: Delta reached out to The TICKET this morning to respond to the above item stating: “The sale of Delta’s Smart Travel Pack does not diminish any benefits that a Sky Priority eligible customer would receive through their SkyMiles Medallion or front of cabin status. While certain elements similar to what customers receive through Sky Priority are offered in the Smart Travel Pack promotion, they are not the same. For example, Priority Boarding offered through this promotion comes after Sky Priority customers are invited to begin Delta’s boarding process.”

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 3.05.12 PMSOUTHWEST DEVALUES RAPID REWARDS. So it’s not just Delta devaluing its frequent flyer program. Southwest is jumping in the game, too. This week they sent out this friendly warning that the points required to redeem is lowest fare tickets would soon increase 15%: “We want to inform you of an upcoming change to the Rapid Rewards Program that will affect the number of points needed for reward travel. Wanna Get Away reward flight bookings made on or after March 31, 2014 will require 70 points per dollar. This is an increase from the 60 points per dollar currently required…We hope you understand that in order to continue providing these benefits, we must make changes to the Rapid Rewards Program from time to time.” Sound familiar? Do you understand? 

MQD TALLY NOW APPEARS AT DELTA.COM…The Medallion Qualification Dollar (MQD) amount, the total number of dollars you spend on qualifying Delta or partner airline tickets beginning with -006, now shows online in your profile. The breakdown also appears next to each flight segment along with your earned mileage. Remember taxes and most fees are not included in your MQD tally, which will be used as an additional measurement of attaining Medallion status in 2015. Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, the MQD minimums will need to be met in addition to MQMs for each level ($2,500 for Silver; $5,000 for Gold; $7,500 for Platinum; and $12,500 for Diamond). MQDs earned in 2013 do not count and do not carry over; they are simply listed now to get travelers used to the idea.

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New Chick-fil-a, PF Chang's and more now at ATL Concourse A (Getty)

New Chick-fil-a, PF Chang’s and more now at ATL Concourse A (Getty)

NEW FOOD COURT OPENS IN ATL CONCOURSE A…Hungry? Well, there is no better time to get your grub on than now. Terminal A at Hartsfield-Jackson has unveiled a new food court featuring several eateries including Boar’s Head Deli, Qdoba, Chick-fil-A, and Boardwalk Burgers and Piano Bar. Also recently opened on the same concourse is P.F. Chang’s China Bistro with seating for 190.

SOUTHWEST NO-SHOW NOW IN EFFECT. On Sept 13, Southwest’s new no-show policy went into effect. 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 higher priced fully refundable fares either request a refund or hold funds for future travel. HOWEVER, if the ticket is not changed or canceled within 10 minutes of departure (no show), travelers lose the entire value of the ticket.

CHOOSE RENTAL CAR FROM PLANE? Yep. National Car Rental’s Emerald Club members will soon be able to fire up their phones when the plane touches down and using the new National smart phone app, choose among a real time display of available cars by make, model, even color. It’s sort of a virtual version of National’s popular Emerald Aisle where travelers who have reservations for a mid-sized or large car are allowed to choose any car on the lot. The new app will work at airports in Omaha, Richmond and Tulsa starting September 30 and National says it should be working at a total of 25 airports by the end of the year. Check out this video (above) of National’s Rob Connors explaining how it all works.

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TSA PRE-CHECK MORE THAN DOUBLES AIRPORT COUNT…The popular TSA Pre-Check program is expanding from the current 40 airports to an additional 60 by the end of the year. The list of new airports is extensive and a huge boost for travelers that are tired of enduring long lines. Not every concourse will have the expedited screening, but the list includes airports where at least one terminal will have it. Delta was the first airline to add the indicator on boarding passes alerting travelers as to whether or not they have been pre-selected. Southwest is planning to add TSA Pre-Check capability sometime later this year. Is it coming to an airport near you? Here’s the full list: http://www.tsa.gov/press/releases/2013/09/04/tsa-precheck-expands-60-additional-airports

NEW LAX TERMINAL OPENS. This week marks the long awaited opening of the new $1.9 billion Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX. At 150,000 square feet, it’s half again as large as its dingy predecessor. The new curved-roof terminal we’ve all watched under construction in recent years is bathed in natural light, full of electronic art, mod furnishings, upscale dining and retail, new airline clubs and fantastic views of the tarmac and runways.  The terminal is still a work in progress– it won’t be fully opened until 2015. To see more, check out this slideshow from the LA Times.

STARWOOD PLATINUMS TO GET DELTA UPGRADES…Delta’s Crossover Rewards program has taken yet another step in its groundbreaking industry stride and given Starwood Platinum Elite members access to Delta’s first class cabin on domestic and Caribbean flights free of charge. Technically, though, the only people this will hurt is nonrevenue Delta employee flyers as Starwood Platinums would only clear after ALL Delta Medallions have cleared (unless the SPG Platinum member is a Medallion member). So it will not take away from Delta flyers’ access to free upgrades, but provides a nice boost to Starwood Platinums. Be sure to link your Starwood and Delta accounts here: https://www.delta.com/profile/spgLanding.action

Korean Air gets its official squirt at ATL (Photo: Atlanta Airport)

Korean Air gets its official squirt at ATL (Photo: Atlanta Airport)

AIRBUS A380 TOUCHES DOWN AT HARTSFIELD-JACKSON…The long-awaited arrival of Korean Air’s Airbus A380 has finally come. The first flight from Seoul Incheon touched down on August 31, but the official water cannon salute festivities did not occur until Sept. 6 due to the Labor Day weekend. Still, the excitement at the airport was tangible with numerous employees and support staff on the tarmac and in the terminal ready to greet the aircraft and snap plentiful photos. Did you know that the KAL A380 must dock at ATL’s Concourse E and not at the new $1.4 billion Terminal F? That’s a surprise to many. Delta flies nonstop to Seoul from Detroit and, just recently announced, Seattle, but Korean Air’s service is preferred by many travelers for its more attentive in-flight service and Korean-inspired meals including bibimbap and bulgogi. Korean Air also features both first and business class lie-flat beds and has fewer seats on board the entire aircraft (407 to be exact) than any other A380 operator. A duty-free showcase store displays goods for sale, and the Celestial Bar and lounge can be enjoyed by premium cabin passengers in-flight. The double-decker jumbo jet only operates three times a week (777s operate daily), but the A380 is expected to appear daily beginning in late October. Korean Air already flies A380s to Los Angeles and JFK, as well as to Hong Kong and Frankfurt. THE TICKET hopes to bring an in-flight report to readers in the coming months.

When customers are given a ride from one jetway to another, they are handed this card as a takeaway to thank them for flying with Delta and to find out more information about Porsche vehicles. (matthew-daniel.com)

When customers are given a ride from one jetway to another, they are handed this card as a takeaway to thank them for flying with Delta and to find out more information about Porsche vehicles. (matthew-daniel.com)

HAD THE PORSCHE TREATMENT YET?…Well, if you are a Diamond Medallion or high value customer and have not been picked up in a Porsche in Atlanta with a tight connection, you now have your chance in Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York, and Los Angeles. The service is never guaranteed, but is meant to surprise and delight customers on a tight connection. An agent holds a sign with your name on it in the jet way and whisks you down to the ramp and speeds you across the bustling tarmac traffic to your next flight. Want this kind of treatment? Well, travel on stormy days and spend a fortune! (Interesting to watch United mimic Delta’s move with jet way pick-ups in Houston by silver Mercedes-Benz.) Have you experienced the Porsche treatment?

delta 747FLY THE WHALE…Delta’s Boeing 747-400 aircraft typically fly international routes, but aviation geeks may have their chance to fly the “whale” on select domestic flights this fall. A Delta 747-400 is scheduled to fly Atlanta to Seattle on Nov. 30 and Seattle to Atlanta on Dec. 1. Also, the jumbo jet will fly one way from Atlanta to LAX on Jan. 5. Talk about excellent upgrade chances! Remember, Delta can change the schedule at any time, but for now these planes are on the schedule.

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JFK TERMINAL TWO GETS A FOOD UPGRADE…Delta is partnering with OTG, an airport food and beverage supplier, to enhance the dining options in JFK’s terminal 2. While most of the attention has been on the new terminal 4, the older terminal 2 continues to handle some domestic flights and regional jet operations. Customers will be able to place orders via iPads placed at seating areas if they wish from numerous eateries including Due Amici (Italian), BRKLYN Beer Garden, Shiso (Japanese), Croque Madame (French bistro), and Tagliare (New York-style pizza) among others.

A Nokia 820 used by Delta flight attendants (Photo: Delta)

A Nokia 820 used by Delta flight attendants (Photo: Delta)

FLIGHT ATTENDANTS GET NEW INFLIGHT SMART PHONES…Delta is providing all flight attendants with new handheld devices (Nokia Lumia 820) designed to allow them to more easily process in-flight payments. Now, swiping a credit card will happen in “almost” real time (whereas before transactions were only completed once the aircraft landed). The device also opens up new sales opportunities including allowing passengers the option to upgrade to an Economy Comfort seat in-flight. (Remember when AirTran pioneered this concept?) The device will prompt flight attendants the correct amount to charge, and the option will be rolled out progressively beginning with longer transcontinental and international flights. Flight attendants will also have the ability to issue coupons (bonus miles or coupons for future Delta flights) in the event of a service failure (faulty entertainment system, etc). The goal is that flight attendants will soon be able to access more information about passengers (destination, elite status, tight connections, etc) to provide better service in-flight.

NEW AIRBUS ORDER FOR DELTA…Forty new Airbus aircraft are on the books within the next decade including 30 Airbus A321 aircraft, which will be a new type never before flown by Delta. The aircraft will feature 20 first class seats, 22 Economy Comfort seats, and 148 economy seats. (Roughly the size of a 757) They will also feature Airbus’ new sharklet winglet designed to reduce fuel consumption. Ten Airbus A330-300 aircraft will supplement Delta’s growing fleet of the long-haul aircraft. These planes will be specially modified to carry additional payload giving them a longer range and permitting Delta the opportunity to open or grow markets across the Atlantic and the Pacific. In addition to Economy Comfort, the widebody A330s will also have 34 fully flat Business Elite seats. Deliveries of these aircraft are expected to begin in 2015.

DELTA BUMPS UP BAY AREA-LAX AGAIN. Earlier this summer, Delta announced that it would launch shuttle-style service with 12 flights each way between SFO and LAX. THis month it announced that it’s adding even more Embraer 175 flights for a total of 15 per day in each direction, starting as early as 6 am. It’s also now flying five times per day between San Jose and LAX. Fares range from $150 to about $400 roundtrip depending on how far in advance you book. (I’m jumping on one of these new Delta flights later this month, so stay tuned for a trip report!)

SOUTHWEST SHOWS ATLANTA SOME LUV…Southwest Airlines has become the Official Airline of the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. The museum, which will open next August following its relocation from Indiana to Georgia, is located next to the Omni Hotel at CNN Center. Southwest is also the official airline of the Atlanta Falcons.

Ramsey Qubein & Chris McGinnis

*****

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10 things about new Aloft hotels

IMG_2704

Over the last year, I’ve been hearing a lot about the new Aloft hotel brand from Starwood. Since I have not had the chance to sleep over in one yet, I asked for a tour of the Aloft San Francisco Airport, one of the three Aloft hotels in the Bay Area—all of which have opened in the last year. Currently there are no Aloft hotels in Atlanta… but one is slated to open downtown this winter.

With my camera and notepad I met up with hotel sales & marketing manager Janfred Agarao who showed me around the hotel located on Millbrae Ave just south of SFO.

(click here for my Google+ slideshow of the Aloft at SFO)

Here’s what I saw and learned.

>The Aloft brand is billed as “A Vision of W Hotels” and it’s clear that the W is from where the new chain’s quirky and colorful spirit comes. The SFO property was the 62nd Aloft hotel to open—Starwood expects to have 80 by the end of this year. The other Bay Area locations the Aloft Silicon Valley, located in Newark, which used to be the old W Silicon Valley, and the Aloft Cupertino, near the Apple campus.)

>Most Aloft hotels are built new-from-the-ground-up, but this building started out in the 60’s as the Thunderbird Hotel (which starred in the film, Bullitt), and most recently was a Clarion hotel. Starwood came in and took the building down to the studs and added brand new space, so the look and feel is brand spanking new.

IMG_2751

>The six story Aloft at SFO opened last September with 252 rooms. Its average rate is about $239 per night. Occupancy is healthy—the hotel regularly sells out on midweek on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but struggles to fill up on weekends (which is when rates take a tumble to the $150 range).

(click here for my Google+ slideshow of the Aloft at SFO)

>Most Aloft hotels are located in suburbs, near airports or on the fringes of major downtown areas. For example, New York City locations are in Harlem and in Brooklyn.

IMG_2723

>The lobby of the Aloft at SFO is big, bright and lively—the hotel calls it the “remix area” and there’s room for small groups to gather, communal tables, an unusual blue pool table, free wi-fi, and electrical outlets all over the place. Stationary iPads are available for browsing or making reservations via OpenTable. There are also two desktop computers and a printer.

>Food service is “grab and go” with a wide variety of snacks, such as prepared salads and sandwiches Butterfingers, trail mix or Doritos, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream or It’s It bars are available for sale. Guests who want a full service meal can walk across the parking lot to the Westin hotel.

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IMG_2722

>Agarao said that the busiest time in the lobby is morning and during happy hour, from 5-8 pm when there’s live acoustical music and discounts on snacks, beer and designer cocktails at the WXYZ bar– muddled watermelon martinis anyone?

(click here for my Google+ slideshow of the Aloft at SFO)

>While Starwood is clearly trying to cater to a younger crowd with the Aloft brand, Agarao said guests generally range from 20 to 50 years old.

IMG_2735

>Beds in nearly every room at the Aloft are placed opposite the window instead of lining up along side it as they do in most hotel rooms. Good feng shui? Who knows? But rooms appear modern, comfortable and well appointed with Bliss bath products, coffee makers and quirky touches like retro-clocks.

>Rooms located on the hotel’s 6th floor offer excellent views of planes taking off and landing on SFO runways…a hypnotizing sight…and only minimal rumbles from jet blasts.

(click here for my Google+ slideshow of the Aloft at SFO)

Have you stayed at an Aloft hotel yet? Let us know what you think! Please leave your comments below! 

Chris McGinnis

*****

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