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Back on the SkyMiles merry-go-round

Delta 757-200 in St Maartin (Photo: Matt Hintsa / Flickr)

Delta 757-200 in St Maarten (Photo: Matt Hintsa / Flickr)

I’ve watched Delta make “historic” or “major” changes to its SkyMiles program since long before it was called SkyMiles. It’s funny how the same scenario plays out time after time when Delta (or any other major airline) makes changes to loyalty programs. (Link to Delta’s changes which go into effect next year.)

Here’s the playbook:

For months, or even years, Delta tempts us with leaks and rumors about “upcoming changes” which keep its best customers on pins and needles, and an army of pundits pondering.

When it comes time to announce the change, Delta shares the news exclusively and under strict embargo with a handful of its friends in major media outlets. Those media typically don’t trash the changes, but only report on them.

For editorializing, Delta’s media friends go to a handful of pundits who come out either for or against the changes.  Many times these pundits or consultants are also in on the embargo, which makes you wonder who is buttering their bread?

Then, boom! At the anointed hour the embargo is lifted, the pre-arranged stories hit the web, TV or newspapers and hysteria mounts! Reactions to these stories in blogs and social media run along the lines of… “Oh my GAWD! Delta is gutting the program! This is historic! How can Delta do this to us! A massive devaluation! How dare Delta offend its very best customers? This spells the end of frequent flyer programs as we know them! Let’s launch a petition or a website to convince Delta to reverse its decision! I’ll never fly Delta again!”

On the other side of the story, you hear, “Delta is a business and can do whatever it wants with SkyMiles…What’s wrong with paying attention to the 20% of flyers who produce 80% of revenue? …This change will actually benefit frequent flyers in the long run. …You can always switch to another carrier until it makes the same moves.” Delta executives state, “Our best customers asked us to do this. We even conducted focus groups!”

Eventually, other airlines mimic Delta’s moves and their customers rise up in protest.

Then the hysteria dies down and we all get back to work. Of course, we still grumble about the changes with fellow travelers on blog comment trails, at cocktail parties or across airplane aisles, but we accept them as inevitable and move on.

After what appear to be such mammoth changes, we assume for a while that the airlines just can’t cut back or restructure the programs any more…until they do. And then the cycle repeats itself again. And again and again.

What’s your take on Delta’s moves this week? The TICKET’s Facebook page is full of good comments, so take a read and leave your thoughts below… or on Facebook.

PS: Can anyone remember what Delta’s program was called before it became SkyMiles in in 1995? Leave your guesses below…

Chris McGinnis  

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Southwest Air faces Blackfish backlash

A Southwest Airlines painted in the Shamu livery. Grin or grimace? (Photo: Midland Airport)

A Southwest Airlines painted in the Shamu livery. Does it make you grin or grimace? (Photo: Midland Airport)

By now you’ve likely seen or heard about “Blackfish,” the controversial documentary movie about how the capture and treatment of SeaWorld’s Orca whales results in poor health, boredom, and in some cases, whales attacking their handlers.  The film has resulted in a growing outcry in support of the whales and against the mighty SeaWorld franchise, which operates popular parks in San Diego, San Antonio and Orlando. It’s now in the running to be nominated for for “Best Documentary” by the Academy Awards this week.

Defending itself in a statement last summer, the company said that the film is,  “shamefully dishonest, deliberately misleading, and scientifically inaccurate.” Despite the brouhaha, SeaWorld claimed this week that its attendance numbers set records in Q4 2013.

(SeeBlackfish  movie trailer here, it recently aired on CNN and is now available on NetFlix.)

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Amid the controversy, many of the smiles generated by the sight of Southwest’s “Shamu” themed jets (which you’ve likely seen diving into ATL) may have turned to grimaces. Last week protesters lined up in front of Southwest HQ in Dallas demanding an end to the carrier’s relationship with SeaWorld. Last week, Southwest made the following statement on its blog.

Over the past few weeks we’ve observed a number of Customers and community members reach out to Southwest Airlines regarding our partnership with SeaWorld.  We want our Customers to know that we’ve heard your concerns and we do not take them lightly.  I felt it was necessary to share our position on the partnership and hopefully address any concerns. We have a longstanding relationship with SeaWorld that is based on travel and bringing families together. We are engaged with SeaWorld related to the recent concerns being raised.   We are in a listening and education mode with the goal of upholding our commitments as a good corporate citizen.  As a responsible member of the community, we support several organizations and events that are devoted to maintaining the natural world. At this time, our partnership with SeaWorld will continue.

What’s even more interesting than the blog post are the comments it’s engendered, some of which request that Southwest perform its own investigation into SeaWorld’s practices and reconsider the partnership. Travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt of Hudson Crossing echoed those comments, telling The BAT, “Southwest is doing exactly what it should do: listening and learning. Southwest can’t, and shouldn’t, make any decision without objective facts . . . I believe it would be beneficial for it to obtain independent, objective insight into SeaWorld’s treatment of the various animals in its care. ”

According to Blackfish, whales with flaccid dorsal fins are rarely seen in the wild, but nearly alway present on captives (Photo: Dogwoof Films)

According to Blackfish, whales with flaccid dorsal fins are rarely seen in the wild, but the bent fins are nearly always present on captives (Photo: Dogwoof Films)

Hmmm. When I see the words “at this time” in a corporate statement it makes me think that Southwest is probably considering backing out of this relationship, but can’t get out of its contracts fast enough. What do you think? Have you seen Blackfish? Does Southwest’s partnership with SeaWorld affect your airline decision? Please leave your comments below.

Chris McGinnis  

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Delta’s slimline seats + Mistake fares + Boarding process + MQMs + more

Delta's workhorse 757-200 slated for an upgrade (Photo: Andrew Cohen / Flickr)

Delta’s workhorse 757-200 slated for an upgrade (Photo: Andrew Cohen / Flickr)

BREAKING FRIDAY JAN 10: Delta significantly increases Sky Club membership fees — $695 for you and guest, $450 for you only. $29 fee for Amex Platinums. More in the next issue of The TICKET. See reactions on our Facebook Page.

DELTA FLEET UPGRADE. This week, Delta announced that it will spend $770 million over the next two years to refresh interiors of some its older workhorse jets, the Boeing 757-200, 737-800, and the Airbus A319 and A320. Best news: those toaster-oven-size overhead bins will be replaced with larger ones (with a 50% bump in capacity), making irritating gate checks and fights for overhead space largely a thing of the past. There will be power plugs at every seat, although, improving battery life on our portable electronics is making that less of an issue. Cabin lighting will switch over to longer lasting and mood altering color LEDs. All but the A320s will get new inflight entertainment screens with live TV on seatbacks. The planes will also get newer (albeit smaller) lavatories. The not-so-good news (if you are over 6 feet tall) is that the planes are slated for the new “slimline” coach seats, which passengers either love or hate. (Regrettably, no images of Delta’s updated slimline seat are available. Here’s the current one.) While the seat and cushion are thinner, the seat width (shoulder space) will be slightly wider: 18” up from 17.2”. A bit more good news: the planes will have more Economy Comfort seats (with 34” pitch compared to the standard 31”), which should be pleasing to your knees. Have you sat in a new slimline seat yet (the are on Delta’s brand new 737-900s)? What did you think? Please leave your questions below. 

website-mistakesDELTA MISTAKE FARES…Did you get in on the ultra-bargain deals due to a Delta fare error a couple of days after Christmas? Tickets were priced as low as $1 plus tax for nearly an hour, and many people scored multiple tickets for under $100 (often in first class) to Hawaii, Alaska, the Caribbean, and other cities across the U.S. As Delta struggled to fix the mistake, it shut down the booking engine on Delta.com for a short period, but many of the tickets were still available for sale via third-party sites like Priceline and Orbitz. According to Department of Transportation rules, Delta had to honor the tickets, but it went one step above and beyond honoring many tickets that were still not fully issued with a ticket number (even though they did not have to). Essentially, if the reservation was made, Delta honored it. Kudos to Delta for standing behind their mistake. Did you get in on the crazy good deals? (We were on vacation in the Caribbean and missed out.) Where are you going and for how much?

NEW BOARDING PROCESS…Delta has slightly modified the pre-boarding process for flights. Families with kids will be disappointed to learn that they are no longer permitted to board before everyone else unless traveling with an infant in a car seat (strollers don’t count). Wheelchair/disabled passengers still board first.

HONORING THE TICKET! Check this out: This month, TripIt named The TICKET as one of its “must read” travel blogs for 2014! As a matter of fact, The TICKET came out at the very top of the list! We very pleased and proud of the good old TICKET, which will turn a ripe old 21 years old in March. How many of you have been with us since 1993? Please leave your comments below. 

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MQM ROLLOVER COMING SOON…If you glanced at your SkyMiles account this month, you may have been alarmed not to see rollover miles left over from 2013. But, don’t worry, they are coming. Once all MQMs have posted from 2013 (many partner airlines take longer), the rollover points will appear…probably in late January. MQM and MQD levels will also be easily visible on the Delta app as well since both will be an important part of qualifying for Medallion status this year.

Is Delta trying to take over Alaska Airlines? (Photo: Atlanta Airport)

Is Delta trying to take over Alaska Airlines? (Photo: Atlanta Airport)

ALASKA FIGHTS BACK…Alaska and Delta have been trying to one-up each other with different mileage promotions and new routes over the past few months. As Delta strengthens its Seattle gateway, Alaska has decided not to give in without putting up a fight. Before Christmas, Alaska offered free Uber rides up to $50 to Seattle airport, and is launching new flights from Delta’s Salt Lake City hub to Boise, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. Why is Delta doing this to its longtime partner? Some insiders say that Delta’s strategy is to weaken Alaska’s position in its Seattle hub, which will drive down its stock price, making it easier for Delta to swoop in a buy the carrier. A takeover would sure would round out Delta route map out west! What do you think?

DELTA AND VIRGIN ATLANTIC LINK SCHEDULES…As we reported late last year, Delta and Virgin Atlantic have launched a joint venture, which officially started on Jan. 1. It includes all flights between the U.S. and the U.K. including nine daily flights from the New York area to Heathrow. Benefits for travelers include access to Virgin’s impressive lounge network and earning and redeeming mileage on either carrier. Think the Delta flat-bed seats are nice? Wait until you see Virgin’s lounge menu and inflight bar.

A Delta DC9-32 from back in the day! (Photo: Aero Icarus / Flickr)

A Delta DC9-32 from back in the day! (Photo: Aero Icarus / Flickr)

DC-9 ERA ENDS…Delta retired the DC-9 (its oldest aircraft, which were inherited from Northwest) on Jan. 6. The last two flights were given flight numbers 1964 (Detroit to Minneapolis/St. Paul) and 2014 (Minneapolis/St.Paul to Atlanta), indicating the years the aircraft began and ended its commercial service with the company. This will be the last commercial flight of the aircraft by a U.S. carrier. Ironically, Delta was the launch customer for the original version of the DC-9 in 1965, using it to replace propeller aircraft. Delta retired its own DC-9 aircraft in 1993, but it came back following the Northwest merger. Delta has removed more than 350 aircraft from its fleet since 2008 including 50-seat CRJ-200s; Saab 340s and DC-9s.

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IPAD ORDERING COMES TO ATLANTA…Like what you have seen in Minneapolis, LaGuardia, and JFK? Well, those snazzy iPads located at restaurants and seating areas in the airport terminals are starting to make an appearance in Atlanta. In concourse B, the Sam Adams Atlanta and Dos Equis Explorer Lounge will feature the Apple devices allowing customers to order food and drinks without speaking to a server. Let’s hope the concept spreads to even more restaurants throughout the airport.

SOUTHWEST COMES IN LAST, AGAIN…For the second month in a row, Southwest has come in for last place in the Department of Transportation on-time rankings. Tightly scheduled flights and more aircraft on the ground in congested airports like LaGuardia are partly to blame. Have you noticed more flight delays with Southwest flights lately?

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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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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Best/worst cities to lose your wallet (Infographic)

LostWallet

 

If you lose your wallet in Helsinki or Mumbai, it’s likely to be returned. But you better hang on tightly to your wallet in Madrid, Lisbon or Prague, the least likely places your wallet will be returned, according to Reader’s Digest.

In an interesting experiment, researchers “dropped” 12 wallets in 16 different cities to see what would happen. Each wallet included a name with a cellphone number, a family photo, coupons, and business cards, plus the equivalent of $50.  They were left  in parks, near shopping malls, and on sidewalks. Unfortunately, Atlanta was not included in the study… but if it had been, where do you think it would have ranked?

Have you ever lost your wallet in another country? Or found a wallet and tried to return it? Please leave your comments below! 

HOW TO GET A $400 AIRLINE TICKET FOR $89: Want to snag an easy 40,000 bonus miles? Earn 2x miles on all purchases? Avoid obnoxious foreign transaction fees? Get TripIt Pro for free? Check out the new Barclaycard promo here or at the bottom of this post. Easy peasy! Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard – $89 Annual Fee Card

Chris McGinnis

*****

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Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard – $89 Annual Fee Card     Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard - $89 Annual Fee Card

  • Earn 40,000 bonus miles when you spend $3,000 or more on purchases in the first 90 days from account opening. 40,000 bonus miles equates to $400 off your next travel redemption!
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months after account opening. After that, variable APR, currently 14.99% or 18.99%, based upon your creditworthiness
  • 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)
  • Use your card to book through any airline, hotel or discount travel engine with no blackout dates or seat restrictions
  • Easily redeem your miles for statement credits towards all or a portion of your travel purchases within the last 90 days
  • Complimentary online FICO® Score access for Arrival cardmembers

 

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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Love to fly in business class? Then see this!

Click on photo to launch slideshow of 15 business class seats!

Click on photo to launch slideshow of 15 business class seats!

Last week I attended the Global Business Travel Association convention in San Diego. The best part about this confab is the trade show floor, where most major global airlines show off their latest, greatest business class seats.

Want to see what I saw?

Click on the photo above or here to launch the Google+ slideshow where I present to you my photos of 15 of the cushiest seats in the sky!

Which one looks best? Which one(s) have you flown? Please leave your comments below. 

Screen shot 2013-08-15 at 8.10.40 AM

Chris McGinnis

*****

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Follow @cjmcginnis on Twitter!

CAN’T GET ENOUGH OF THE TICKET? Then follow us on Facebook! 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.