Posts in the category "Air Travel":

ANA’s app for anxious airline passengers

Anxious about flying?

ANA (All Nippon Airways) has an app for you.

Released just in time for the holidays, when people find flying even more stressful than usual, the ‘ANA Takeoff Mode’ app offers fliers a simple, distracting puzzle (users must maneuver a ball on screen to collect points), along with relaxing music.

Designed to be used during take-off, when anxious fliers are often the most fearful – and when passengers are now allowed to keep their electronic devices turned on (officially) – the app somehow also measures the amplitude and frequency response of the ambient noise inside the aircraft cabin and, when the aircraft’s engines are at full throttle during takeoff, a special animation and message is triggered.

Would you find this useful?

Travel tune-up: re-thinking airline loyalty programs

Photo from UW Digital Collections, via The Commons on Flickr

Photo from UW Digital Collections, via The Commons on Flickr

About 25 million people had plans to travel by air this Thanksgiving weekend and, as they return from their holiday, some are already making travel plans for 2015 using the frequent flier miles they earned from airline loyalty programs this past year.

But changes in some of those programs might make some travelers rethink their allegiances now.

Alaska Airlines will begin offering increased mileage bonuses for a number of fare classes and elite Mileage Plan members. Starting January 1, the airline will be offering big mileage bonuses to first class, refundable coach and MVP Gold upgradeable travelers.

Both Delta Air Lines and United Airlines are joining the fray by upping the antes for flight miles and elite programs, through a mix of cash spend and frequent flier miles.

Beginning January 1, 2015 the cash spend required for reaching various levels of Premier status on United Airlines in 2016 will be raised. And starting March, 2015, United passengers will earn award Mileage Plus frequent flier miles based on an equation that takes into consideration ticket price and frequent flier status instead of actual miles flown.

As of January 1, 2015, Delta Air Lines SkyMiles members will earn miles based on ticket price and elite program status as well and, as these charts outline, the cash spend for reaching for reaching various Medallion levels is increased as well.

Various websites (many of which earn commissions from promoting mileage-linked credit cards) parse the minutiae of the airline mileage rules but “come next February, I think a lot of people are going to drop status because of these changes,” said Brian Kelly, founder of ThePointsGuy.com. “Even though they may have flown the same amount as the year before, they most likely won’t hit the revenue requirements.”

It may be more difficult to accrue elite status, but United and Delta have still rolled out some helpful all-access perks.

In August, Delta introduced Delta Studio, which offers movies, TV episodes, music, games and other free entertainment options on all of its domestic aircraft and two-cabin regional jets.

Just this week, United expanded its free on-board wireless video streaming to Android devices, and will also offer bonus mileage incentives to smartphone app users via MileagePlus X.

And, as part of a major make-over underway at United’s hub at Newark Liberty’s Terminal C, passengers will be able to use Mileage Plus award miles to pay for purchases in restaurants and stores via the 6,000 iPads OTG Management is installing as part of the project.

In the second quarter of 2015, American Airlines’ AAdvantage and US Airways Dividend Miles members will become part of the same frequent flyer program.

Mileage balances will be combined, elite levels will be aligned and a new upgrade policy for elite status members flying on American and US Airways will be put in place.

Do you want to check luggage with that ticket?

In the first half of 2015, JetBlue will launch a three-tiered flyer program that will allow some passengers to get up to two pieces of luggage checked for free, along with other incentives.

Meanwhile, Hawaiian Airlines will offer its travelers the option of earning travel miles “based on distance flown, not based on ticket spend and Elite status,” spokeswoman Alison Croyle told CNBC. “The airline will also not require any minimum spend to make elite status.”

Based on the host of incentives and upcoming changes, airline watchers say passengers need to decide whether certain loyalty programs are worth keeping.

Elite status is becoming harder to earn and less valuable, at least at the mid and lower tiers,” said ThePointsGuy’s Kelly.

“So you need to identify what you want out of your program,” he added. “Calculate how much extra you pay for your loyalty and see if you’re receiving more than that back in perks and the value from miles. If not, then it may be time to switch.”

(My story about airline loyalty programs first appeared on CNBC in a slightly different version.)

Tune-up tips for travelers

TRAVEL SUITCASES

Even the savviest traveler can use a few new tricks each year, whether on the road for business or leisure.

So here are some of the expert tips I gathered for a recent CNBC Road Warrior piece.

Fly Frugally

Before the end of the year, take inventory of your frequent flier miles. Claim credit for any missing miles and decide if you can top off—with an extra flight, hotel stay or mile-generating purchase—accounts where you are close to getting elite status perks for the following year.

When shopping for new flight reservations, sign up for fare alerts, enlist helpers such as Kayak’s price forecasting tool and remember the “24-hour reservation requirement” put into effect in January 2012 by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The rule requires carriers to hold a flight reservation for 24 hours without payment, or allow a reservation to be canceled within 24 hours without penalty if the reservation is made one week or more ahead of the flight’s departure date.

“If you see an airfare you’re comfortable with, book it,” said Kayak spokeswoman Maria Katime. You can continue your research and, if you find something better, go back and cancel.

Reasonable rental cars

When it comes to cars, reserve once you know your dates and have done some shopping, but recheck prices closer to the time of travel. “Prices can drop last-minute, depending on the actual availability of cars versus what the companies anticipate,” said travel expert Carol Pucci, who saved more than $100 with this method on the Big Island of Hawaii. “It was easy to do because I hadn’t prepaid, which is hardly ever a good idea given the chances of prices falling,” said Pucci.

To make sure a rental car company doesn’t charge you for scrapes, scratches or dings already on the car you’re issued, “take pictures of the car before you drive it away and when you return it,” said Joe Brancatelli, publisher of the business travel website Joe Sent Me.

“Rental firms are getting extremely aggressive about these charges and since the cars in the fleet are older these days than they used to be, there’s more of a chance you’ll be given a car with a ding and/or scratches,” he said.

Honing in on hotel deals

Sign up for the frequent stay program of any hotel you visit to take advantage of free perks that can include complimentary breakfast, free Wi-Fi and welcome amenities such as cheese plates and bottles of wine for even the first-time guest.

Research room rates and hotel property reviews online, but as a final step, call the hotel you’ve chosen. “Once I narrow down my hotel choice, I call the hotel to see if they have any better offers then what I see online,” said Rob Connors, assistant vice-president of marketing for National Car Rental. “Your membership in a club or association might get you an added discount, and many times hotels offer special rates for suppliers calling on nearby companies.”

It’s also a good idea to check city tourism sites for short-run, special promotions.

Some cities have destination marketing funds and packages designed to generate room sales during off-seasons. The inaugural Hotel Week LA runs from Nov. 29 to Dec. 14, and in 2015, more than 30 Manhattan properties are participating in the fourth New York Hotel Week from Jan. 3 to 18. The programs offer significant discounts rate for some of each city’s top, usually very pricey, properties.

Vancouver’s “Be Vancouver” promotion gives guests $125 American Express prepaid gift cards for bookings made by Nov. 16 for stays through Feb. 28, bringing rates in some upscale hotels down to less than $60.

“The offers coming from that program are the best we have on offer,” said Jim Mockford, general manager of the Listel Hotel. “They’re highly targeted in regards to time frame, so you have to be quick and flexible. So it’s always a good idea to put your name on the mailing list of your favorite hotels. You’ll hear about some great deals that you’ll never see anywhere else.”

Choosing travel gear

To get the best bang for your buck when shopping for travel gear “make a list of three to five ‘musts’ for your new bag and prioritize these as you do research,” said Michele Marini Pittenger, president of the Travel Goods Association.

“The manufacturer’s warranty policy can be an indicator of durability, but be sure to check the dimensions of new carry-on bags to avoid getting dinged by extra charges when flying,” she said.

When to use a travel agent

Modern online booking tools and mobile apps make it easy to research and reserve much of your own travel. But the customer services of a travel advisor who can quickly reroute and rebook you when there’s a travel snafu can come in handy.

“When it’s a trip that matters—family vacations, celebration travel, a destination you want to experience rather than ‘see’—that’s when you most need a travel advisor,” said Matthew Upchurch, chairman and CEO of Virtuoso, a network of luxury travel agencies. “Not only will they save you precious time, they can save you money with negotiated hotel benefits and extensive firsthand knowledge to ensure that you get exactly what you expect from the trip.”

Boarding the bus

“Bus travelers typically save 50 to 55 percent versus the train and 55 to 73 percent versus flying,” said Joe Schwieterman, a professor at DePaul University in Chicago and author of the Traveler’s Tradeoff study comparing intercity bus, plane and train fares across the United States.

“The ‘sweet spot’ for bus travel involves trips between 125 and 300 miles. Driving can be tedious, but air travel is often not cost effective,” he said.

When to book the bus?

“As early as possible,” said Megabus spokesman Mike Alvich. “Generally customers booking 30 to 45 days in advance will see the greatest savings, but even last-minute trip tickets are still very affordable in comparison to last-minute airline travel or even the cost of filling the gas tank of your personal vehicle.”

Smarter destination choices

You may not have much choice where business trips take you, but you can save money on leisure trips and avoid crowds by heading for South Africa, Shanghai, Uruguay, Portugal or some of the other “best-value” destinations on Lonely Planet’s Best Travel 2015 list.

Choosing “almost-as-good” alternatives to classic experiences in more expensive cities can also save cash.

“European cities are stuffed full of amazing historic buildings and churches that can be seen and explored for free without the crowds of big-name things,” said Lonely Planet’s editorial director, Tom Hall. “Gorilla trekking might be an unforgettable experience in East Africa, but looking out for chimpanzees and smaller primates can be much more fun and is certainly easier on the wallet.”

Gifts for Avgeeks

I’m gathering up a list of cool aviation-related products and handicrafts, just in case Santa reads StuckatTheAirport.com, or in case you’re looking for some cool gifts this holiday season.

Two for today:

Jerome Daksiewicz has a kickstarter campaign going to create a boxed set of his runway prints of 30 of the large hubs in the US and a screenprint illustrating all the runways.
 
runways

And Matthew Mahler at Skyebags has a refreshed line of items – a wallet, a tote and a Dopp kit – made from upcycled leather from old Delta Air Lines seats.

7_Skyebags Dopp Kit

Have a great avgeek gift to recommend? Send in your suggestions.

On the bus with Air New Zealand

ANZ SEAT TOUR

If you’re out and about in the Bay Area the next few days keep an eye out for Air New Zealand’s glass-sided tour bus, which is parking around town and giving folks on the ground a chance to try out the airline’s Premium Economy Spaceseat and Economy Skycouch, which are on the airline’s Boeing 777-300 service between San Francisco and Australia (via Auckland).

The bus has been on the road a few days already, but here are the spots where you can climb on board this week:

October 6th – San Pedro Square Marketplace – San Jose (8 a.m. – 6 p.m.)
October 7th – San Francisco: Fillmore & California Streets (throughout the day) – Fillmore Art & Wine Festival (6 – 9 p.m.)
October 8th – Downtown San Francisco –SoMa StrEat Food Park (10:30 a.m. – 3 p.m.) & Embarcadero Center (8 – 9:45 a.m. & 3:15 – 6 p.m.)
October 9th – San Francisco: Union & Fillmore Streets (throughout the day) – Union Street Wine Walk (6 – 9 p.m.)
October 10th – Downtown San Francisco – Embarcadero Center (8 a.m. – 2 p.m.) & “Off the Grid” at Fort Mason (5 – 10 p.m.)

There are also prizes and gifts to go along with this promotion:

Anyone who spots the truck and shares Tweets, messages and photos with Twitter @AIRNZUSA, Instagram @AirNZ or Facebook @AirNewZealand using the hashtag #AirNZ777300 will have a chance to win “surprise and delight” Air New Zealand swag.

Visitors to the truck at any of its public stops will be eligible to win daily prizes.

And – for the rest of us – there’s an online sweepstakes for two Economy round-trip tickets from San Francisco to New Zealand or Australia.
Enter here.

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