July 2008

Low-Cost JetBlue Goes Gourmet at New JFK Terminal

Posted July 30, 2008 by Carl Unger

Now, I'm not saying JetBlue's onboard snacks are bad—in fact, I'm a big fan of those blue chips—but let's face it: Snacks are snacks, and one could hardly confuse the carrier's in-flight offerings with a four-star meal.

Salmon_skin_makiThat won't be the case with JetBlue's new Terminal  5 at  JFK. According to the New York Times, JetBlue is bringing in some serious cuisine, asking big-time New York City chefs (I've never heard of them, but here's a hint:  Emeril isn't one) to create upscale menus for its customers. In fact, part of the rationale behind this decision (as opposed to more common grab-and-go airport dining) is that people are spending more time at the airport these days, due both to increased security and frequent delays.

So what's on offer? How about rustic Italian comfort food, sushi, tapas, steaks, and fare from a French pastry shop and café? Most of the seating will be casual, so travelers who prefer to fly in comfy clothes (yours truly) as opposed to formal wear shouldn't feel underdressed. No word yet on what kind of prices these restaurants will charge, but JetBlue is also planning a more conventional food hall with hamburgers, pizza, and other quick bites.

Will gourmet be a hit with the low-cost crowd? We'll see.  It's asking a lot for air travelers to plunk down big bucks for a meal at the airport, especially when there's cheap pizza (or those blue chips) to be had. But as most passengers expect nothing but frustration these days, a plate of good food, no matter the cost, may be worth it to soothe the road-weary traveler's soul.

(Photo: HomeCookingDiary.com)

Richard Branson Unveils Virgin Galactic's Space Tourism Mothership

Posted July 29, 2008 by Zak Patten

Virgin_galactic As White Knight Two approaches an altitude of 50,000 feet, you brace yourself. The aircraft that's carried your rocket this far has done its job and must return to the desert runway far below. Seconds later, you're pinned to your seat as SpaceShipTwo's hybrid rocket sends you hurtling into the unknown darkness. Despite g-force three times that of Earth's gravity, you look into the eyes of your fellow passengers and smile knowingly. Within minutes, you've reached the internationally recognized edge of space, 62 miles above the Earth's surface. You are now officially an astronaut.

If you find this fantasy scenario appealing, and happen to have a spare $200,000, Sir Richard Branson would like to make you a space tourist. Branson, the celebrity billionaire head of the Virgin empire (featuring Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America), yesterday unveiled White Knight Two, the latest addition to Virgin Galactic. Though it's only partially complete and no firm date has been set for the first real trip, this plane promises to make space travel a reality for those who have the means and desire.

When that event does take place, the six passengers and two pilots (presumably there won't be a flight attendant handing out drinks) will spend two and a half hours getting from the ground to space and back again. Unfortunately, there won't be a full orbit of the planet on the first flights Virgin Galactic offers, but it still beats that turbulent Newark-Cleveland flight you took last year, doesn't it?

Richard Branson's plans for the "airline" are characteristically ambitious. He wants to get at least 500 people into space in the first year. This would rake in a tidy $100 million in fares, not to mention equal the number of people who have reached such heights in the entire history of space exploration. To date, 250 people have put at least some money down for their tickets, so he’s halfway there already.

Speaking personally, I don't have the credit card limit for such a pricey trip and I'm not typically the bravest of souls, but I would absolutely jump at the chance to travel into space. Would you? Leave a comment below and let me know.

(Photo: Virgin Galactic)

Hyatt and Starwood Bring Trendy Hotels to Madison

Posted July 25, 2008 by Nicki Krawczyk

Hotelaloft Kids dress much better today than they did when I was 13. Maybe it’s because there are so many more instructional resources to tell them exactly how to dress cool for their age, but their burgeoning maturity seems to match up well with their burgeoning style. In my youth, the social savvy usually came before the fashion style, so that, for example, you’d think to yourself, “Hey, I was pretty cool at lunch today” and then look down in horror to realize you were still wearing pleated, stonewashed jeans.

Welcome to Madison, the municipal equivalent of this unequal growth spurt. Right in the center of Wisconsin, you’ve got a gigundo UW Madison college population mixing with state capital politicians and a citizenry of forward-thinking and interesting people. Cool. On the other hand, you’ve got most venues closing at 6 p.m. and hotels looking like your Aunt Barb decorated them. (She just loves mixing pastels, maroon, and bad art, doesn’t she?)

Well, it seems that Madison is finally getting rid of its proverbial pleated jeans. According to The Capital Times, a Madison newspaper, this full-of-potential town is getting a shot in the arm of coolness with the arrival of a hip Hyatt Place Hotel, a Hotel Indigo and a proposed Starwood Aloft Hotel. Modern decor and Wi-Fi, welcome to central Wisconsin.

Interestingly, it doesn’t seem that these boutique hotels intend to offer dining aside from snack options, thereby encouraging people to get out and about to see Madison in all its glory. Which is fine, because there’s a surprising amount of glory to be seen. And enjoyed. In the late spring, summer and early fall. Because, friends, have you ever been in Wisconsin in the winter? I grew up there; I moved 10 years ago and I still haven’t warmed up.

If your business plan involves bringing clients into town in the dead of January, setting them up in a swanky little hotel and then offer them granola bars for dinner, I forecast trouble. If, however, your business plan is to set up delivery to these stranded out-of-towners, things are looking up. After all, what better way to give them a taste of Madison old and new than to let them get cozy in their urban-chic rooms and nosh on a couple of butter burgers and frozen custard? Ah, I miss home.

The Top Five Most Tasteless Spirit Airlines Airfare Sales

Posted July 23, 2008 by Zak Patten

In this age of distraction, when new entertainment options are but a mouse click or remote button away, marketers will try anything to capture the limited attention span of potential customers. Sometimes they walk a fine line between what's edgy and what should have never made it out of the marketing manager’s head. Sometimes, as in the case of Spirit Airlines, the line of taste is so far behind them they can't even remember what it looks like.

Spirit, the ultra-low-cost carrier, has its own particular style. We here at BookingBuddy thought it would be fun and educational (but not for kids!) to take a stroll down memory lane with the little airline that could (offend). So without further ado, let's count down the top five most tasteless Spirit airfare sales:

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1. M.I.L.F. This one got Spirit into some hot water, and I don’t mean of the Jacuzzi variety, though that does conjure up the kind of image Spirit would probably endorse. Ostensibly, the airline was promoting the idea of Many Islands, Low Fares with its latest sale acronym. But just as AA stands for both American Airlines and Alcoholics Anonymous, some critics suggested the M.I.L.F. sale was a cheap ploy to gain market share with the Maxim crowd, who might think it was a different, more suggestive acronym.

2. Hunt for Hoffa Somehow Spirit’s “Hunt for Hoffa” sale, (actually a game that involved digging for long-missing labor leader Jimmy Hoffa’s body by clicking online boxes) went over even worse than the M.I.L.F sale. It seems there was still some love out there for Hoffa, who disappeared in 1975. Hit almost immediately by a deluge of customer complaints, Spirit buried Hoffa and renamed the promotion “Happy Sale.” Eventually, the marketing stunt did prove successful, by at least one measure: It came in eighth on CNN Money’s 101 Dumbest Moments in Business.

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3. Threesome Sale Chalk up another one for overgrown frat-boy humor. Earlier this year, Spirit sent out an email that announced: "We're having a threesome. Join us in the fun." While some recipients of the message took it as a reference to the practice of, well, menage a trois, apparently Spirit was really trying to promote "three sales in one." The misperception was likely amplified by the repeated use of the word “threesome” in the accompanying marketing copy.

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4. WTF Favored by bloggers, instant messengers, and mobile-phone users everywhere, “WTF?” is used to quickly express outrage and disbelief. Typically understood as a vulgar expression of incredulity, Spirit Airlines claims the more family-friendly “World Traveler Fares” as its intended meaning. This sale proved to be a great way for the airline to showcase the international destinations in its route network, if not its sophisticated wit. Seriously, what were they thinking?

5. Oil Falls to Just $9 a Barrel* Not tasteless in a sexual or morbid way like some of the above, but more along the lines of a cruel hoax, the latest Spirit sale to grace the Internet was an attention-grabbing headline, particularly in these times of four-dollar gasoline. With the nation, not to mention the airline industry, reeling from the effects of astronomical fuel prices, Spirit opted for a phony headline and accompanying fake press release to grab the eyeballs of its potential passengers. Reporting that the oil markets had experienced the “largest one-day drop in history,” and full of quotes from “experts” such as Caut Offguard, Bubbles R. Burstinfast, and Shud A. Nown, the release was clearly a parody, though the nature of the topic may induce a chillier reaction on the part of the nation’s drivers. When it comes to humor (and especially oil-related comedy), Spirit may have proven that it’s best not to go to the well too often.

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Honorable mention

These may be the bottom five, but Spirit has had many other low points in its sales over the past couple of years. Who could forget the Mullet sale, with that airline/hairline reference to “business in the front, party in the back”? And of course, there was the spinoff D.I.L.F. sale, which celebrated Father’s Day with its “Dad I'll Love Forever” message, though the more cynical among us might claim that D.I.L.F. was actually a lewd double entendre best not expressed in polite company.

Five Major Airlines to Add Ads to Boarding Passes

Posted July 16, 2008 by Zak Patten

Boardingpasscollection If you’ve been living under a rock for the past six months or so, let me be the first to tell you: Because of fuel prices, most U.S. airlines are strapped for cash. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and so we’ve seen an explosion of moneymaking schemes to recoup some of the dollars being sucked up at the fuel pump. Now that fees for frequent flyers and other airline transactions are in place, major U.S. carriers are looking for a new way to turn on the cash hose: advertising.

Continental —along with Delta, Northwest, United, and US Airways—have signed with Sojern, a marketing company that targets travelers, to put advertisements on boarding passes. According to Tim Winship, writing for our sister site SmarterTravel.com, ads are going to play a much bigger role in air travel than they ever have before. Boarding passes are just the beginning.

If you’ve done the Europe-on-a-budget thing lately, you may have had the opportunity to fly Ryanair. If so, you know how the low-cost airline can afford to sell seats for £1—its planes are plastered with ads. As Winship notes, this trend isn’t confined to the other side of the Pond anymore: “US Airways has gone furthest in emulating the Ryanair model, displaying ads on tray tables and on airsick bags.”

In fact, it looks like the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is going to help get the ad train moving down the track by selling space on bins at security lines, while Dallas/Ft. Worth airport will be using its baggage carousels for the same purpose.  I’m no more a fan of advertising than the next consumer (except for this Southwest commercial, which I love), but let’s face it: We’re either going to have to pay a lot more to fly or put up with some in-your-face “messaging.” I’ll take the latter.

How do you feel about this trend? Do you mind ads on your boarding pass? On your baggage carousel? Will you boycott airlines that over-advertise?

(Photo: upgradetravelbetter.com)

The Airlines Want You … to Lobby Congress

Posted July 15, 2008 by Carl Unger

OpenletterIn a rare display of industry solidarity, CEOs from 12 major U.S. airlines signed an open letter addressed to, well, all of us.  In this open letter, airline customers are asked to "pull together to reform the oil markets" that are causing airfares to skyrocket across-the-board. The CEOs who put their John Hancocks on the letter represent AirTran, Alaska Airlines, American, Continental, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Midwest, Northwest, Southwest, United, and US Airways.

While it lacks the tension and drama of a gathering of the Five Families, this letter is a remarkable and bold move, and illustrates the dire state of the air travel industry. CEOs of fiercely competitive airlines have banded together to basically beg their collective customer base to help restore order and sanity to the oil market. I can't recall ever seeing anything quite like it.

So what are we supposed to do? Call Congress. According to StopOilSpeculationNow.com, any self-respecting citizen or airline passenger should contact his or her Congressional representation and demand the government reform its weak oversight of oil speculation. I'll stop short of saying this sounds like the airline industry placing the burden of responsibility on its customers. Instead, perhaps the airlines have realized the problem of expensive oil isn't going anywhere soon, and understand they need to work together for a solution. Further, they know none of their customers are flying anywhere without them, so they're appealing to us help save the day.

So in the end, you see, we're all one big, loving family anxious about oil and trying to mitigate out-of-control fuel costs. Group hug, everyone!

(Image: StopOilSpeculationNow.com)

Frequent Flyer Fee Chart: Rewards Are Gonna Cost You

Posted July 10, 2008 by Nicki Krawczyk

Bagelapproved_2Or, the People That Put the “Free” in “Frequent Flyer” Are Taking It Back Out Again

I have a card I got at my local bagel place. Along the bottom are pictures of 10 sumptuous bakery items. When I purchase a bagel at this establishment, I hand them my dollar and this card. In return, they hand me my bagel of choice and punch a hole at the bottom of this card to signify that I have purchased said bagel.

Someday, when I have purchased 10 bagels and have the requisite holes punched to prove it, they will reward me with a free bagel. For our purposes, it’s important to note that when they give me my free bagel reward, they won’t charge me a $25 in-person fee for processing my rewards redemption request and then handing it to me. Guess who will? Just guess.

As I think we’ve all learned from the airline industry, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. (Though I’m happy to tell you where to get free bagels.) All those frequent flyer miles you’ve been racking up aren’t actually going to equate to a free flight, per se. Closer to free? Sure. But depending on the airline and depending on how you book that flight, you’ll probably have some fees to pay.

Lucky for you and, well, all air travelers, the good people over at our sister site Airfarewatchdog.com have put together an uber-convenient chart of the fees frequent flyer mile-redeemers can expect to pay. Need to book by phone? Fee. Want confirmed same-day standby tickets? Fee. Need to know how much you’ll pay? No fee—it’s on the chart. (Just keeping you on your toes.) I think you'll be pleased to see, though not surprised, that Southwest Airlines appears to have the fewest fees. Small victories, you know?

Don’t forget, too, that we’ve also recently introduced you to the super-duper-helpful Ultimate Guide to Airline Fees. Got a question about how much extra you’re going to shell out? We’ve got answers. Lots of answers. Therefore, I’d like to now also introduce you to the Ultimate Guide To Fees I’m Levying For Introducing You to Ultimate Guides. For each guide I have and will ever introduce to you, you’ll be charged a modest fee of $49.99. Personal checks are not accepted, but please take advantage of our PayPal link. Even better, once I’ve presented (and charged you for) 15 new fees charges—guess what? Your 16th is free.

No need to thank me, it’s just good customer service.

(Photo: rangers.lohudblogs.com)

Southwest and WestJet to Add Canada Codeshare Flights

Posted July 9, 2008 by Zak Patten

Westjet Southwest finally got its passport. Though the low-cost carrier cannot be accused of being a total homebody—its first non-Texas flight was almost 30 years ago—the airline has never flown abroad. Well, baby’s all grown up and ready to explore the wide world of international travel. And what does every first-time traveler appreciate more than a road buddy?

Enter  WestJet, the Louise to Southwest’s Thelma, (if the 1991 movie were set in Canada and starred airlines rather than women). The two airlines will be codesharing by late 2009, according to an announcement yesterday. WestJet is a Canadian carrier that flies not just across its huge home country, but also gets down to Florida, Arizona, Hawaii, Mexico, and a few other sunny destinations likely to interest Albertans in their parkas come late February.

Which brings up what will be the central challenge for this deal: acclimatization. Yes, it ain’t easy going from one temperature extreme to another, as those on previous Calgary-Orlando flights can surely attest. WestJetters may be used to bundling up to go to the airport, only to strip off most of their layers upon arrival in more southerly climes. The problem is, the typical Southwest passenger just doesn’t know how to steer out of a skid, let alone how to dress for 40-below wind chills. “But what about Buffalo and Manchester?” you ask.  "Aren’t they Southwest cities with real winters?" To which I reply, “If you think Buffalo has real winters, try licking a Saskatoon stop sign in January!” Yeah, that’s what I thought.

So the key to success here is going to be how the codeshare flights are heated and cooled. Heading north, it’ll be necessary to pack extra clothing such as scarves and fleece pants, because the planes are going to be cranking the A/C every hundred miles or so in the attempt to get you used to the cold. By the time you deplane, you should look like a snowplow driver from Duluth. For trips flying south, the aircraft will need to install heated seats (these are pretty nice) and serve plenty of hot chocolate to bring passenger temps up to an appropriately tropical level. A palm tree or two wouldn’t hurt, but that might be overkill.

The bottom line is this is a risky venture. I have no doubt the tie-up between the two airlines is a good fit—they’re both low-cost carriers that have little route overlap. But you know they say the test of a relationship is how well people travel together. Maybe that’s true for airlines as well.

(Photo: airplane-pictures.net)

Tune Out the Noise With Delta's New In-Flight Audio

Posted July 2, 2008 by Zak Patten

Airfareheadsetwoman On your next Delta Air Lines flight, you could listen to the throbbing roar of 120-decibel jet engines. You might endure Mildred, sitting three rows back, who has a hearing aid and won't stop bleating about her favorite tuna casserole recipe. Or … you could tune into one of Delta's 30 new audio stations.

The Atlanta-based airline is upgrading its entertainment offerings with "a new line-up of 16 broadcast and 14 audio-on-demand channels." No details on what those channels will be playing, but they should make 3,500 songs available —enough to fill up a decent-sized iPod and certain to get you through a coast-to-coast flight. In addition to the tuneage, there'll be interviews with musicians and DJs. One other really cool feature is that passengers will be able to access the new system during boarding and disembarking. So while you're jamming to the latest from the Jonas Brothers, your seatmate may actually be trying to leave the aircraft. Expect a poke in the ribs, at least.

Delta, which worked with Pace Communications and DMI Music & Networks to bring to market what looks to be a solid addition to the airline's flight experience, is effusive in its praise for the new audio. According to Jake Frank, Managing Director of Global Product Development and Delivery at Delta, "The addition of DMI Networks' programming is a great complement to our current entertainment offerings and will provide our passengers with even more music programming choices than ever before." To which I say, "Bring it on!"

Are you eagerly anticipating some new sounds in the cabin, or will you miss the engine noise/recipe rundown of days gone by? Please comment below.

(Photo: Dragan Trifunovic/iStockphoto.com)

United to add iPod/iPhone compatibility

Posted July 1, 2008 by Carl Unger

Ah, the iPod—that clever little media player that lets you listen to music and watch movies on a screen roughly the size of a Saltine. Where would we be today without these amazing little toys from Apple? And then there's the iPhone, which is a missile-launcher away from being a James Bond gadget (I hear it makes a great apple pie). These things have literally brought peace and sunshine to people's lives.

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Well, that last sentence may be an exaggeration. But it is true that pretty much everyone in the universe has at least one form of Apple's ubiquitous toy, so it's no wonder the airlines are starting to notice. United recently announced it will be adding iPod compatibility to many of its planes, meaning customers will be able to charge their devices while aboard and watch their movies on 15.4-inch onboard screens.

What's the catch?  Unfortunately, these upgrades are reserved for the front of the plane only, meaning you'll have to shell out for a first- or business-class fare to enjoy the convenience.

Why is it that every time an airline announces a cool new feature, it's always for the high-rollers in upper class?  Personally, I'm thinking of lie-flat beds here, and reminiscing about a 10-hour flight from Greece during which I couldn't unbend my knees at all. (Of course, people in first or business either pay a ton of money for their seats, or they exchange a truckload of frequent flyer miles, so theoretically they should receive a superior product. But let's ignore that for now.) Just once, I would like an airline to unveil something completely awesome, like onboard arcade games or onboard hot tubs, and have that feature available to everyone on the plane.


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