A couple more airport lounges opened up this week and, from the looks of things, they are two which will quickly become quite popular with passengers. American Express has opened a Centurion Lounge in Las Vegas and Avianca has a new facility in Bogota, Colombia.
The American Express Centurion Lounge in Las Vegas is one of only two the company operates in the United States; the other is in Dallas, though I ‘m not sure if it is open yet or not. The lounge is in the D gates, not far from where Delta operates. And it is full-featured, including a hot food menu curated by Scott Conant and a bar menu overseen by Jim Meehan and Anthony Giglio. The lounge also includes a business center, a kids play room and shower facilities. I have also seen some photos from friends who have passed through in the first few days it is open and I’m quite impressed. And, while I don’t recognize the big names AmEx recruited to build the menus they seem to have pretty impressive resumes.
In Bogota the new Avianca lounge is huge; it can accommodate 670 passengers in over 6,500 square feet of space. And, like most proper international lounges, it also includes a business center, hot and cold food offerings and other amenities. The Avianca lounge also includes a separate area inside for their Diamond Elite members, a step above the Gold lounge facilities available to most guests. As for the design aesthetic, I have only seen one photo and the carpet is, well, exciting.
Always nice to see more lounges opening up. And these are two which should leave their guests quite happy, indeed.
Both lounges have also been added to the collection at the Wandering Aramean Travel Tools Airport Lounge Guide.
It seems that Aerolineas Argentinas is looking to grow their international route map significantly. The carrier is looking to add five new destinations around the globe, including three in the United States. The carrier is apparently in the process of negotiating access to these markets through bilateral treaties. Given that Aerolineas Argentinas only has five destinations currently outside of South America this would be an enormous upgrade to their route map. The proposed destinations are Atlanta, Las Vegas, Detroit, Guangzhou and Tel Aviv.
As best as I can tell there is no way that the Guangzhou flight can be served non-stop. Detroit and Atlanta are both hubs for SkyTeam partner Delta so if they can negotiate the treaties picking up traffic in one of those to carry on to China sortof makes sense, but it seems unlikely that such access will be easily forthcoming. Tagging it on to Tel Aviv might make sense, but I have no idea what the traffic demand is on that local hop or if they could secure traffic rights.
Or I suppose it is possible that my French is bad enough that I’m completely misunderstanding the story I’m reading and getting some of these details from. But I’m pretty sure that’s not the case.
It has been more than 15 years since passenger rail traffic rolled through Las Vegas. If the Las Vegas Railway Express company is successful that drought will end in late 2013 as they introduce a luxury train service from Fullerton, California to Sin City. The company expects that the ride will take about 5 hours and hopes to price tickets in the $99 range each way. The service will operate with specially configured rail cars featuring bars, big screen TVs and recliner seats. Unlike the other proposed train service linking the two cities the "X Train" will run at regular speeds, avoiding the need to build new tracks which proposed high speed service would require. The service will run partially on Amtrak rail lines and partially on rails operated by Union Pacific. The 576-seat train will be crewed by Amtrak employees but the rest of the operation will be privately maintained and funded.
Hopefully this service is more successful than the short-lived "Aces" operation between Atlantic City and New York City. That service was pretty awful and didn’t last long. The part where this service is actually going to terminate 30-45 minutes south east of LA proper in Fullerton certainly isn’t a good start to the situation.
The recent addition of perimeter exemption routes for Washington, DC‘s National Airport included the provision that the four largest carriers were entitle to slots, assuming they gave up a non-exempt slot. Three of those four routes were announced previously, with Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Los Angeles being chosen. Up until now, however, US Airways has remained silent on their plans. They already hold perimeter exemptions for service to Phoenix and Las Vegas and, as of June 8, 2012 service so San Diego, California.
The new service will start as an evening flight westbound and a redeye eastbound. In mid-July the route switched to a morning flight westbound and a noon departure eastbound, arriving at 8:30pm.
DCA-SAN lv 5:40p ar 8:03p
SAN-DCA lv 11:00p ar 7:00a
DCA-SAN lv 8:55a ar 11:18a
SAN-DCA lv 12:30p ar 8:23p
Neither of the timings seem particularly fantastic for business customers, particularly on the eastbound times, but I guess they have their reasons.
It will also be interesting to see how this announcement affects the pending applications from the other carriers trying to get the slots. Alaska Airlines had applied to operate the same route non-stop while both Frontier and Southwest are hoping to operate it as a one-stop service via Colorado Springs and Austin, respectively. This definitely gives the DoT some interesting things to think about.
Washington, DC‘s National Airport is one of the "lucky few" airports in the country where the government has limited destinations which can be served. The so-called "perimeter rule" keeps the long-haul flights out at Dulles for the most part, but there are a few exceptions to rule and those are coveted by the airlines. As part of the most recent FAA budget authorization bill Congress has added a few perimeter exceptions to the pool at DCA and now airlines are scrambling to grab those slots. The filing deadline was yesterday, and here’s what the proposals look like.
The slots are split into two pools, one for legacy carriers and one for new entrants. In the new entrants category six carriers – JetBlue, Virgin America, Southwest, Air Canada, Frontier and Alaska Airlines have applied.
Alaska Airlines is going big with their application, hoping to offer transcon service from both their Portland, OR hub as well as San Diego. Virgin America is also hoping for hub service from San Francisco. Southwest is aiming to provide service to Austin, TX, with onward connections to San Diego and JetBlue has applied to serve both Austin and San Juan. Air Canada is hoping for Vancouver service and Frontier is looking to serve Colorado Springs.
There is some interesting overlap with the routes being requested and it seems somewhat unlikely that the DoT is going to approve such applications so perhaps the final approval will look something like this:
For the legacy carriers the access to beyond perimeter slots comes with a slightly higher price, as they have to give up service to a destination inside the perimeter to get the new service. On the plus side, the route authorities are more or less guaranteed given that condition so the DoT has less work to do there. Of the eligible carriers, Delta, United Airlines and American Airlines all made their intentions known a couple weeks ago, with service to their Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Los Angeles hubs, respectively. Apparently US Airways has decided to not apply for an additional beyond perimeter slot. They already have service to Phoenix and Las Vegas but it is still somewhat surprising that they haven’t tried for more.
The new routes should be interesting to watch, especially with the potential for competition on the LAX and SFO routes.
Want access to the priority security lines at the airport without elite status or buying a first class ticket? Looks like it is time to start flying JetBlue. The carrier announced today the 15 airports at which their new "Even More Speed" program will be implemented, allowing customers access to the "priority" line that other carriers afford to elites or premium cabin customers. With JetBlue this perk will be an additional benefit of the Even More Legroom seats which are being rebranded as well as part of the move.
The initial airports for priority screening are:
Priority screening is also coming to Boston in the next 4-6 weeks as the reconfiguration of the checkpoint there is completed.
In addition to the priority screening access the company is changing the Even More Legroom moniker to Even More Space. The impetus for this change is the addition of early boarding for those customers, providing them the first chance to get at the overhead bins. The early boarding benefit isn’t particularly new but the branding is. Maybe they got a bulk discount on trademark registrations with "Even More" in the name.
Overall this is a nice addition to the offerings that JetBlue has. Combined with the previous indications that some sort of "elite" program (though they refuse to use that word) is coming and that some of these benefits are likely to carry over, it seems clear that JetBlue is working hard to woo the business traveler segment more than ever.
Apparently when an airline is advertising it.
I got an email from Continental this afternoon suggesting that now would be a great time to visit Las Vegas. And they’re advertising the low, low price of $566 round trip from LaGuardia. For starters, that’s a pretty high sale fare and not likely to drive a ton of business. But beyond that, they’re missing out on the fact that the fare they’re advertising isn’t even the best deal they have on offer.
Check out the fares they have published in the market:
Indeed, there actually are a number of cheaper fares available and if you click the link in their email to search they’ll sell them to you:
I know that the airlines are working to increase their revenue and there are certainly a number of fares that are more expensive than they have been in recent memory, but when they cannot even publish a sale correctly maybe it is time to start wondering what the real issues are in their business model.
Needless to say, I didn’t bite on the "deal."
Yesterday had a bit of a buzz on the internet regarding a piece about airfare pricing from Nate Silver that was published on his NY Times politics blog. The post, filled with mathematical analysis, attempts to use statistics to determine which airports have unfairly high fares relative to others providing comparable service. And I’m sure the math involved is accurate. I have no doubt that someone as statistically gifted as Silver got the regression analysis correct when he ran the numbers. But the findings are still miserably flawed.
Why? Because several of the assumptions made simply do not apply to air travel.
Silver acknowledges that most the other folks who have tackled this topic have made specific flaws in their assumptions. He aims to correct these but instead makes some tragic assumptions of his own.
Let’s take a look at the factors he considers:
The first factor is the distance traveled — we use the distance from the origin airport to the destination as though it were a nonstop flight, whether or not there was a layover along the way….
The first factor cited – distance traveled – is probably one of the last things that actually comes into play when airlines are figuring domestic market pricing. Should they? I can see that argument being made, but it ignores the general concept of market pricing and supply/demand dictating the going rate for a ticket. If the airlines wanted to price everything based on distance they could, but they’d be leaving a lot of money on the table for the shorter flights and they’d never sell the longer ones. Even just using the average costs to operate a flight as a price basis you’d be looking at $600+ on average for a round-trip transcontinental flight. They seem to sell a lot better in the $300 range, at least in major markets.
Silver chose to ignore whether there is a connection or not. While that is reasonable for calculating the distance traveled, it ignores perhaps the single greatest factor that drives travel bookings for business travelers, the folks paying the higher fares: schedule. When you’re a business traveler hopping between cities and trying to get to that next appointment on time and then home as quickly as possible you pay more for a non-stop flight. Should you? Maybe, maybe not. But you do. This pricing function is probably more directly traceable in cargo numbers and there is a ton of data available on that, including in Greg Lindsey’s Aerotropolis, a pretty good read. But the same concept absolutely applies to passenger travel as well. There is a very real value in speed out in the real world; there apparently isn’t one in Silver’s.
Silver found that Newark was about 25% more expensive than JFK based on his data. And there is no doubt that is the case on some routes. But when you also consider that Newark has quite a few more domestic destinations available as a non-stop flight than JFK does that price premium isn’t nearly as surprising. After all, folks pay for speed.
Certainly demand factors into the pricing as well:
Second is a variable representing the demand for travel at both the origin and destination airports. Demand is assumed to be a function of the number of origin-and-departure passengers that an airport handled (not counting passengers who passed through the airport on a layover), but with a modification for average ticket prices. In other words, if the average fare at an airport was high, the model assumed that more people would have wanted to fly there but were deterred by the cost, and if the average fare was low, that some passengers would not have flown if the fares had not been such a bargain.
Indeed, one can expect that fares to smaller destinations will be higher. And they generally are. But assuming that more people really want to be traveling to smaller cities but choose not to because the airfare is too high misses the point. They are smaller cities with lower demand for travel because they have fewer businesses, fewer residents traveling (or being visited) and generally less volume. They aren’t seeing lower air traffic because they are too expensive, they are seeing lower traffic because they are small. Lowering fares may translate to a small increase in volume but it most certainly is not a linear path.
Moreover, the ability for a new entrant to operate in a market requires a certain base level of demand. No matter how cheap the fares, you aren’t going to survive long as a startup carrier if your hubs are in Columbus, Ohio and Greensboro, North Carolina, for example; just ask SkyBus. This means major metropolitan areas see the up-starts, and those up-starts bring lower fares because that’s how they attract customers. Their fares go up over time – JetBlue and Southwest have proven this – but that’s where it begins. And that explains a lot of the pricing trends that are seen today.
Finally, Silver looks at the most important factor, competition:
The regression analysis also accounts for three other factors that have significant effects on pricing. These are, respectively, the market share at the origin and destination airports held collectively by the five “legacy carriers” (United, American, Delta, Continental and US Air); the market share held by Southwest Airlines; and the market share held by the largest single carrier at that airport (for instance, Delta and its affiliates are responsible for about 66 percent of all traffic at Atlanta).
Passengers at Newark paid an average of 12 percent more than those at J.F.K. for their trips to Los Angeles, 49 percent more for those to Chicago, 65 percent more to Dallas, and 118 percent more to Washington, D.C.
Given those numbers, it is probably useful to take a look at the competition in those markets. There is zero competition between Newark and Washington, DC. National airport is only served by Continental and Dulles is served only by Continental and merger partner United Airlines. Plus, those routes are not generally reasonable to fly with a connection. The travel time is so short that when you add the connection it is silly to fly when total travel time is important, as it often is. The Dallas route sees a bit of competition from American Airlines, as does the Chicago route. Los Angeles has a tiny bit of competition but it also has the advantage of being a long enough trip that making the schlep over to JFK to save some money on airfare doesn’t actually completely ruin the speed=value margins. Ditto for connecting flights that add a smaller percentage of time to the travel experience.
Somewhat ironically based on the first factor Silver names, longer distances traveled can actually drive down prices as the impact of connections or less desirable departure or arrival airports is decreased as the total travel time increases.
It is actually surprising that Silver didn’t note the disparity on pricing in the Newark/JFK – Boston market. For quite some time now Continental has held a monopoly on that route. Similar to the DC runs, it rarely makes sense to connect for such a short trip and Continental exploited that price disparity. Right up until JetBlue announced their entry into the market. The fares dropped quite quickly at that point. Hardly a surprise, really. Competition, not the airport, drove the pricing.
Here’s a much more simple way to figure out if an airport is expensive or not:
- Is it a mostly leisure destination? If the answer is yes then it is almost certainly not going to be as expensive on average. Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando and most the rest of Florida all come to mind, and not surprisingly they’re all on Silver’s list of good value airports.
- Is it dominated (60%+) by a single carrier?
- If that carrier is United, Continental, US Airways, Delta, American or Southwest then odds are it will be a more expensive airport.
- If that carrier is AirTran, Spirit Air, JetBlue or Allegiant (and, to a lesser extent, Frontier) then odds are it will be a less expensive airport.
- Is it a particularly large metropolitan area? If not, fares are going to be higher because demand is lower.
Three easy questions that don’t take statistical regression or misguided assumptions. Silver actually gets some of these, particularly regarding the competition factor. But he also has a couple huge misses, especially around distance traveled and the price/demand curve.
It would also be interesting to compare the actual costs of travel versus just the base fare data. Spirit has a pretty incredible ancillary revenues per passenger – to the tune of an extra $35/head on average – so those "cheap" airports can come with significant surprises once the customer gets to the airport. Indeed, the airlines are quite keen to sell these ancillary bits to their customers and many are now stating explicitly that these fees are where their profits are. The airlines even want to control the way those fees are marketed to the customer by cutting the GDSes out of the pricing loop. Not a good deal for consumers.
Oh, and the suggestion he links to about searching for the best airfares on weekends is horribly wrong, too. Tuesday or Wednesday mid-afternoon is the time you’re most likely to find deals. On the weekends the airlines are raising fares and limiting the cheaper inventory in an effort to cash in on folks shopping for their vacations while their home with their family.
Silver should stick to baseball and politics, two things that he appears to understand a lot better than air travel.
JetBlue has launched a new promotion for their JetBlue Getaways packages that can result in nearly free vacations for many customers. The deal is pretty straight-forward: $100 off any Getaways booking made between now and January 27, 2011 for travel through September 6, 2011 (the current end of published schedule for the carrier). There is no minimum stay requirement for these deals and with some fares in the $39/49/59 one-way range and some cities having quite cheap hotels this can result in nearly free vacation packages. Long Beach or Burbank to Las Vegas and New York City to upstate are the likely best opportunities out there.
Simply go through the booking process, find the best deal you can and then add promo code getawaytofun to drop $100 off the price.
Not nearly as good as the $300 off from Expedia.ca a couple months back, but still a pretty solid deal.
For the second time during my travels on the All You Can Jet pass from JetBlue I had trouble with my crazy itineraries that involved an extra connection in Boston. Last week it was my desire to fly Sarasota – New York – Boston – Las Vegas rather than just New York – Las Vegas. This week it was an even more irrational desire. I really wanted to fly to San Jose, California.
Why the obsession with San Jose? It is one of only two domestic stations that JetBlue flies to that I haven’t yet visited. I really wanted to get there during this AYCJ period. Even if it meant missing my return flight. Yeah, like I said, bad idea.
Shortly after I made it to Boston I noticed that my connecting flight was orange on the monitor – delayed. About two hours. I originally had built the trip with a 2:25 connection so the two hour delay was not critical initially but it was definitely going to be tight. Still, I made the decision to press on with the trip. I really wanted to get that visit to San Jose. It was only after we were fully boarded and the door was closed and we took an extra 10 minute ground hold after pushing back from the gate that I knew I was screwed. Alas, there was nothing to do at that point but enjoy the flight.
About half way through the flight I was chatting with Rodan and Ashton, two of the awesome flight attendants working the trip. Joe, a flight attendant deadheading out to SJC to work the return flight. I was asking Rodan to help me out by asking the captain to call ahead and let the gate know that there was a connecting passenger on board in hopes that they wouldn’t close the flight out 10 minutes early like they have a habit of doing. It was then that Joe piped in, noting that JetBlue only has one gate at San Jose.
Based on when we were going to arrive the New York flight was going to be just getting ready to push back. It was quite likely that they’d push that flight and then let us pull in to the gate. In other words I’d be watching my flight leave without me from my seat. My hopes were further thwarted when Rodan reported back that he’d spoken with the pilot and we were actually even later than expected getting in to San Jose.
I had missed my flight. Not good.
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