Competition does strange things, like making the airlines offer better products to attract customers. Hard to say that’s a bad thing, right?? Delta is adding some new benefits for passengers in their Economy Comfort seats on flights on their main transcon routes. For flights between New York City‘s JFK and either Los Angeles or San Francisco customers in the Economy Comfort (extra legroom/recline) seats will now include free drinks, a free "premium snack" and free newspapers.
Like many things in the airline industry this seems to be a case of things coming full circle, with complimentary snacks and drinks returning to the coach cabin in the name of competition. Virgin America already has free snacks/drinks in their comparable offering (Main Cabin Select). American Airlines is going to be competing with frequencies, upping to roughly hourly shuttle service in the coming year as they get their new A321 planes with fewer seats. United is also pushing new configurations out in the market, though no other special features noted.
The launch of service by Virgin America between Newark and both Los Angeles and San Francisco touched off a bit of a fare war. Most route launches do, especially when it is an upstart encroaching on a cash cow route of a legacy carrier. The fare war itself was not unexpected, really. Slightly less expected was the amount of capacity United Airlines has chosen to respond with. Not only did they match the fares but they are essentially running hourly shuttle service on both routes.
At least one person is willing to call the revised schedule out for being more than just a reasonable response to a sudden increase in demand in the markets. Sir Richard Branson, the outspoken head of the Virgin Group which owns a minority stake in Virgin America was at Newark this week to talk about the new service launch and he had a few words about United’s approach. Speaking to FlightGlobal at the event he was downright defiant:
It’s old-style American airline management. It won’t succeed. They will be the losers. They certainly won’t drive us out of Newark.
Branson also suggests that the move by United is going to cost roughly $150mm annually. I have no idea if those numbers are sound or not; my back of the napkin calculations based on CASM, the aircraft and the number of flights suggests that the operating costs will be a lot higher than that, though I suppose they’ll make some money selling the seats, even at the bargain $99 one-way rates they have on the market right now.
But Branson is also suggesting another tactic may come in to play as Virgin America tries to make it in the market: the government. Branson is suggesting that the carrier may file complaints to regulators regarding the inventory dumping that United has engaged in on these routes. Given that he’s not actually running the company it is hard to tell if either of these defiant stands is real. Saying you’re going to file a complaint is a lot different than actually doing so and it is not actually his position to do it so others will have to get involved before it actually happens. Still, it is always interesting to hear that approach discussed.
I get that Branson wants to see more service and lower fares in the market. That makes sense. So it is hard to use that same argument to say that United’s inventory dumping here is a bad thing. At the same time, history suggests that should United actually drive Virgin America out of the market the service and fares will rapidly return to the old levels. The question is whether the feds should be involved.
Thus far I’m happy with the fare sales; they’re going to be very useful for me, I’m sure. We’ll just have to see how long it all lasts.
With the grounding of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner now in its 6th week and looking to stretch into several months the long-term impact on flight schedules is starting to build up. With no certainty of the planes reentering service anytime soon airlines are extending route cancelations or aircraft swaps, depending on the circumstances. For United Airlines the groundings are affecting a number of routes, even those not scheduled to operate on the 787.
United has officially removed the 787 from their schedule through June 5, 2013 (or they will be with this weekend’s schedule updates). The only flight on the 787 expected earlier than that is Denver-Tokyo, a route which was supposed to launch on March 31; the new launch date for that route is May 12th, a delay of 6 weeks. And that date is soft, depending on the 787s getting back into service. Because United has other routes scheduled to be operated by the 787 which are now being operated with other planes the ability to continue expansion efforts are also impeded.
United’s flights from Los Angeles to Tokyo and Shanghai, as well as Houston to Lagos, Nigeria, will continue to operate, but with the 777 rather than 787s. Flights between San Francisco and both Paris and Taipei, both scheduled to start in the coming weeks, are pushed back. Paris service is now slated to begin April 26th and Taipei is expected to start June 6th; these dates are several weeks after the originally announced route launch dates.
For me, the delay on the DEN-NRT flight creates a personal problem for me: I was supposed to fly on the inaugural. United is being quite flexible on rebooking and reroutes, including positioning flights to Denver, and so I now have to decide what to do. I’m still inclined to get the new line and I’d still love to be on the inaugural. Plus, I think I can make the timing work with another event near Denver that weekend. So that’s probably what I’ll do. But I’m tempted to get creative on the way home, extending my mileage run. Maybe a routing via Honolulu? Or something else. Hong Kong or Singapore might be a bit too much, I think. I’d love to get the Island Hopper in there, especially since I’m on a B fare so upgrades would be easier, but I want to do that flight on the daytime, westbound version so that doesn’t work out for me. Any other suggestions??
The ability to legitimately earn points in more than one program for a single flight is a rare one; when such an opportunity comes up it is nearly universally worth looking in to in more detail. And so today I’m taking a look at the promotion offered by Singapore Air running through the end of February 2013 allowing for passengers to double dip when flying on certain Virgin America flights as part of a codeshare itinerary via Los Angeles or San Francisco.
For US residents booked on a Virgin America-operated flight under the Singapore Air code it will be possible to collect both KrisFlyer points and Elevate points on the same flight. Because the Elevate program earning is based on spending but there is no direct spending with the codeshare flights the companies have come up with a fixed earning table to cover the eligible flights:
Registration is required for this promotion.
This isn’t the sort of promotion which will revolutionize your earning potential. It covers a very narrow set of flights (who is buying VX codeshares as add-ons to a SQ flight??) and a relatively short window of dates. Still, not the worst thing ever published. And it always is nice to have the ability to double dip from time to time.
Crazy cheap fares tonight on Air Berlin from Los Angeles to Europe for winter travel. Many destinations being reported on MilePoint, FlyerTalk, Facebook and twitter for <$500 round trip, including Copenhagen, Vienna and more.
These aren’t the greatest as a mileage run as they book in to a very low earning fare bucket (at least if crediting to AAdvantage) so don’t expect this to be a great start towards your EXP earning for 2013. And flying Air Berlin longhaul in coach is something of a self-hating exercise, but it is a great fare.
Get ‘em while they’re still around. The flexible dates search on ITA is your friend here.
It turns out that I was wrong about how United Airlines would respond to Virgin America announcing 3x daily service from Newark to both San Francisco and Los Angeles in Spring 2013. I figured maybe an extra flight or two and possibly some promos for extra frequent flyer points. United apparently has a different plan in mind. First there was the announcement of a San Francisco – Ft. Lauderdale route by United. A minor retaliation, really, but there it was. More recently, however, United has updated their schedule for service between the coasts. If this isn’t dumping inventory I don’t know what is.
Check out the timetables for the first week of June:
United is basically running hourly shuttle service on transcon flights. That’s nuts. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with pricing to try to fill those seats. There’s no way they’re going to be able fill them at their old price levels.
Welcome to the Loft, Virgin America‘s new lounge at Los Angeles International Airport. The airline opened their first lounge this week, offering an option for passengers looking to relax, snack or imbibe prior to departure. The lounge is open from 6am-11:30pm daily, covering the carrier’s schedule block.
The lounge will offer complimentary cocktails, food and internet connectivity to passengers who pay for access. The day pass is $40 so I suppose it isn’t really complimentary, but rather "included" for the services. The food menu actually looks pretty good:
The liquor list isn’t anything particularly impressive, but I wouldn’t expect top shelf at the price point they’re offering. There are also some specialty drinks suggested in addition to this list:
Keeping with the Virgin America design aesthetic is obviously a big value proposition to the carrier. And having a lounge available may help them attract higher yield customers. Plus, to be quite honest, it looks pretty cool.
Also, the Loft has been added to the collection in the Airport Lounge Guide section of Wandering Aramean Travel Tools.
Photo from Virgin Atlantic press kit
When was the last time you heard someone get excited about Newark? For Virgin America, however, there is a lot of excitement as the carrier looks to challenge United Airlines on two major routes, connecting Newark to San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The service starts in April 2013, with thrice daily service each to both San Francisco and Los Angeles. Given that Virgin America has been slowing its growth (and even cutting ASMs this winter) adding these long-haul flights is a big move for them. Not surprisingly, the introductory fare sale is obvious in the market. Here’s the lowest one-way fares between Newark and San Francisco chart for the two weeks before and after the service launches:
The numbers are similar out of LAX.
For the premium cabin seats and refundable fares, the markets where real money is made (at least in theory) the fares don’t appear to be changing all that much. It doesn’t appear that Virgin is pushing too hard against United and United has not – at least not yet – decided that they are looking to start a fare war. That said, I do expect that United will eventually respond in some way. After all, disparities like this make it hard to justify the higher fare:
The competition is good for consumers in that it should bring fares down a bit in the market. And it might be good for consumers in service levels or other experiences. A decent chance of a frequent flier promotion based on this, too. That said, it isn’t clear just how long Virgin America can afford to fight it out with other carriers based on fare alone, and their service frequencies are half of what United is offering. Virgin has challenged US Airways in Philadelphia and American in DFW. They’re still in both markets but it doesn’t appear that the legacies have taken much of a hit either.
It will certainly be interesting to watch.
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 frequent flyer program of Hawaiian Airlines doesn’t have a ton to recommend it. The earning rates aren’t great. Neither are the elite benefits. And, most notably, the award chart has very few great values to it. By many accounts there was actually only one tremendous award they offered: North America to anywhere Virgin Atlantic flies in Upper Class for 140,000 points. Note the use of the past tense there. The Virgin Atlantic partner award chart was updated in the past couple days (the old one was definitely there 3 days ago when the Virgin America partnership was announced), devaluing the awards by huge margins.
Here’s the old award chart, courtesy of MileValue.com:
And here’s the new award chart from the Hawaiian website this morning:
For starters, awards appear to be priced as to or from London, not from the mainland USA destinations Virgin Atlantic serves. This means getting past London from the USA now requires adding two awards together, one to get to London and then another to continue onwards. The Upper Class award from Los Angeles to London in Upper Class went from 100,000 points to 160,000; from New York City the rate only increased 25% to 125,000 points.
But if you want to continue on, say from New York City to Hong Kong or Mumbai, the rate is now 285,000 points, an increase of more than 100%. From San Francisco that rate is 320,000 points.
It is very, very rare that points ever increase in value. It has happened maybe once or twice that I can recall in the past decade. That’s why hoarding millions of points is rarely a smart move. But it is also rare that such dramatic devaluations as this one happen. Not unheard of, but definitely rare. All the more reason to spend ‘em when you get ‘em.