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.
The partnership between Virgin America and Singapore Air has deepened with the announcement this week of frequent flyer reciprocity between the two programs. Members in both programs will be able to earn and redeem points for flights on the partner. Virgin America is celebrating by offering 500 free points to all their members. Mostly great news, really, though the devil is in the details.
For Virgin America’s Elevate members the earning rates for Singapore Air-operated flights are pretty meager:
Yes, I get that Elevate is a revenue-based program rather than a distance-based one so the 1:1 ratio doesn’t necessarily line up perfectly. But a 70% earning rate for paid Suites cabin travel is pretty darn low. A paid business class ticket from San Francisco to Singapore will net 4,220 points or roughly $100 in Elevate credit. That same flight will earn between 10,000 and 17,000 points when credited to a Star Alliance partner of Singapore Air; it is hard to value that at less than the $100 Elevate is offering and quite easy to do better than the $100 level.
Redeeming Elevate points for travel on Singapore Air is similarly challenging. A return trip in business class on SFO-SIN rings in at 95,000 points. Just over 22 round trip flights will net you enough points to redeem for one. That’s roughly double the rate required from most other Singapore Air partners.
For short-haul redemptions in SE Asia, however, the Elevate option may be a reasonable one. Singapore to Bangkok is only 6,000 points and $46 in taxes/fees for a return trip in economy; it is 13,000 in business. That’s roughly $200-350 worth of points and fees. The next closest I can find is 20,000 from ANA or 25,000 points from a host of other carriers for an economy class ticket. Redeeming Elevate points would be a win there, at least compared to the other programs. Or you can look at is as a paid business class SFO-SIN gets you a free economy onward to Bangkok at some later point. Not necessarily the best deal but not completely awful either. And with 136 new routes now available plenty of opportunity to suss out the deals. Just don’t expect a lot of premium cabin inventory to show up, especially on long-haul routes.
For Singapore Air’s KrisFlyer members earning on Virgin American-operated flights actually looks like a pretty good deal. The accrual rates are a minimum of 100% of the miles flown with a 50% bonus for C, D and J class tickets. No bonus for Main Cabin Select but that’s not too surprising. The redemption rates on Virgin America metal are a bit complex, and not particularly great (40K for transcon return in economy) but there is an option for Main Cabin Select redemption if you’re in to that. It is not clear what fare bucket the awards come out of so access to the seats may be limited.
Overall this is a solid partnership, especially for KrisFlyer members. And there are even a few gems in there for the Elevate members, too.
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??
Flying up front is always a good thing. A flat bed is even better. Getting a double bed comfortable enough for two people to lay next to each other and still sleep well is simply ridiculous. Fortunately, Singapore Air offers such a setup on their A380 planes in "Suites" class and I finally got to experience it. As an added bonus the flight happened to be an inaugural of sorts – the first A380 from San Francisco to Asia (Hong Kong in this case) so we we treated to a few extra surprises as well.
Believe it or not, the Singapore SilverKris Lounge at SFO wasn’t our lounge of choice for this particular flight. It is nice enough and there is the advantage of hot food available there but this time, thanks to our first class tickets, we chose to spend the time prior to the flight in United Airlines’ GlobalFirst lounge instead. More space, similar booze and closer to the gate were the main reasons we went with the GFL. The fact that the SKL is so crowded with the larger plane that they block even their own elites from accessing it made me quite comfortable in that decision. We were one of only two parties in the GFL and quite enjoyed the time there.
In addition to the lounge time there was a bit of a party set up in honor of the inaugural flight. Singapore Air had a number of sales/marketing executives at the gate and a buffet spread set up with small sandwiches and desserts on offer. I also had the opportunity to speak with many of the execs there and talk about the plane, the route and their excitement in having the larger aircraft running the route. They did quite a nice job with that aspect of things, though obviously don’t expect that every time. It was quite entertaining when they all called my wife by name as we boarded, even though they hadn’t met her, only because of our prior conversations that evening.
Finally, as we boarded the flight we were given small gift boxes. As I settled in to my suite I opened it up to see what they were offering to commemorate the inaugural. The red and gold leather luggage tag is awesome. I’m a big fan!
Speaking of settling in to the seat, I have to say that this is probably the most personal space I’ve ever had on a plane, including Emirates‘ and Thai Airway’s A380 first class products. Simply ridiculous, really. There are extra pillows so you don’t feel too lost in the middle of the seat without an armrest close enough to lean on. It is that wide. No overhead bins, which can be a bit awkward, but my bags actually fit completely in the space under the ottoman in my suite. Really ridiculous amounts of room.
When we had finished dinner and were ready to sleep the flight attendants set our suites into bed mode. The double bed thing really is as incredible as the marketing makes it seem. The seat folds forward making the bed a bit high to climb into for sleeping but incredibly comfortable. And all those pillows, too.
One area where Singapore didn’t really splurge on their first class product is with the lavatories. Part of that is a space consideration given that they are on the lover level, not upstairs like Thai or Emirates has. It definitely reduces some of the fun which can be had. Not that they are bad, really, but just not particularly spacious or special in any way. Still all the usual amenities one would expect to find in the lav, but not incredibly special.
Overall I think that this was the nicest A380 F seat of the three I’ve now experienced. It isn’t trimmed in gold and wood veneer like the Emirates Suite but it is more spacious than what I remember from Emirates and much more subtly luxurious. Less flash, more substance.
I really don’t get the appeal of lobster covered in a cheese sauce. I love lobster and I love cheese sauce in certain circumstances but ne’er the two shall meet in my view. Alas, I was only choosing one of the two main meals we ordered and I lost on the Lobster Thermidor vote for the second meal. After tasting it I still think I’m right. The food was very, very good on board. Neither of us loved the lobster but it was exactly as advertised.
There were snacks available mid-flight in the galley and breakfast was quite good, too. I love when an airline can serve fresh eggs in-flight.
Overall the food was very, very good. Not the absolute best I’ve had on board and not quite to the same level of selection as Emirates offers, but still quite tasty and filling.
The screen is huge. It has to be given how far it is from the seat to the screen, but it is huge.
I’m also a fan of the content selection available. A good mix of new stuff (Pitch Perfect was a lot of fun) and classics available, plenty to keep me occupied throughout the flight when I wasn’t sleeping.
The plane was supposed to have the OnAir internet connectivity available, too. The hotspot was broadcasting but it wasn’t actually able to connect out to the internet. Eventually I asked the flight attendant about the situation and she profusely apologized for the service not being available. A bit disappointing as I was hoping to give it a try; I guess I’ll just have to make another trip with them one of these days.
Singapore Air is known for their service levels. My last flight with them had incredible flight attendants so I had pretty high expectations for this flight. I was not left wanting. Parts of the incredible service were a bit over-the-top. I’m not so sure that I needed four different people to escort me from the gate area to my seat, each one handing me off to another while calling me by name. At the same time, pretty much from the moment we entered the gate area until we left the plane everyone we interacted with was ridiculously good. Much like the seats it wasn’t flashy or in-your-face but subtly exquisite. I can see why they have the reputation they do.
I’ve now taken two flights on Singapore Air, one on the A345 from Newark to Singapore and this one. Both times the service was impeccable and the flight was very, very nice. As a customer on a budget who really will only ever up in those cabins on award redemptions I’m not entirely sure that they are worth going that much out of the way for – other premium cabin offerings I’ve been in are quite nice, too – but the overall experience still is rather special. Probably moreso since I know I won’t be doing it again, but still…
I don’t write in-flight reviews very often anymore because, quite frankly, I tend to bore myself writing them. Just how often can I describe the same seat on the same plane? But when I get a new experience I try to share it as they aren’t quite so boring to me. With a number of new (at least to me) experiences over the past few weeks there will be a few of these posts coming out. Hopefully they are vaguely interesting. And with that…
As part of our new years trip to Asia I had managed to score a pair of first class award seats on Singapore Air‘s San Francisco – Hong Kong service. Not living in San Francisco, however, I had to figure a way to get there. United’s p.s. service was the best candidate and given that I had already redeemed for a first class award that meant the trancon was a free add-on. Sign me up! The inventory was actually readily available for the flight we needed so I booked it and a few weeks later we were on the AirTrain at JFK, headed to Terminal 7.
United Airlines still operates their GlobalFirst lounge at JFK. It is a holdover from many years ago when they used to have a significant international presence at JFK and they still use it for their p.s. customers and international connections. It is small but sufficient for the number of guests on any given day. And it is quite a sight nicer than the United Club is it attached to. Nothing earth-shattering, to be sure, but a decent place to wait, especially considering the barren wasteland that is JFK’s Terminal 7.
We only had about 45 minutes in the lounge prior to departure so I had a quick sip of Champagne (self-pour on all the booze) and some finger food before we headed down to the gate and boarded.
For domestic service the p.s. First Class seat isn’t bad at all. That said, I cannot wait until they are replaced with the new flat beds in the coming months. I’m not going to be flying in first again and the new models are more comfortable to me, even if they are officially only a business class product. No pictures of the seats because, well, they aren’t all that inspiring. They were great last decade when they were put in service but definitely showing their age.
The p.s. meal service is rather similar between business class and first class on the p.s. flights. The only thing I noticed at all slightly amiss is that we were not asked for a first and second choice on our entrée orders; they just asked for the one. Maybe they ensure that first class always gets their first choice before doling the rest out to business class. Or maybe I was the beneficiary of GS status on this one. Either way, I ordered the steak and hoped for the best.
First course was a salmon and tuna appetizer. The salmon was just a big chunk of smoked salmon but quite flavorful. The tuna was pastrami-style or something like that. Also not too bad, though definitely a different flavor than I am used to with tuna.
The steak was, surprisingly, not particularly a mistake to order. Not the best beef I’ve ever had on a plane (ANA provided that later in the trip) but a reasonable texture, flavor and size. The green beans and potato thing served as sides were also decent.
And, finally, the ice cream sundae. I don’t know why I get so excited by them when flying but I do. I had this one the same way I always do and it tasted just like all the others. Not the absolute best ice cream but close enough.
There is a snack basket passed around a bit later during the flight and available in the galley at any time. I’m not particularly a fan of the products they have in the basket but I’ll write that off as me not liking them rather than that they aren’t good; I know I have my quirks in that regard. Unlike the breakfast flights westbound the lunch and dinner flights are, to me, well catered both in quality and quantity of food.
For in-flight entertainment on the p.s. flights there are a few options. One is the overhead CRT monitors which are invariably craptacular. They just suck. All different colors, often fuzzy/shaking picture and also, unfortunately, generally not something I’d want to watch at all. For business class and first class passengers there are also digEplayers distributed with a few movies to watch. I’ve used them before and they are OK, I guess, but the technology is a bit tired and the reliability of the systems is less than spectacular. They are being retired as part of the p.s. fleet renovations so it isn’t all that surprising that the maintenance on them is a bit lacking. And then there is gogo in-flight internet. I had a free code left over so I used that to pass the time a bit. Service was actually decent on this flight which is not my usual experience. I doubt I would have used it had it not been free.
Finally, there is the time-tested IFE system which I love the most: staring out the window as we fly across the country. I was able to pass quite a bit of the trip that way.
I also took a nap for a couple hours, further reducing my need for IFE.
The crew working this particular flight was fine. Not particularly warm and bubbly nor overly harsh. Just a typical service. They did everything just fine but nothing special. That’s not a problem in my book though they also don’t deserve special praise in any way.
Overall the trip really was "just another flight" in pretty much every way. The product is a bit tired and it is nice that United is going to be updating it, even if the "new" version isn’t exactly the newest product available.
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.
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.
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.
The route map for Hawaiian Airlines continues to expand westward. The latest addition to the carrier’s destination list is Taiwan with service expected to begin in July 2013. The 3x weekly operation will bring approximately 45,000 seats annually into the market. Taiwan is the eighth international destination announced in the past two years, all the result of the carrier taking deliveries of new Airbus A330 aircraft and growing their fleet.
For Taiwanese citizens a recent change to US immigration policies allows them to visit under the Visa Waiver Program meaning no need to pay the high fees or submit to the interviews associated with the visa issuance process. The exception applies for stays up to 90 days. And the new service from Hawaiian isn’t the only addition to the USA-Taiwan market. United Airlines previously announced that they would be shifting their connecting service via Tokyo to a non-stop operation from San Francisco starting in Spring 2013.