Business Traveller magazine: May 2006 stories

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  1. QF WP

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    Jun 20, 2002
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    Stansted to Belfast with Air Berlin

    Air Berlin entered a third UK domestic route last Tuesday (May 2). The German budget airline is now flying twice daily Monday to Friday between London Stansted and Belfast's convenient City Airport, which is located three km from downtown. Flights operate once daily on Saturday and Sunday, with fares starting at £19 one-way and £38 return. As this is a new route there is currently plenty of availability at these prices provided you avoid weekends.

    Easyjet currently flies between Stansted and Belfast but its services use the city's international airport which is some 20 kms outside town.

    The launch of this route has won praise in Ulster which has suffered from a lack of direct air links to mainland Europe. Air Berlin's flights connect at Stansted with the carrier's onward flights to destinations in Germany such as Berlin, Dusseldorf, Hanover, Leipzig, Nuremburg and Austria (Vienna). Unlike most other budget carriers, Air Berlin passengers can through check from one flight to another. It also began serving hot meals inflight (see Online News, April 6) from the beginning on this month.

    London-Belfast flights between Monday and Friday depart Stansted at 0745 and 1640 to reach City Airport at 0845 and 1745. In the return direction, flights depart City at 0920 and 1820 to reach Stansted an hour later.

    Air Berlin's other two UK domestic routes (Stansted to Manchester and Glasgow) continue as before.

    For more information go to Airberlin website

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Radisson opens in Leipzig

    Radisson SAS has taken over management of a former Mercure property in Leipzig, the most important trade fair city in the former eastern Germany. The four star property originally opened in 1964 as the Hotel Deutschland and its exterior reflects the architecture of the Communist era in what was then the German Democratic Republic.

    Located on Augustusplatz in the heart of town and opposite the Opera House, this 214-room hotel has undergone extensive refurbishment. All rooms now feature state-of-the-art technology including flat screen TVs and and free wireless broadband. There is also a business centre and six conference rooms. There is the "Spargos" bar and lounge along with the "Weinschmecke" restaurant, which is open daily and serves an innovative lunch and dinner menu with an interesting wine list.

    Room rates in Leipzig represent good value compared to other German cities, but they do rise when exhibitions are taking place. In mid-May room rates at the Radisson SAS start at Euros 140 for a superior and Euros 155 for an executive room (both 31 square metres in size) with a larger (35 square metre) business class room (including breakfast and other benefits) priced at Euros 180. But in mid-July (a quieter time) the same rooms are priced at Euros 95, 110 and 135 respectively.

    Radisson SAS already operates seven hotels in the former east Germany along with two value-for-money Park Inn properties.

    Radisson SAS Leipizig, Augustusplatz 5-6, Leipzig 4109
    Tel + 49 341 21460

    For more information go to Radisson website

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Swiss adopts tiered business class pricing

    Swiss has followed British Airways (BA) and adopted tiered business class pricing for flights between the UK and Switzerland. It means tickets can cost 50% less if you book well ahead or opt to fly at quieter times.
    Swiss business class fares to Zurich typically cost between £307 and £505 return if you fly from London Heathrow or £307 to £596 out of City. By comparison, BA charges £287 to £619 from Heathrow and £225 to £613 from Gatwick.

    In the case of London-Geneva, Swiss charges £301 to £589 from City while BA is priced at £236 to £611 from Heathrow and £178 to £606 from Gatwick.

    On the surface it might appear that BA's business class prices would be cheaper. But the difference is that BA restricts its lower priced business class seats when travellers book near the date of travel.

    By contrast, Swiss is less fussy. Its better prices may still be available on less busy flights even if booking one or two days ahead. When booked, say, one or two weeks ahead some of Swiss' lower fares are made available for peak time flights. Says Sarah Built, UK general manager for Swiss, "We try to be as flexible as we can. If the flight is 'open' [for seat availability] we'll keep these [lower] fares available in the system. Certainly if you fly off-peak there's a very good chance of getting the lower rates. When passengers book flights to Switzerland it's always worth checking with Swiss for a good value fare."

    When Business Traveller checked business class fares between Heathrow and Zurich last week (based on peak time flights) for trips booked either five or 10 days ahead we found that Swiss had the best rates In both cases BA's lowest price was £542 return while the Swiss rate was £404.

    Swiss recently became a member of the Star Alliance. It also serves Basle from London City while services to Birmingham and Manchester also run to Zurich.

    For more information go to Swiss website or BA website

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Transatlantic business class for £575 return

    Maxjet is currently offering one of the best buys in transatlantic business class travel. Throughout May, the US-based all-business class airline is cutting prices to both New York JFK and Washington D C. Maxjet is charging £575 for return flights from London Stansted to either city provided you book and travel by June 2. This represents a saving of several hundred pounds on its regular prices.

    Said Gary Rogliano, Maxjet's CEO, "Other airlines are charging consumers more because of the recent hikes in fuel prices, but Maxjet stands firm in its resolution to offer the best possible prices for all-business class travel."

    Maxjet flies four times a week to Washington DC and daily (except Saturday) to New York JFK. Services are operated by B767s featuring six across (2-2-2) seating with 60 inches of legroom.

    For more information go to Maxjet website

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Airmiles launches guaranteed fares to 20 worldwide destinations

    Airmiles collectors will see cuts of up to 45 per cent on fares to the UK's 20 top destinations, with the launch of Airmiles guaranteed pricing.
    The new guaranteed fares, which coincide with a re-branding of the Airmiles logo, will enable customers to plan and save miles for specific destinations without the threat of prices changing at the time of booking.

    Flights to European cities have seen the largest reductions with costs slashed by 45 per cent to Dubrovnik, 40 per cent to Venice, and 38 per cent to Rome. Flights to non-European destinations have seen smaller discounts with fares to Sydney reduced by five per cent, New York by nine per cent, and Hong Kong by 20 per cent.

    The travel loyalty company has introduced the simplified fares structure following complaints from consumers over fluctuating flight prices. Says Brian Southward, Airmiles Director of Partnerships: "We know that the battle amongst loyalty businesses will be won by those offering genuine value and delivering rewards people actually want."

    The current twenty destinations are Paris, Amsterdam, Dublin, Budapest, Nice, Berlin, Prague, Barcelona, Dubrovnik, Madrid, Rome, Venice, Vienna, Marrakech, Istanbul, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and Sydney. Airmiles plans to review the fares and routes three times a year.

    The company hopes this move will reinvigorate their travel loyalty scheme with some collection partners offering rates of one Airmile for every £1 spent. Collectors can use their Airmiles to claim travel rewards with over 100 airlines and 25,000 world-wide hotels, and to purchase cruises, package holidays, travel insurance, and car hire.

    The Airmiles collection partners include NatWest, Shell, Tesco, Scottish & Southern Energy, Avis, Travelex, and Interflora. Its current eight million customers can also collect miles through an online shopping site with over 80 retailers such as Currys, CD Wow, JohnLewis.com and Carphone Warehouse.

    Says Southward: "Travel continues to be a highly valuable reward for consumer spending and these latest changes will make the collection of Airmiles more popular than ever."

    For more information visit Airmiles UK website

    Report by Caroline Lovell


    SIA adds Milan and Barcelona

    From July 19, Singapore Airlines (SIA) will add Barcelona and Milan Malpensa to its European network. The carrier will operate three flights a week using a B777 to link both cities. Milan will be SIA's second destination in Italy (it has flown to Rome for a number of years) while Barcelona is a substitute for Madrid which SIA stopped serving recently.
    The new services will be a boon for travellers heading to and from Asia and Australasia via the Singapore hub. Barcelona is an up-and-coming destination for business and leisure while Milan serves Italy's industrial north and Malpensa airport is also close to Swiss Ticino.

    There are currently no direct services at all to these areas of the world from Spain with passengers having to make flight transfers at other European hubs. There are a number of direct flights from Milan to Asia but none of these currently operate to Singapore.

    Flight SQ378 departs Singapore every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 2355 to reach Milan the next morning at 0700. It continues to Barcelona an hour later to arrive there at 0930. Flight SQ377 departs Barcelona every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 1050, arrives Milan at 1215 then leaves at 1325. It reaches Singapore the following morning at 0745. SIA says it will be offering introductory fares on both routes.

    For more information go to Singapore Air website

    Report by Alex McWhirter
     

  2. QF WP

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    Stories from 11 May issue (with photo's)

    Varig drops Lisbon

    Financial problems have forced Brazilian airline Varig to suspend flights to Lisbon, Portugal with effect from next Monday (May 15).

    The move ends 40 years of Varig service to Portugal although in recent years the carrier has been cutting back its flights. As recently as five years ago, Varig used to serve Lisbon from Rio de Janeiro as often as 10 times a week. That frequency was cut to three flights a week last summer then down to a single weekly service this year. The Brazilan airline will now code-share on this route with fellow Star Alliance member TAP Air Portugal. Passengers are being transferred to the latter's daily Lisbon-Rio de Janeiro flight operated by an A340-300.

    Varig's financial problems are also being felt by other Latin American airlines. Carriers in this part of the world get much of their revenue from relatively weak currencies but must then pay for their fuel, equipment and so on in US dollars. Staff productivity can also be below average, and their geographical locations prohibit them from exploiting the carriage of through passengers. As a result, poor profitability means they haven't the resources to invest in the latest premium class products to compete effectively with the best European airlines.

    For more information go to Varig website

    Report by Alex McWhirter



    Premium class terminal for Doha

    [​IMG]

    Qatar Airways is adopting Lufthansa's concept of a separate terminal for premium passengers and will open a new facility this summer. But unlike Lufthansa's compact First Class Terminal at its Frankfurt hub, the Qatar Airways' version at Doha will be substantially larger and will be made available to passengers flying both first and business class.

    The separate 10,000 sq metre building forms part of a US$200 million package of improvements currently taking place at Doha airport. The terminal (which will come with five boarding gates) is expected to open by next July. It will mean that Qatar Airways' first and business class passengers can partake of services such as:

    • Separate first and business check-in desks
    • Separate first and business lounges each with their own dining areas
    • Spa, Jacuzzi and sauna along with massage treatments, shower and wash rooms.
    • Conference, meeting rooms and a business centre
    • Free internet access stations
    • Medical centre
    • Prayer rooms

    [​IMG]

    At the same time, the existing terminal is being expanded to meet demand and relieve congestion. The number of boarding gates is being increased from 10 to 16 with an extra two immigration counters being added.
    Qatar Airways is a rapidly expanding carrier serving over 70 worldwide destinations from Doha. The carrier's fleet is set to triple in size over the next 10 years to a total of 110 Airbus planes.
    For more information go to Qatar Airways

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Shanghai Airlines to join Star Alliance
    [​IMG]China's Shanghai Airlines has been invited to join the Star Alliance. The carrier is recognised as one of the better airlines flying within mainland China. It serves over 150 domestic and regional destinations using a 44-strong fleet of mainly Boeing jets from its Shanghai base.

    This development must be considered good news for Star Alliance passengers making transfers at major hubs like Shanghai. Over the past couple of years it has become increasingly easier to fly into mainland China but transferring to a domestic connection has been a chore because of cultural differences. It will be some time before Shanghai Airlines becomes a full member of Star Alliance (a glance at the carrier's website shows the difficulty of the task ahead) but it will lead to easier reservations and connections at mainland Chinese gateways.

    Says the carrier's Chairman Zhou, "With the development of Shanghai Pudong Airport, we should make full use of the airport resources, provide quick and convenient 'Under One Roof' transferring and connecting services. We hope that the establishment of the second terminal building in the near future will provide high-standard, high-quality and high-efficiency operating service."

    From its home base Shanghai Airlines covers major domestic cities such as Beijing, Kunming, Shenzen and Xian. It also flies internationally to Bangkok, Phom Penh, Saigon and Osaka. It has recently applied to launch flights to Hong Kong. Star Alliance members serving mainland China from Europe (both directly and indirectly) include ANA, Austrian, Lufthansa, SAS, SIA and Thai.

    For more information go to shanghai-air.com, staralliance.com

    Report by Alex McWhirter

    New budget hotel for Birmingham

    [​IMG]

    Global French chain Accor has opened a new budget hotel in the centre of Birmingham. The 250-room Etap Hotel Birmingham Centre is offering both business and leisure travellers a flat rate of £35 per room per night every day of the year. The hotel says its product is geared towards today's "Smart" traveller who is looking to minimise costs but wants the guaranteed standards and comfort of an established brand

    [​IMG]

    Etap rooms are full size, modern and are equipped with air cooling, colour TV, desk and chair, ensuite bathroom and shower and separated toilet. They all have a double bed with an overhead bunk bed and natural daylight. There is a continental buffet breakfast served between 0630 and 1000 priced at only £2.95. Other snacks are available throughout the day.

    [​IMG]
    Car parking is free and so too is internet access in the lobby.

    Etap Hotel Birmingham Centre
    1 Great Colmore Street
    Birmingham B15 2AP

    Tel +44 (0)121 622 7575
    For more information visit etaphotel.com


    Report by Alex McWhirter

     
  3. QF WP

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    Jun 20, 2002
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    Additional articles from 11 May

    BA's Gatwick cutbacks

    In a cost-cutting move British Airways' Gatwick division is making changes to its inflight product.

    Readers have told Business Traveller that the airline has stopped supplying newspapers to business class passengers flying in Club Europe (BA's short-haul business class brand).

    Now one traveller, just back from Bologna, reports that only one round of drinks was served in Club Europe "although if you ask they would serve you more ... and there were no hot towels. There were no headrest covers in economy class (even paper) and gone is the deli box, replaced by a sandwich."

    Perhaps more worrying is the fact that BA seems to be cutting the crew to passenger ratio. "From the beginning of this month the flight attendant on my flight volunteered that the number of attendants on B737s from Gatwick is down from four to three. She said it probably wouldn't make a big difference when there were only three or four rows of Club, but on some flights they may have 30 [Club] passengers. How can one crew member [allocated to Club] serve them all ?"

    A British Airways spokesperson told businesstraveller.com "...there are basically no changes to our Club Europe product. It is something we absolutely want to protect." Nevertheless the spokesperson did confirm that newspapers are now available only in the lounges. When asked for the reason, it was clear it was a matter of cost.

    "Some of our lowest fares [both in business and economy class] are offered out of Gatwick," the spokesperson said. "BA is losing about £13 million a year on its Gatwick operations so we need to improve our revenue and cut costs. Although there are changes to the catering [in both classes] we have conducted research [before inaugurating the changes] so we can deliver service which represents value for money. While we are reducing the number of cabin crew, we now have a policy where we add or subtract staff [for a particular flight] depending on how busy the flight is. However, we do have a certain staff to passenger ratio and we will never go below this."

    BA's short-haul Gatwick division serves a variety of domestic and international destinations. Destinations which feature Club Europe include: Amsterdam, Geneva, Mareilles, Nice, Toulouse, Bologna, Pisa, Naples, Barcelona, Madrid and Riga.

    For more information go to BA website

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Eos adds Stansted benefits

    [​IMG]
    Eos, the all business class transatlantic airline, is now providing arriving and departing Stansted passengers with chauffeur-driven cars. The service is free within a 60 km radius of Stansted (this covers central London). The offer is for all tariff types with the exception of the weekend fare.

    As an alterative, passengers arriving at Stansted can choose a day room at the first class Radisson SAS hotel adjoining the terminal. They can then proceed at their leisure into London with a complimentary return ticket on the Stansted Express to Liverpool Street.

    Eos flies daily between London Stansted and New York JFK using B757s configured for 48 seats. Legroom is 78 inches and the seats are fully flat beds.

    Currently Eos departs Stansted daily at 1810 to arrive into JFK at 2055. The inbound flight leaves JFK at 1905 to reach Stansted at 0715 the following morning.

    But from May 23, the flights will leave Stansted earlier and return later from JFK. It means a 1600 departure from the UK to arrive in JFK at the earlier time of 1845. From New York, the eastbound flight will depart later at 2015 and now arrive in Stansted at 0830.

    An Eos flexible "Anytime" ticket costs £2,500 return. For more information go to eosairlines.com

    Report by Alex McWhirter
     
  4. QF WP

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    18 May 2006 stories

    GB Airways likely to operate as BA Connect from Manchester

    GB Airways (one of BA's partner airlines) is poised to convert its Manchester routes to a budget operation. By the end of the summer it's likely that these services (which primarily operate to Southern Europe) will be rebranded as BA Connect.

    Airlines flying from the Northwest operate in a particularly price conscious market. Faced with competition from budget carriers flying from Manchester and nearby Liverpool, GB Airways is being obliged to lower its operating costs.

    GB Airways will continue to run the flights but the present business and economy class layout will be downgraded to a one-class configuration with passengers now having to pay extra for food and drinks.

    This move may not please Club Europe (business class) passengers who have booked well in advance for their flights as they will now find themselves without the superior inflight service they had expected to receive.

    On the upside, however, some fares may be lower as GB Airways will switch to the BA Connect model which offers one-way rates and the ability to make changes for a small fee.

    A GB Airways spokesperson told Business Traveller that "These changes are in the pipeline. They will happen. But it will be a few months before they can be introduced. That's because we need to train staff, change the systems and also alter the on-board branding."

    GB Airways also points out that passengers will still be able to receive the normal BA service on the ground including use of lounges for passengers paying higher fares or who hold the relevant FFP status. When asked whether these changes would eventually be applied to GB Airways' routes out of Heathrow and Gatwick (these still feature the conventional two-class product) the spokesperson said "It's not on the agenda at the moment."

    From Manchester, GB Airways flies to Dubrovnik, Heraklion, Lanzarote, Malaga, Malta, Paphos and Tenerife. From Heathrow and Gatwick GB Airways serves a large number of destinations in France, Spain, Portugal and North Africa.

    For more information go to gbairways.com


    Report by Alex McWhirter



    BA/Qantas cut business class fares to Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore


    [​IMG]

    Meaningful business discounts on non-stop flights between London and Hong Kong have been as rare as hen's teeth in recent times. All four airlines plying this route do good business and even in off-peak months they have managed to charge normal fares in business class.


    But two major carriers, namely British Airways and Qantas, have broken ranks. Normally a return ticket on this route would typically cost over £3,500. But both have decided to offer a seat sale rate of £1,600 return (a saving of almost £2,000) for travel in the peak summer period between July 1 and August 31.

    In addition, both carriers are cutting business class fares on their daily non-stop flights from Heathrow to Bangkok and Singapore with both cities priced at around £2,000 return. The fare to Singapore is valid between July 15 and August 31 while the Bangkok offer is valid between August 1 and August 31. The main restriction is that tickets must be booked by June 7 and a Saturday night stay is required.

    So far rival carriers (Virgin Atlantic, Cathay Pacific, Thai and SIA) have yet to mount a competitive response. When Business Traveller contacted Cathay Pacific to see if it would make the BA/Qantas offer to Hong Kong, a spokesperson told Business Traveller that readers should check with either itself or their travel agent at the time of booking for the carrier's latest deals.

    For more information go to ba.com, qantas.co.uk


    Report by Alex McWhirter


    Chain hotels adopt electronic check-in

    18 May 2006
    [​IMG]Print this story [​IMG]
    Radisson SAS are to trial self check-in services

    The airlines pioneered it and now the big hotel chains are following. Two global companies, namely Hyatt and Radisson SAS, are now allowing guests to bypass queues in the lobby. They are being offered the chance of checking-in either using machines in the lobby or online from your home or office.

    Both chains are trialling these systems and so it's by no means certain they will become widespread. But such is the speed of technological change nowadays that online check-in, at least, would seem to be something which the global companies will all be offering before too long.

    Hyatt is offering Check-in Kiosks at selected US properties for check-in and check-out. It allows guests to bypass the front desk and reach their rooms faster by swiping a credit card. The machine issues key cards with direction on how to reach your room. Loyalty club members can check their points and choose their welcome gift.
    But Hyatt's Web Check-in is currently only offered to the chain's diamond and platinum loyalty members. Guests check-in for their room using a website and then collect a key on arrival. This system guarantees that the guest can obtain an upgraded room in advance and have any packages or faxes waiting in their room on arrival. Web Check-in is currently available only at Hyatt's US properties. There are no plans yet to launch this development overseas.

    Meanwhile in the UK Radisson SAS is gearing up to trial check-in kiosks at its Stansted Airport hotel. The two kiosks are already in place (located just to the right of the reception area), and are expected to be available for use in the next couple of months.

    The service will allow guests to identify themselves by credit card, obtain their key card, pay their bill and print out a receipt. The hotel is situated just a couple of minutes from the airport terminal, and the kiosks are likely to prove useful for travellers arriving late and leaving early from Stansted.

    For more information go to hyatt.com, radissonsas.com

    Report by Alex McWhirter and Mark Caswell
     
  5. QF WP

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    Helvetic scraps Luton-Zurich route







    Print this story [​IMG]

    Swiss carrier Helvetic is departing from the UK market as quietly as it arrived. Bruno Dobler, the budget carrier's Zurich-based CEO, told Business Traveller, "Helvetic has cancelled almost all London Luton flights. The remaining five or so flights which we will operate are during the summer months." What it means is that not only is there no service from Luton but there is no budget airline at all now flying to Zurich. Easyjet pulled off the route a year or so ago citing costly handling fees at Switzerland's major airport. The UK budget carrier (which uses a Swiss subsidiary to operate flights to Switzerland) has concentrated its efforts on serving Geneva and Basle.

    Helvetic has adopted a fairly low profile since flying into London two years ago. The carrier was seemingly keener to market its twice daily flights from Luton to Swiss travellers rather than those in the UK. Although a budget carrier, Helvetic's fares were costly with return prices typically ranging between Euros 210 and Euros 270. In some cases, these rates were even more expensive than the prices with BA or Swiss who, of course, were using airports like Heathrow, Gatwick and London City.

    According to the carrier's website, Helvetic will continue to operate two flights a day between Luton and Zurich until May 29. But after that date, services will gradually be wound down before ceasing altogether.

    For more information go to Helvetic.com

    Report by Alex McWhirter




    Airbus A318 lands at London City


    Print this story [​IMG]

    Travellers using London City Airport (LCY) may soon have access to far-flung destinations. Current planes using the capital's most convenient airport are limited in range. The furthest which travellers can fly is to cities like Stockholm or Milan. But all will change if Airbus' state-of-the-art A318 twin jet gains permission to use LCY.

    Last Saturday saw the A318 conduct a test sortie into this environmentally challenged airport with its short runway, limited taxiways and parking space. The result was positive.

    "The trials went exactly according to plan," airport MD Richard Gooding told Business Traveller, "we are now analysing the plane's environmental impact and it's highly likely the A318 will come to London City. The A318 is a big step forward for us. It's the first time a mainstream plane has landed here. This plane can carry 107 passengers in a business and economy configuration [slightly more than the BAe146, currently the largest plane using LCY]. It gives us access to a new market because the A318 can fly farther so we can add destinations like Madrid, Rome and Vienna and one or two of the emerging cities in Eastern Europe."

    [​IMG]

    Continues Gooding, "The A318 is expected to replace the BAe146 which is no longer in production and will help secure the airport's long-term development which is expected to quadruple throughput over the next 25 years."
    One drawback is that, Air France excepted, few carriers operate the A318.

    But that's not an insurmountable problem. Adds Gooding, "Airbus has assured us it has customers [for the A318] in the wings."
    For more information go to londoncityairport.com

    Report by Alex McWhirter


    SAS says it's time to go for Gold

    Print this story [​IMG]


    Scandinavian airline SAS has brought back its popular status match scheme for Gold tier UK resident members of the British Airways Executive Club. SAS will automatically offer Gold membership of its EuroBonus loyalty scheme to travellers holding the same membership tier of BA's Executive Club.

    Qualifying members need first to register their details with SAS (this can be done on the carrier's website) and fly four times in business class by June 30. The airline calculates flights on a one-way basis so that would mean making two return trips to Scandinavia or maybe one return long-haul trip via Copenhagen, for example, to the US or Asia.

    Passengers must also prove they are active BA Executive Gold members by sending SAS copies of a recent (January, February or March) statement. Once travellers have qualified they will be upgraded.

    The EuroBonus scheme is ideal if you travel regularly to Scandinavia and use other Star Alliance carriers like Lufthansa, Swiss, United and SIA for short or long distance flights.

    For more information go to flysas.com

    Report by Alex McWhirter

     
  6. QF WP

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    25 May 2006 stories

    Emirates to operate high density A380

    Until now, the airlines which have purchased the giant A380 have been coy about telling travellers what they're likely to find on board. The mainstream media has swallowed stories of how passengers will while away their time in gyms and having a flutter at the in-flight casino. But in reality as regular travellers know from experience, these ideas are pipe dreams. No airline can afford to waste space (the most precious commodity on any plane) on frivolities and any extra room is going to be reserved for premium fare customers.


    Singapore Airlines (SIA) made this point clear to Business Traveller at a briefing last year in Toulouse (where the A380 is being constructed). SIA said its A380s will feature very different first and business classes to what is offered today. "But what we offer," said a spokesperson, "must be economically viable and so passengers will not find amenities like showers and bowling alleys." SIA says it will fit 480 passengers onto the A380 (configured for first, business and economy class) whose theoretical capacity is 555 seats. The A380 is expected to ply the Heathrow-Singapore-Sydney route from next December.

    Now it's the turn of Dubai-based Emirates to release more seating details for its fleet of A380s which it has ordered. Again, it looks as though Emirates is preferring to maximise passenger numbers rather than fit on-board frills. Emirates says its A380s will enter service in April next year. It will eventually see service on routes from Dubai to the UK, Asia Pacific and US. But unlike SIA, Emirates intends to operate three versions of the A380, each tailored to different markets.

    [​IMG]

    There will be a low density 489-seater three class A380 version used on long range services. This A380 has a similar capacity to SIA's version above. Emirates will also offer a long range three class version but this will have a denser layout as the intention is to fit 517 seats.

    But where Emirates differs dramatically is its intention to operate a two-class high density 644-seater version for shorter flights. This latter A380 type is expected to appear on routes from Dubai to the Indian Subcontinent and SE Asia which handle voluminous contract labour traffic.
    In other news, Emirates has announced a second destination in Japan. It already operates a daily flight to Osaka using an A340-500 and from June 1 it will begin a four times a week service to the industrial city of Nagoya. Flights will be operated by a B777-200. The service will step up to a daily frequency from July 1.

    For more information go to emirates.com


    Report by Alex McWhirter




    BA, American and United out-manoeuvre Eos and Maxjet


    [​IMG]

    Eos and Maxjet are famed for offering better value business class fares out of London's Stansted airport. But now these US all-business class carriers find they are being out- manoeuvred on price by British Airways, American and United who fly from London Heathrow.

    These three major carriers are cutting transatlantic business class prices by 70% for certain periods in July and August, traditionally a quiet time for executive travel. And it won't come as a surprise to learn that their biggest discounts are being offered to East Coast cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC within the region served by Eos and Maxjet.

    [​IMG]
    Eos and Maxjet offer all-business class services

    At the time of writing it means that a return business class ticket to New York now costs as little as £1,155 with United as against Maxjet's lowest price of £1,198 or Eos' best advance purchase rate of £2,258.

    Taking a return Club World flight to Washington DC with BA will cost £1,297 as against £1,425 with Maxjet. Great value when you consider BA offers a fully lie-flat seat whereas Maxjet has conventional and less spacious accommodation on board.

    Restrictions vary from carrier to carrier. But most carriers require a Saturday night stay and they insist you book within the next few weeks.
    BA has the strictest rules. Passengers must book by June 7 and travel during specific dates in July and August. BA's qualifying flights are easily spotted on its website ba.com By contrast, the other two US carriers have longer availability periods while their fourth Heathrow rival, Virgin Atlantic, has yet to announce any special offers.

    Other cities featured in the summer business class sale include:
    BA: Chicago £1,596, Los Angeles £1,696
    American: Denver £1,682, Las Vegas £1,686, Miami £1,598, Phoenix £1,682, San Francisco £1,642.
    United: New York £1,155, Chicago £1,595, San Francisco £1,695.



    For more information go to ba.com, americanairlines.co.uk, unitedairlines.co.uk

    Report by Alex McWhirter




    Berlin opens its first Central train station


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    Berlin has never had a centrally-located train station. Until now mainline trains have stopped at different main stations in the city's east and west sectors. This has caused confusion for visitors as care has had to be taken to use the correct station when say heading for cities such as Rostock, Leipzig, Hamburg or Frankfurt.


    But joining or alighting from a long distance train will become much simpler from May 28 when Deutsche Bahn's new Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Central Station) opens. This enormous station (which every day will be handling 300,000 passengers arriving and departing on 750 trains) is located half way between the present main stations in the east and western parts of the city. It will become Berlin's main rail hub handling services running east-west and north-south through the city. The hub will be fed by local (S-Bahn) trains along with regional (Regional Bahn) services.

    Simplifying train routes in the Berlin area allows timings on some key routes to be cut by 40 minutes. For example, trains running to Hamburg from Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Hbf) will take 2 hrs 40 mins as against the 3 hrs 20 mins currently taken from Berlin Zoo (the main station in the western area). From May 28 similar reductions will be made available on routes to Leipzig and Dresden.

    [​IMG]

    In other Deutsche Bahn news, the opening of a new 90km stretch of 300 kph track in Bavaria on May 28 will cut 25 mins from the fastest trains linking the key cities of Munich and Nuremberg. The journey will now be accomplished in 80 mins and train service will be stepped up to a half-hourly frequency from December 10.



    For more information go to bahn.co.uk


    Report by Alex McWhirter

     
  7. QF WP

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    Bmi launches second Saudi route

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    Last Thursday (May 18) Bmi launched a three times a week service to the western port city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The new service, which is operated by a two-class B767, (leased from a Dutch charter carrier) complements Bmi's existing service to Riyadh, which was launched last autumn.

    At the same time Bmi has said it's considering adding a third Saudi destination, Damman, to its network. Nigel Turner, chief executive of Bmi says: "We are looking at possible ways of serving Damman and I don't think Saudi Arabia would object, they are very keen. I see a decision on Damman in the next six months."

    Bmi is the only British carrier to serve the Kingdom since British Airways withdrew its service 14 months ago. Direct flight competition comes from local airline Saudia, the only other carrier linking the UK with Saudi Arabia.
    Jeddah, the commercial capital is also the gateway to Makkah and Medina for over a million pilgrims who fly into King Abdulaziz International airport each year. The decision to take on the route was as Turner points out 'a no brainer'.

    The Boeing 767 used to fly to Jeddah also covers Bmi's other route to Riyadh. The route to the capital has been well received and the airline has increased the business class seating from 24 to 42 since the launch last year.

    This particular aircraft operates in a two class layout (premium economy has been dropped on the Saudi routes owing to the lack of demand) and apart from the slightly tired carpets another difference (compared to Bmi's Airbus A330s which operate flights to the US and India) is that business class passengers do not have in-seat in-flight entertainment. Instead, passengers are given portable DVD players with a choice of films.

    But Bmi says it plans to replace the B767 in the near future. Says Turner: "The A330s will be coming into operation on the route we hope no later than March 2007."

    Bmi's flights depart Heathrow Terminal One every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday at 0935 arriving in Jeddah at 1740. The return flight leaves Jeddah on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 0035 and reaches Heathrow at 0525.

    There are good connections at Heathrow for services to the US, and Bmi has linked with British Airways to provide special through fares for transatlantic travellers starting their trips in Saudi Arabia (see Online News, April 20).

    Future development for the new routes might be hampered by visa restrictions, as business travellers need a letter of invitation before they can obtain a visa. Tourism is almost exclusively for religious purposes with a special visa required. But Turner is positive that the country will be opened up to limited mainstream tourism soon: "Saudi Arabia has many natural treasures and the visa issue is vitally important to make it easier to visit. The UK government and Saudia Arabia are working closely to ease the process."

    Other developments are the plans for a new airport next to the current one. While the building is in process, King Abdulaziz International airport's terminals will be expanded to ease congestion. Currently passenger traffic is 14.5 million per year and although it has a capacity for 18.5 million, passenger numbers are increasing at 7.5 per cent each year.

    The new airport terminals are expected to be completed in five years with a capacity of 25 million passengers a year.

    In other news, Bmi says it plans to launch a daily Heathrow-Moscow service next November. The new route would be operated by a narrow-bodied A320. It's not clear whether Bmi will use Moscow's main Sheremetyevo airport (used by fellow Star Alliance members Austrian, Lufthansa and SAS) or the more user-friendly Domodedovo airport (used by BA and Star member Swiss)

    For more information go to flybmi.com


    Report by Felicity Cousins and Alex McWhirter




    Hotels to sell experiences, not rooms

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    Starwood Hotels & Resorts, the parent company of eight hotel brands worldwide including Sheraton, Westin, Le Meridien, St Regis, Four points by Sheraton and W Hotels has promised big changes at all its hotels from this month. Unveiling new advertising emphasising sharp differentiation between the brands, CEO Steve Heyer said that hotel companies would be forced to move away from being just trade marks to create 'an emotional bond' with their customers.


    Javier Benito, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, expanded on this aim, saying that customers had a bigger emotional contact with a ten dollar bottle of detergent than a room they might have paid several hundred dollars for. Citing a "sea of sameness" within the industry, he claimed that people within the hotel industry referred to their properties as "boxes", as opposed to venues for events of great importance and emotion.

    In a two-day presentation in New York to both media and investors, Starwood outlined how it believed it now has a hotel brand which would suit not just every type of traveller, but every type of travel need, and in locations around the world, a process helped in Europe by the acquisition of the Le Meridien brand.

    As a result of a huge research project, Starwood is now focusing on the core needs of its guests, which it had identified as: a need to be special, to be understood, to be in control, as well as a feeling of belonging somewhere and being in an environment that allowed a guest to reach his or her potential. The new advertising for Sheraton emphasises this (available at sheraton.com). For regular travellers, there is the promise from the company of changes built around the idea that 'out of town never means out of touch':
    • A revamped web offering, both for bookings and for learning more about Sheraton properties and the personal anecdotes of travellers who have stayed there
    • Confirmation or pre-arrival emails
    • On arrival, a personal greeting from a member of management
    • A postage paid postcard to send to friends and relatives
    • The gradual roll-out of the Yahoo link at Sheraton, a dedicated area, usually in the lobby, with internet access and a virtual printing service for printing airline boarding passes, newspapers, magazines, CNN television.
    In an interview with businesstraveller.com. Chad Waetzig, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Sheraton said that business travellers split into those who saw the travel as a necessary evil, and those who regard it as a perk of the job. "Generation X guests respond to the idea of belonging, while baby boomers trust the Sheraton brand because of its history and the number of properties it has worldwide." A new website – shareandbelong.com would invite guests to share their stories, with a top prize of five rooms for 5 nights in any Sheraton in the world, round-trip airfare for 5, $5000 spending money and 5 digital cameras to capture the whole trip.

    Sheraton also announced plans to add to its 390 properties worldwide with 43 new openings by the end of 2007. For more information visit sheraton.com


    Report by Tom Otley
     
  8. QF WP

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    [​IMG]
    The former MIdland Grand Hotel

    One of London's best loved landmarks looks finally to have been given a new lease of life. Marriott International announced last week that it will open a Renaissance Marriott at St Pancras at the beginning of 2009. The Grade 1 English Heritage-listed Victorian building, owned by London & Continental Railways (LCR) was formerly the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station (more commonly known as St Pancras Chambers). After a £100 million makeover, it will re-open as the Renaissance St Pancras Hotel London in 2009.

    As regular business travellers will know, St Pancras is currently undergoing the largest regeneration in a century as it prepares to become the home of Eurostar trains to the continent in 2007.


    The hotel will have 52 of its 245 rooms in the Gothic landmark building, with the remaining 193 being in a new extension behind the hotel
    overlooking new gardens or the railways tracks of the London International Passenger Terminal. The top floors of the hotel with views over Marylebone Road will hold 67 residential apartments (all of which have been reserved) from the Manhattan Loft Corporation, ranging in price from £450,000 to £3 million for a penthouse suite.

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    Restoration is due to be completed by 2009

    The hotel will have two restaurants and two bars, as well as a health and leisure centre in the basement – formerly used for storing ale from the Midlands. There will also be ample space for meetings and conferences, with a ballroom, eight meeting rooms and a business centre.

    The hotel's location will suit both domestic and international travellers down to the ground. St Pancras International is set to become a major transport hub in Europe, with 25 million people per year expected to use the station. By 2007, journey times will be cut further, with London to Paris taking two hours and fifteen minutes, and London to Brussels just one hour and fifty-one minutes.

    On the domestic front, the terminal already provides rail connections throughout the country, as well as six London Underground lines. The hotel will also be a mere ten minutes from the City and West End of London.

    [​IMG]
    An original guestroom at the hotel

    The restoration and development of the building will be the first since it was made vacant in the early 1980s. The Manhattan Loft Corporation, which counts the regeneration of areas such as Notting Hill and Shoreditch among its past successes, is now responsible for sprucing up the property's old glamour with a modern touch. Over 20,000 square metres of bubble wrap will be used to protect the historical features until work is completed.

    The hotel will join the Renaissance Chancery Court (in the former Pearl Assurance building in Holborn) as a hotel targeting those "who work to live, rather than those who live to work," according to Jurgen Giesbert, executive vice president, Marriott International UK, Ireland, Middle East & Africa.


    For more information visit marriott.com, manhattanloft.co.uk



    Report by Annabel Dixon
     
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