Istanbul transit fares increased

Travelers visiting Istanbul this winter will pay extra to get around on public transportation. The transit authority has just put a fare hike in effect on the trams, metro, bus, and ferry lines, the first in a year and a half.

A single-leg token (jeton) will now cost 1.75 TL (about ($1.25), up from 1.50, but Akbil (smart ticket) carriers will pay 1.65 TL and .85 TL for transfers. Ferries between the Asian and European sides or along the Golden Horn will cost 1.75 TL, using a token or Akbil.

Read on for more info on the Akbil and how to use mass transit to get to Istanbul’s Ataturk airport.An Akbil (smart ticket) is a small electronic button-like device that can be loaded with money at any major transit station or tram stop, and provides discounted transfers within an hour and a half of your first ride. The Akbil can be shared amongst multiple people, though only the discount will only apply to one passenger.Travelers can purchase a new Akbil with a 6 TL refundable deposit at major transit centers, though Taksim Square is the most reliable place to purchase one. Look for the booth that says “Akbil Satış Noktası” (Akbil sales point) rather than newsstands which may only allow recharges). There’s been talk of phasing out the Akbil in favor of the new RFID Istanbulkart but instituting the card into the system has caused delays and the card can’t currently be purchased.

While Istanbul’s transit system is not nearly as extensive or convenient as any many other European cities, most tourists will at least use the handy tram line during their travels, which connects many popular areas from Taksim Square (via an additional transfer from Kabatas on the funicular train) to the Old City sights including the Blue Mosque and Grand Bazaar. It is also possible to take public transit to the Ataturk airport if you have time to spare: a tram ride to the end of the line at Zeytinburnu connects with a metro line to the airport and takes a little over an hour (note: you can also transfer at Aksaray but it involves walking a few blocks, difficult with luggage).

A few additional kurus (cents) for a ride may not mean a lot to travelers, but with the dollar down 11 percent in the last 5 months, you’ll want to save your lira where you can.

Virgin America: Financials prove service makes a difference

We’ve all gotten used to bailing out airlines that can’t figure out how to take care of their paying customers, operate profitably or otherwise get their respective acts together. And, there really isn’t much hope of this situation changing. To be an airline, in general, is to be dysfunctional … until you look at the new entrant, Virgin America. The privately held carrier announced on Friday that its revenue surged 38.3 percent from the third quarter of 2008 to the third quarter of 2009.

The airline has amassed a collection of awards to back up its commitment to customer service, including “Best Domestic Airline” in Travel + Leisure‘s 2009 World’s Best Awards and “Best Business/First Class” among domestic airlines in Condé Nast Traveler‘s 2009 Business Travel Poll. And, the fact that the 1,500-person company is adding jobs in this market — beating both the recession and its worsened form in the travel business — suggests that it is possible for an airline to not just survive but actually succeed.

David Cush, Virgin America’s President and CEO, says, “Despite an uncertain economic climate since our 2007 launch, we’re pleased to report steady and strong financial performance and our first quarterly operating profit.” He adds, “At a time when flyers are more discerning than ever, it is clear that our low fares, award-winning guest service and innovative amenities continue to convert a growing network of loyal travelers. We look forward to bringing our unique value proposition to more travelers as we grow in 2010 and beyond. ”

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But, enough of the soft stuff — let’s turn to the numbers. That’s where you’ll find the truth in these matters. Cost containment and operational efficiency helped Virgin America post a record load factor of 86.6 percent, an increase of 5.2 percentage points year-over-year. Costs per available seat mile were pushed down 33.9 percent (24.4 percent ex-fuel), and operating income swung from a $54 million loss in the third quarter of 2008 to a $5.1 million gain this year. Along the way, Virgin America realized a mishandled baggage rate of 1.18 per thousand — three times better than the industry average. And, it attained an on-time rate of 87.2 percent.

Sorry to go “quant” and dwell on the numbers a bit, but they speak to a common theme here at Gadling: whether the airlines are doomed to fail … and be propped up by the government taxpayers and fail again … and so on. Virgin America’s proved that an airline can amass 1.1 million loyalty program members and fly 5.8 million passengers in just over two years and still find a way to get into the black. There is probably market share gain in this airline’s future, but it is making a big mistake: by not screwing up, it’s taking a pass on all the free money the feds are more than willing to give to an industry that refuses to help itself.

Hawaii’s on sale with cheap flights from United and Hawaiian Airlines

Winter may not have officially started yet, but it certainly feels like it has. With temps in the double, and even single, digits and snowstorms covering the country, there’s no denying that a tropical vacation sounds pretty darn good right about now. Luckily escaping to the warmth of Hawaii this winter will be surprisingly cheap thanks to two great airfare sales.

Book a ticket through the Hawaiian Airlines sale by December 16 for travel January 5 to March 11 and April 6 to June 10 and you could fly for as little as $288 round trip (plus taxes). Seattle or Portland to Honolulu, and Portland to Maui are the cheapest routes at $288 round trip. Los Angeles and San Francisco to Honolulu are $368 and Seattle to Maui is $318.

Rates are even lower through United’s sale, which ends a day earlier on Dec 15. The travel dates are more limited – just January 12 to March 4 – but there is a wider variety of cities to choose from. For example, Chicago to Maui is $302, LA to Honolulu is $261, San Francisco to Kona is $265, and Denver to Maui is $285.
And if you need a reason to go to Hawaii this winter (other than “it’s warm there!”) Hawaiian Airlines offers a few more. January to April is whale watching season, now is the perfect time for surfers to catch huge waves formed by storms, and in February there are several Chinese New Year celebrations and the Big Island’s Waimea Cherry Blossom Festival. Plus, did I mention, it’s warm there?

If you can’t afford the flight, check out Portland International Airport’s website by January 2 and enter to win a pair of tickets from Portland to Maui. Okay, actually you can choose Maui or Chicago, but let’s be real – you’ll choose Maui.

Southwest and Virgin celebrate Thanksgiving with sales

Here are two more things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving – Southwest Airlines and Virgin America. Both carriers have announced Thanksgiving sales to celebrate the holiday.

Sample one-way fares in Southwest’s seven-day sale include: Austin to Houston for $59, Baltimore to Chicago for $97, Chicago to Las Vegas for $148, Denver to Milwaukee for $96, Fort Lauderdale to Long Island for $103, LA to Oakland for $59, Orlando to Nashville for $94, and Portland to Spokane for $58.

Fares start at $47 (and go up to about $159) each way plus tax. The tickets must be purchased by November 30 and are good for travel through February 9. A 14-day advance purchase is required, travel is valid every day except Fridays and Sundays, and there are a few blackout dates.

Tickets for Virgin’s sale must be purchased by December 2 and are valid for travel December 3 to 17. One-way fares range from $59 to $249 and include LA to Seattle for $79, LA to New York for $169, and Las Vegas to New York for $249.

Book a stay at Hawaii’s Kona Village and get an $800 flight credit

Last week, while on Hawaii, I had the chance to wander over to Kona Village Resort and stroll through the grounds. I was pretty impressed by what I saw. While the resort is located right next to the Four Seasons, the feel (while still luxury) is totally different.

Rooms here are hale – thatched roof bungalows in various forms. In keeping with the barefoot, carefree style of the resort, the rooms don’t have tvs, radios, or even telephones. What they do offer is total seclusion, privacy and romance, as each bungalow has access to a beautiful black sand beach and its own hammock. Hotel staff communicates with guests via notes, and a coconut is used as a “do not disturb” symbol.

It’s the perfect spot for honeymooners to escape and relax, but they are also plenty of activities offered, like snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding, whale watching, surfing and SCUBA diving. Rates for the hale start at $410 per night for two people, including breakfast and selected water sports.

Right now, Garden, Superior, or Deluxe rooms, which run about $700-$900 per night, qualify for a special fare deal. Book five nights in the room and receive $800 in flight credits. The room rate includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. The fare credit is applied to the cost of the room.

Dive packages, romance packages, and family packages (book one hale and the second is 50% off) are also currently available.%Gallery-76818%

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