How to Avoid Having Your Passport Stolen

March 26, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Stolen passports present problems for the individual who lost it, but can have bigger issues surrounding national security. They are the biggest target of identity theft and have been linked to major crimes including drugs, illegal travel, and even terrorism. In fact, it’s such a major concern that U.S. State Department officials won’t say how many passports are stolen annually due to national security concerns.

Photo of a U.S. passport. Do you know your passport expiration date?The Travel Channel tells us how we can keep our passports safe and secure when we travel.

First, before you even leave town, make a copy of your passport and leave it with a trusted person who appreciates the need for its security. They can always fax the copy to the U.S. embassy in your destination country, should the need arise. Additionally, a scanned copy in your phone is a good idea, provided your phone is password protected and secure.

Keep your hands on it. While it’s tempting to put it down “for just a second,” it’s easy to forget or someone could walk away with it. As soon as you’re finished with it, put it away.

You can put it into your bag. Our Platinum® Elite and Crew™ bags have RFID protected pockets that will store your passport to protect against loss and identity theft by rogue RFID scanners.

Wherever you do put it, make sure it has a zipper or something that ensures it closes tightly. Another idea is to conceal it in a special passport cover that doesn’t identify what’s inside. You’ll want to avoid using open pockets, like jacket pockets, which offer sticky fingers easy access.

Alternatively, you can protect your passport by keeping it in a flat wallet that hangs from your neck or over your shoulder. Just be sure it has a securing cable which would prevent snatching. Another option is a money wallet that’s hidden under your clothes. You loop it onto your belt and tuck it into your pants.

The downside? Retrieving it means going to a place for privacy, like a bathroom. If you stash your passport in a money belt or wallet, don’t let anyone see it when you’re handling the cash. These options do reduce your chances of it being grabbed.

A standard scheme for pickpockets is to jostle you or accidentally spill a drink on you, take advantage of the moment, and snatch your wallet or passport. If you do get bumped, refuse help, move away quickly, and clean up later.

Another “safe’ idea is to use the room safe in your hotel to store your passport. If there isn’t one, a TSA-approved travel lock can secure your valuable in your suitcase. While it may not be ideal, it is better than nothing, and it reduces the possibility of the impulse grab.

If you are asked to produce your passport, make sure you’re dealing with proper authorities and not someone posing as an official. Not sure if they’re legit? Look for official identification, such as a badge or photo id. If you’re not sure, say you’ll go to the nearest police station and show your passport there. Should you ultimately turn it over, keep your eyes on it at all times.

Despite all precautions, you and your passport could be separated. If this happens, immediately notify the U.S. Department of State or the local U.S. embassy in the country you’re visiting. Once it’s reported lost or stolen, the passport becomes invalid. Should you locate it, it can’t be used for future international travel. A form is needed for a replacement which can be obtained on the State Department’s website. And this is where your trusted friend can also fax or email the photocopy you left with them before you left. (Aren’t you glad you listened to us?)

How do you keep your passport safe? Do you have any special tips or suggestions? Was your passport stolen? How did you recover? Share your stories and experiences on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Tony Webster (Wikimedia Commons/Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Robert & Mary Carey Spotlight: Phoenix, Arirzona

March 21, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

We are pleased to publish this blog article from Robert & Mary Carey of the RMWorldTravel radio program. Robert and Mary will provide us monthly blog articles covering their different favorite travel destinations. This month, they’re taking a look at Phoenix, Arizona.

At least twice per month, we feature some of our favorite destinations around the U.S. on our nationally syndicated travel radio show — that are less traveled but offer terrific travel experiences. A recent spotlight was on Phoenix, AZ.

If you haven’t been to Phoenix, we think it’s a great time to experience this desert city. The Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport continues to see strong passenger growth, has won awards for its shopping choices and new airline routes continue to open up — expanding a plethora of options for travelers both domestically and internationally.

Downtown Phoenix, Arizona from 32nd St and Lincoln

“Visit Phoenix” 400 E. Van Buren St, Phoenix, AZ 85004
Off Madison Ave Agency

But it’s not just the airport that’s experiencing significant growth — Downtown Phoenix is exploding with restaurants, hotels, art, and culture. Starting with the largest art museum in the Southwest, the Phoenix Art Museum holds more than 18,000 works of art of American, Asian, European, Latin American, Western, American, modern and contemporary art, plus photography and fashion design. There are also many galleries and alluring street art. Roosevelt Row, which has reinvented itself as one of the hottest neighborhoods in the southwest, offers offbeat restaurants as well as a lively bar scene, is a favorite for both locals and visitors. In February 2019 alone, Phoenix welcomed 30 new restaurants!

The stunning landscape of the Valley of the Sun, envelopes this popular southwestern city nearly everywhere you go. Phoenix is also one of those urban areas that offers easy access to the great outdoors. Dotting the hillsides are the iconic saguaro cacti that provide a particularly spectacular backdrop during the sunset hours. The surrounding area is lush with prickly pear, yucca, and many other desert cactus plants. An afternoon spent at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Papago Park is high on our list of recommendations. Spread over 140 acres, you’ll see thousands of cacti in all shapes and sizes, succulents, other desert plants, and art installations. Be sure not to miss the Butterfly Garden while you’re there, which is the perfect space for family fun.

Adventurous hikers have Camelback Mountain, while Papago Mountain and Lost Dog Wash Trailhead offer more low key hikes and walks that are fun for families, bird and nature lovers. There are many other trailheads in the Phoenix area so be sure to do your research for ability, etc.

The Grand Canyon is celebrating 100 years as a National Park in 2019 and is certainly a must see in the area. Carved primarily by the Colorado River, the Grand Canyon stretches 277 miles through the Arizona Desert. There’s hiking, river rapids and of course, the views of the canyon speak for themselves.

For baseball fans, think hot dogs, cold beer and home runs in February and March! This is the time of the year for the immensely popular Cactus League Spring Training. Tickets are available for more than 100 games at 10 different stadiums, and you can easily enjoy multiple games at different parks in the same day.

We find the warmth and friendliness of the locals to be one of the most inviting and memorable parts of our visits to Phoenix.

So whether it’s the year-round warm desert weather, the views, the sunsets or the constant exposure to outdoor activities including great golf, the unique southwestern flavors in the food, top-rated resorts, friendly residents and an urban cultural renaissance, what’s not to love about visiting Phoenix, Arizona? Go enjoy …

Safe and Happy Travels!

Robert & Mary Carey, Hosts
America’s #1 Travel Radio Show
www.RMWorldTravel.com

Photo of Phoenix, Arizona, by Visit Phoenix (Used with permission)

How to Check for Hidden Cameras in Your Hotel Room or Vacation Rental

March 19, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

It doesn’t happen very often. In fact, it rarely happens at all — not enough to make us stop traveling. Still, you hear the occasional story about hidden cameras being found in a hotel room, vacation rental, office space, or Airbnb rental.

So while you don’t have to panic that you’re being spied upon wherever you go, it doesn’t hurt to be a little vigilant when you stay somewhere new.

Smarter Travel lists three methods for checking for hidden cameras, as suggested by “The Monk,” a technical surveillance countermeasures and intelligence expert from Advanced Operational Concepts who goes by the anonymous moniker. Here’s his advice.

There are essentially three primary methods for checking for a hidden camera.

  1. Scanning of radio frequencies (RF)
  2. Lens detection
  3. Physical search

Most of the equipment costs less than $100 and are available in the commercial market. But The Monk warns that none of them are 100% accurate.

Each have pros and cons, too. For example, RF scanning only helps in identifying a device if that device is actively transmitting. If it stores data on a card and is recovered later, the RF scanner is fairly useless.

Hidden cameras are very rare, but it still helps to know how to look for them.Lens detection is very effective, if used properly. If you are too far from the lens, sweep the room too quickly, or are just standing at the wrong angle from the lens, then you’ll likely miss seeing the lens when it reflects the light from your own light source.

According to The Monk, the most thorough method is physical inspection which requires patience and access — prying open smoke detectors, opening the backs of paintings, and possibly opening a section of a wall to see if anything is inside. (This can be a problem if you’re in someone else’s house.)

A mix of the three is best.

“You may not be able to achieve 100 percent confidence that the space is clear of hidden devices, but you’ll be a lot closer than you were when you first walked into the room,” said The Monk.

Before you start searching, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with what you’re looking for.

So, where should you look?

Thinking logically, what would someone be interested in capturing? Since a camera needs a clear view of the subject to get the sharpest image, a visual scan of the area will provide answers. Bathrooms, bedrooms, and offices are common targets. Areas where computer screens are visible for capturing passwords, banking information and other information. Most hidden cameras now are so small and prepackaged in common items that they don’t seem obvious. (Think cameras in stuffed animals used to watch activity in a child’s room).

Other hiding places include smoke detectors, alarm clocks, even electrical outlets and power strips.

However, The Monk cautions travelers to avoid descending into full paranoia.

“In hotel rooms, for example, if items continue to be placed in a particular location after a room is serviced, then that could be a sign that the item needs to be positioned that way so that a camera has a good angle of view. Of course, this could also just be the maid tidying up, so don’t immediately jump to full paranoia.”

What to Do if You Find a Hidden Camera

First of all, hiding hidden cameras in hotel rooms or vacation rentals is illegal. It’s also a violation of most rental companies’ policies, so be sure to check the vacation listing and policy if you find one.

If you do find a hidden camera in your vacation rental, leave immediately and report it to the company. If you’re staying in a hotel and find one, request an immediate room change. If that’s not possible, turn the objects you suspect toward the wall or cover them with a towel.

While protecting your privacy is smart, there is a caveat. Certain countries, like Russia and China frown upon such behavior. In places such as these, it is highly likely that hotels frequented by business travelers are monitored and tampering with such devices can be seen as problematic. If they know you’re looking for hidden devices, that not only makes them more suspicious, they may want to question you further, and could detain you for hours or days.

While we’re on the subject of security, certain models of our Platinum® Elite and Crew™ bags have RFID protected pockets that will store your passport and block it from rogue RFID scanners as a way to protect against loss and identity theft.

How concerned are you with hidden cameras in your hotel room or office? Have you ever found one or know someone who has? Share your stories with us on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Pexels.com (Creative Commons 0)

Eight Packable Items that Could Save Your Life

March 12, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

No one typically thinks to pack emergency preparedness items when planning a business trip or vacation. But making a few basic plans can help you be prepared for the worst that your destination can throw at you. So there’s one simple step that can help you be prepared: know the risks associated with your destination.

For starters, check out the FEMA app which provides tips on how to deal with disasters like earthquakes severe weather, wildfires, volcanoes, and terrorism.

Additionally, emergency experts suggest that when you’re at your destination, keep a pair of shoes and socks by your bed in case you need to leave the room in an emergency, such as a fire, so you can protect your feet from broken glass.

A recent article in Smarter Travel got us to thinking about taking precautions when we travel, and they shared eight items that could save your life while on the road.

A whistle may be loud and obnoxious, but that means it can provide personal safety if you’re walking alone or at night. It can also help rescuers find you. A “pealess” whistle is best—and provides maximum durability. Its high-pitched sound can be easier to detect than a human voice and it will work if anything impairs your ability to yell, like dehydration or crushing.

A keychain flashlight is one of the packable items that can help you out when you're in a tight spot.In the event of a power failure — natural disaster or not — a flashlight can provide a much-need light source. Choose a small, keychain-sized LED light with a long battery life. It’s ideal if you’re stuck in a subway, navigating poorly lit paths, camping, or even reading in bed while sharing a room. Plus it saves your cell phone battery in those non-emergency uses.

Speaking of a loss of electricity, bring along a battery backup charger. If the electricity fails, you can you can use it to keep your phone operable. You may not be able to make calls, but you’ll be able to have a spare flashlight, and access to emergency apps. On a brighter note, if there isn’t a power failure, bringing an extra charger means helping you stay connected (via apps, maps, social media, email, and phone) whenever your phone battery runs low.

Take a first-aid kit that includes the basics (bandages, alcohol pads, antibiotic ointment). No matter where you’re headed, you’ll be prepared for blisters, scrapes, bug bites and other minor injuries.

A space blanket will not only provide warmth if the heating system fails, it can be resourceful if you need a place to rest during an overnight airport layover. On a brighter, shinier note, it can be a great makeshift picnic blanket.

A small, simple dust mask, like a surgical mask, is another “must have.” Not only do these small, stackable masks protect you from airborne particles, they can also prevent you from spreading your germs, too. (Or getting sick if you’re around a lot of sick people or have a weakened immune system.)

Take a bottle of water. Clean water is one of the most important things you can have with you. Having clean, accessible water can prevent dehydration and it can save you money by not buying a bottle for $4 when you’ve got no other options. Better yet, bring a reusable water bottle, and fill it each morning.

Finally, pack a few high protein snacks for energy or a quick snack if your blood sugar is low. Protein bars like Clif bars are heavy and dense, and can give you a quick boost. Tuck a couple into your briefcase, purse, or backpack and pull one out when you need it.

What are some of the must-have emergency items you take on trips? Did we miss anything? Or do you have a favorite make, model, or energy bar you don’t leave home without? Tell us about it on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Wtshymanski (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)

Delta Air Lines to Ditch Zone Boarding in 2019

March 7, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Delta Air Lines passengers will soon find boarding their aircraft done in a different way that’s supposed to cut down on confusion, speed up the boarding process, and best of all, stop everyone from crowding around the gate 10 minutes before their section is called.

According to a recent USA Today article, the airline now boards passengers by ticket type, and not by its long-standing zone method. Changes went into effect on January 23 on flights and were created to reduce pre-boarding stress for flyers.

United Airlines switched to a similar process last fall for the same reason.

Delta's new color-coded boarding chart eliminates their zone boarding“Every customer values consistency and a sense of knowing what to expect when they’re traveling,” said Tim Mapes, Delta’s Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, said in a company news release. “We have been listening to our customers about the stress they often feel at the gate before boarding, and implementing small changes for years. This latest enhancement further refines how Delta’s process works and is designed to better link the Delta product they purchased to differentiated experiences throughout their journey.”

The new, color-coded process required renaming boarding groups and will increase the number of those groups.

First in will be the pre-boarders. Then Delta One suites. First Class will be next. Travelers who pay for upgrades or are upgraded to Delta’s Comfort Plus board next. The Atlanta-based airline said the addition of Comfort Plus boarding was recommended by gate agents to reduce crowding at the gate. A two-month test in Atlanta proved positive, and so they made it the new standard.

Travelers with platinum or gold medallion status in Delta’s Sky Miles program will be known as the new Sky Priority boarding group and will follow Comfort Plus passengers on board. Those with seats in the main cabin will board according to their number. Delta’s lowest frequent flier tier, silver and certain credit card holders will board with the Main Cabin 1 group. Last but not least, Delta’s no-frill basic economy fare will board last.

Delta's new color-coded boarding chart

Have you tried out the new Delta boarding method or any other airline’s method? What did you think? How do you think this will help reduce congestion and crowding at the gates? Share your thoughts and experiences on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Source: Delta.com

The Ever-Growing Bleisure Travel Market

March 5, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

With so many business travelers adding leisure time to trips, bleisure travel is now a major part of the travel industry. And there are many lucrative possibilities, according to a recent article in Travel Weekly.

Travel advisors say bleisure travel is a growing market with growing profits, and Travel Weekly calls the sales potential “enticing.”

“In a recent survey of business professionals age 25 to 35 years old,” said the article, “Hilton Hotels & Resorts found that nearly 70 percent of respondents said they have a desire to extend their work trips for leisure purposes.”

In fact, according to a 2018 Bleisure Trends Report by Egencia, 68 percent of travelers mix business with pleasure 1 – 3 times a year. Moreover, the report said that 74 percent of business travelers are considering a bleisure trip over the next six months.

Enticing indeed!

Bleisure travel can happen anywhere, but it's especially fun if you're near Orlando. This is the Geosphere at EPCOT.

Bleisure travel can happen anywhere, but it’s especially fun if you’re near Orlando. This is the Geosphere at EPCOT.

Getting employers onboard with bleisure travel isn’t always easy though. Employers and their travel policies are not always amenable to travelers tacking on a few days of fun, although that perception is changing. Dave Hershberger, president of Prestige Travel Leaders in Cincinnati, Ohio, said that corporate support is growing for the practice.

“We have seen bleisure travel grow mainly because more corporations are not only allowing it, but are also embracing it,” said Hershberger. “Corporate support — to meet the employee demand — is what’s driving the growth rate.”

Maurice Honor, Vice President of Travel Distribution Sales for Hertz, said that bleisure travel means people want a better work/life balance, and that balance is a big selling point for companies to support it.

So what’s driving the increased desire for bleisure travel among the travelers themselves?

Fear of missing out (FOMO) is a big reason, said Leah Kirgis, manager of leisure travel at Cadence in La Jolla, California. People want to experience the culture and unexpected things in locations.

But it’s also the personal appeal of the destination. Imagine, if you’re traveling to New Zealand, Hawaii, Europe, or Canada, would you want to just zip in and out long enough for your sales meeting or conference? This could be the only time you get to visit that destination, so doesn’t it make sense to experience a little of the culture and scenery?

Bottom line is whether the employee can create memories that will last a lifetime, and whether their company will allow it. If you’re on the fence about whether you should allow bleisure travel in your own company, we highly recommend it. It makes your employees happy and the quality of their work will increase.

Do you take bleisure trips on your business travel? Does your company allow bleisure travel as part of its regular travel policies? Share your experiences on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Erik Deckers (Used with permission)

The Benefits of Softside luggage vs Hardside luggage

February 26, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’re trying to decide between hardside and softside luggage, it can be a tough choice. There are pros and cons to each depending on what kind of traveling you do and which feature sets are important to you.

To start, let’s just say that we’re bigger fans of softside luggage. Most of our luggage lines are softside, although we do offer a few models of hardside bags. (And I’ll even admit to wanting one of those brushed aluminum briefcases when I was a kid because they looked so cool.) We’ve found that more people want softside bags and we have followed the market demands.

Here are a few differences between the two styles:

The Maxlite 5 21" spinner, our lightest softside luggage.

The Maxlite 5 21″ spinner, our lightest softside luggage.

First, softside luggage is usually lighter than the hardshell bags. For example, our Maxlite® 5 21″ spinner weighs 5.4 pounds empty, and it’s one of the lightest carry-on bags in the industry. In some cases, hard shells can be lighter than soft shells because they don’t always have interior reinforcement, but then you could be sacrificing durability for weight.

Speaking of durability, softside bags have a bit of an advantage because hard shell bags can crack and break when they’re dropped. They can do a better job of protecting what’s inside, if the shell is really thick and rigid but again, that comes with additional weight.

Packing may be an issue when you look at the configuration of a hardside versus a softside. For the most part, the hard shell bags are split right in the middle, giving you two nearly-equal halves to pack everything. This can be a bit of a problem if you’re trying to pack bulky items.

On the other hand, a softside bag is usually a single compartment with a flat lid. The whole suitcase is a single packing space, which lets you see how much will fit without a lot of closing and repacking, closing and repacking until you finally get the lid shut.

And space is a problem with hardshell bags. Many of them cannot be expanded, and you certainly can’t compress them to fit into a cramped overhead bin. There, the softsides have the advantage. Not only does the fabric give a little bit, so you can close the lid a little more easily, but many of them come with expansion zippers that give you a couple extra inches of room.

Softside bags also have added accessibility in the forms of exterior pockets. Nearly all of our softside carry-on bags have pockets for water bottles, folders, reading material, and even a large exterior pocket to stick a light jacket or your laptop. We even offer some carry-on models in our Crew™ 11 and Platinum® Elite collections that feature a small pocket for your rechargeable battery pack that integrates with an external USB port so you can charge your phone while you move.

For many business travelers, the softside bags are the preferred choice, especially for carry-ons. They’re lightweight, have external pockets for extra storage and convenience, they can hold more, fit into tighter spaces, and packing is much easier because of the single compartment. Keeping them clean and dry isn’t a problem for many business travelers since you’re usually going from the apartment to your car to the hotel, and so on. If you’re worried about the elements, our bags feature a DuraGuard® coating which protects the bags from moisture and abrasions.

What do you think? Do you prefer softside or hardside luggage? Which ones have you had in the past? Would you switch? Share your thoughts and stories on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

U.S. Airlines, Airports Exploring Use of Self-Bag Drop

February 21, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

Life is becoming more like The Jetsons all the time, especially around the airport. In a recent article, Travel Weekly told us about self-bag drop at some airports using machines by German vendor Materna.

While tighter security regulations have prevented unassisted self-bag drop machines in airports, U.S. airlines and airports are finally exploring the possibility of a rollout.

The self-bag drop at Incheon Airport in South Korea

The self-bag drop at Incheon Airport in South Korea

According to Stu Williams, Senior Vice President for Special Projects at the Denver Airport, nearly 200 Materna machines are being installed as part of a broader overhaul of the airport’s central Jeppesen Terminal. This means that by 2020 every bag drop location at the airport will enable flyers to self-check their baggage.

According to a study by SITA, another vendor of self-bag drop machines, 45% of airlines offer unassisted bag drop around the world. Passenger identity is typically agent-verified prior to accessing the bag drop machines for security purposes.

The machines can be time-savers, too. Once at the machines, passengers drop and weigh their bags, scan their bag tags and boarding passes, then they leave their bags to be routed to their flight, all without further agent contact. Some machines can accept payment for oversized baggage, and others offer biometric identity capabilities. Then the machine rolls to the baggage handlers who route it to the correct plane.

In addition to saving time, the machines provide substantial cost savings as agents can monitor up to 14 machines. But in the U.S., the TSA requires an agent manually verify passenger identification. The TSA has also pledged to speed up biometric development and released a road map for biometric expansion.

Several airlines like American, Alaska, Delta, and United, and airports in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Miami have begun using self-bag check as well. Meanwhile, at New York’s JFK Airport, JetBlue will begin testing biometric self-bag drop this month.

Will you use self-bag drop or are you a carry-on purist? Do you trust the technology to get your bag to your destination on time or do you want to hand it to a human being? Share your thoughts (or experiences) with us on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: hyolee2 (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)

Robert & Mary Carey Spotlight: Santa Barbara, California

February 19, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

We are pleased to publish this blog article from Robert & Mary Carey of the RMWorldTravel radio program. Robert and Mary will provide us monthly blog articles covering their different favorite travel destinations. This month, they’re taking a look at Santa Barbara, California.

On our national travel radio show, we regularly spotlight some of our favorite destinations around the U.S. — that are less traveled but offer terrific travel experiences. A recent focus was Santa Barbara, California.

Aerial photo of Santa Barbara, California. Photo by Blake BronstadSanta Barbara is a fun getaway destination that’s less than a 2-hour car ride north of Los Angeles (you can also take the train if preferred), and it’s one of those places that has something for everyone. It’s long been known as the American Riviera for its coastal location and stunning mountain views. Enjoy hiking, water sports and many other outdoor activities, beautiful Pacific beaches, art, culture, restaurants that range from fine dining to those hidden gems or ‘hole in the wall’ spots that offer great food at great value, night-life, and more. You’ll never run out of things to do in Santa Barbara.

Aerial photo of Santa Barbara, California at sunset, by Blake BronstadWe’ve visited Santa Barbara multiple times over the years and will be returning again next summer for a wedding — but whether you’re traveling alone or with friends or family, we encourage you to consider a trip to Santa Barbara (with your Travelpro Luggage of course). The world famous Stearns Wharf, which just happens to be California’s oldest working wharf, is a great place to spend the day riding bicycles, strolling, eating handmade ice cream, shopping or soaking in the California sunset in the evening. Kids will love the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center, which has some really cool interactive exhibits explaining the sea creatures that live below the Wharf, and if you’re an angler, fishing is free on the Wharf! Just stop by one of the local bait and tackle shops and they’ll get you all set up. We love to ride bikes when we travel there as the topography makes it an excellent cycling city. Personally, we’re fans of the Surrey bikes because to us they are quintessential Santa Barbara. Four wheels, 3-4 passengers and loads of fun tooling around. Sometimes you just have to be a tourist and relax and enjoy. Although, rumor has it even the locals enjoy the Surreys!

A bit of a secret that many visitors don’t know about is the growing wine region in Santa Barbara. Napa and Sonoma have certainly made their mark in the wine world but Santa Barbara has some terrific vineyards that are reminiscent of the way Napa may have looked before it became so popular about 30-40 years ago. The Santa Ynez Valley has many experts claiming it may become the next big wine region nationally so we suggest going to enjoy it now if that’s the case. There are some award-winning wineries in this area and another must-see is Rancho Olivos for superb olive oil tastings and tours.

Santa Barbara County Courthouse Photo by Gabriela Herman-11-10-18Cultural activities like art shows, theatre, music festivals, craft shows, and wine and craft brewery events run year-round in Santa Barbara, and you can expect a Mediterranean-like climate with comfortable seasonal temperatures year round. If you are lucky enough to plan your trip in the month of March, try to time it around the largest Orchid Show in the U.S. The 74th Annual Santa Barbara Orchid Show runs March 17-19, 2019 and is one of the top orchid shows in the world.

Safe and Happy Travels!

Robert & Mary Carey, Hosts
America’s #1 Travel Radio Show
www.RMWorldTravel.com

1) Aerial photo of Santa Barbara, California, by Blake Bronstad (Used with permission)
2) Aerial photo of Santa Barbara, California at sunset, by Blake Bronstad (Used with permission)
3) Santa Barbara County Courthouse Photo by Gabriela Herman (Used with permission)

Hotel Insider Secrets for Better Prices and Service

February 12, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

We share a lot of hotel insider secrets here on the Travelpro blog, but we always keep our eye out for new ones to share. We were rewarded last month when USA Today published its article, Hotel secrets: Insider tips for lower prices and better service.

Glenn Haussman is a podcaster with shows like “No Vacancy” and “Checking In With Anthony and Glenn” (co-hosted with Anthony Melchiorri from Travel Channel’s “Hotel Impossible.”) Glenn shared a few secrets with USA Today about how to find better prices and service.

One suggestion that was new to us was to understand who owns the hotel? Most hotels in a chain are rarely owned by the name on the front — Holiday Inn, Hilton, Marriott — but are instead owned by a franchisee. That means if you have a service complaint, you should direct it to the real owner, and not the brand’s customer service line. You can often find the name of the ownership company on a plaque near the front desk

Another hotel secret we’ve discussed before is watch out for resort fees. These are mandatory fees that are usually added on by the hotel after you’ve received your initial price quote, and go toward amenities like parking, pool, and workout facilities.

“Resort fees are a scourge,” Haussman told USA Today. “They create an antagonistic relationship with the customer, which is antithetical to everything the hospitality industry is supposed to be about.”

Hotel room in the Renaissance Columbus, OHThe best way around the resort fees, says Haussman, is to call the hotel ahead of time and negotiate your room rate directly — don’t go through the website, don’t go through the customer service (800) number. The best deals will be gotten by speaking with the hotel’s general manager. This is especially important if you’re not going to avail yourself of the different amenities the hotel offers, like a swimming pool or workout facility.

Haussman’s third big secret is to book your hotel room directly, not go through an online third-party booking site. The hotels have to pay those third-party sites as much as 20 percent of the hotel cost if they refer guests to them, so the hotels don’t want to pay it. That’s also why you don’t get loyalty points, and may even get less-than-preferential treatment from the hotels. The fee can be even higher for independent hotels than the big chain hotels.

So Haussman’s recommendation is that you should call the hotel directly to book your room (that’s also when you can negotiate the resort fees). Haussman says most hotels are happy to give you a 5 – 10 percent discount just to save on the referral fees.

Another secret we’d never heard, but it makes a lot of sense: If you want to switch hotel brands, even though you’ve had long loyalty with the old brand, is to ask for a status match with the new hotel. Whether you want to just test out the new hotel or want to switch completely, it’s often not necessary to start over with the new hotel.

Finally, always try to stay in the newer hotels. They have the faster Internet speeds and the larger TVs. Plus, you’re more likely to get the frequent traveler upgrades, since it often takes a year or more to get a new hotel’s business up to a profitable level. That means the upgrade rooms will sometimes sit empty, which means you can snag one fairly easily (or even for free if they won’t budge on the resort fees).

What hotel insider secrets do you have when you travel? Any that you’d like to share with us? Share them on our Facebook page, or on our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: David Jensen (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

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