How to Avoid Being Stranded at the Airport

July 17, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’re a frequent traveler, you know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you get the notification: Flight canceled. There are few worse feelings when you’re headed to an important meeting, on a long-awaited vacation or — worst yet — home after a busy time away.

There’s a silver lining: Conde Nast Traveler’s The Daily Traveler blog published a post with some great tips for making your way home if your flight’s been canceled and you’re stuck at an airport.

A busy airport

(Photo credit: eGuide Travel)

The steps CN outlines are ones I haven’t given a lot of thought to honestly. I’ve had a few major cancellations happen to me in my travels — and while I don’t recommend it, I pretty much rely on my past experiences of “playing the game.” The key to winning said game? Make sure you have a lot of alternatives.

The first step for me has always been to approach the airline directly to find out your options. But from there, what you do depends on how badly you want to get home.

Having a sort of slush fund for a recovery budget is one thing CN’s article recommends. Recovery budgets and security measures like travel insurance can alleviate the financial burden of a canceled flight or long delay, but it doesn’t necessarily make getting home any easier.

When I lived in Michigan, I had a flight canceled during a snowstorm — there were no flights coming or going out of the Detroit airport. But we were headed to Grand Rapids, which was only a few hours’ drive — so my coworkers and I rented a car and drove through the snow to reach our final destination. (Renting a car is often cheaper than getting a hotel room.)

I encountered a similar situation in a past life, when I was working on the East Coast. I had a presentation to give in Hyde Park, N.Y., and our flight out of Philadelphia got canceled. We didn’t have the option to spend the night — we had a presentation to give and had to be there — so we drove six hours to our destination and made the presentation as planned.

However, the airline refused to surrender our luggage to us before we left, so we met our bags at the Hyde Park airport when the canceled flight eventually arrived. In that case, we just had to punt, wear the same clothes from the day before, and give the presentation. There are times the show must go on, regardless of what you’re wearing. (It was also a valuable lesson in why it’s better to travel with carry-on bags than checking them on short trips.)

If driving isn’t an option for you, my two favorite tips from CN’s article are to find an airport with a lot of flights and be open to alternate airports. If you’re reasonably flexible with your travel plans, you can often find another way home or to your destination with minimal pain.

What’s your biggest cancellation nightmare? Commiserate in the comments section and give us some ideas.

How To Improve And Differentiate The Passenger Experience

July 15, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Go through enough harrowing travel experiences, and you might start to wonder whether airports, airlines and security personnel are conspiring to conduct a cruel, long-term experiment on just how much stress and misery travelers can take.

Contrary to popular belief, many officials are working to make the experience better for travelers. An encouraging blog post on FutureTravelExperience.com features some technologies and ideas that airports are trying out to make travel more pleasurable.

Music

English: Scandinavian Airlines Airport Lounge ...

Scandinavian Airlines Airport Lounge at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport (HEL). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many airports have started introducing music — both recorded and performed live — as a way to enhance the passenger experience. And this choice wasn’t made on a whim! Results of a study by researchers at Montreal’s McGill University released in March 2013 say that listening to music helps with four major health-related factors: “management of mood, stress, immunity and as an aid to social bonding.”

FTE’s article mentions regular musical performers at the Seattle-Tacoma airport, and that introducing music for its travelers’ enjoyment has increased the airport’s Airport Service Quality (ASQ) score to 4.14 out of 5.

I have even enjoyed an authentic Chicago blues band while waiting for my luggage at Chicago Midway’s baggage carousels. This is one way to reduce the stress, while waiting for your bag to arrive at the carousel.

Places To Rest

It’s safe to say that much of the stress and unhappiness around air travel happens because of a lack of rest. From waking up early to wait in long security lines and gate seating areas, everything’s a little worse when you don’t have the rest you need.

Helsinki Airport has created some potential solutions to the stress and exhaustion of travel: relaxation areas with sleeping tubes, rocking chairs and even a book swap.

Traveling to Abu Dhabi? The Guide To Sleeping In Airports, a blog dedicated to exactly what the name says, mentions sleep pods right out in the middle of the terminal with roll-up shades that completely enclose travelers trying to get a bit of shut-eye.

In the United States, Minute Suites at airports in Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Philadelphia offer a private place to catch a quick nap or enjoy some peace and quiet to get a bit of work done at the airport. The price is $34 an hour.

Or if you’ve got the time, you can purchase a day pass at an airline’s travel lounge and spend a few hours there between your flights. For example, a day pass at Delta’s Sky Club is $50 for a single day. The chairs are comfortable, there’s snack food available, and even easy access to electrical outlets and wifi.

What’s Your Experience?

Have you experienced any of these new travel amenities? Seen something we didn’t mention! Comment here with your thoughts.

Airliners, Travelers Need Luggage Etiquette

July 8, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

As airlines keep raising and creating fees, people are always going to look for ways to avoid paying them. Luggage fees are no different. No one wants to spend an extra $50 just to to check one suitcase, so everyone is bringing on carry-on’s, which are creating further problems and serious breaches in good manners.

As passengers, we need to have some etiquette about our luggage, like not whacking people in the noggin with it, or not cramming both your bags in the overhead bin. This prevents other people from getting their bag into the bin, which means they’ll have to gate check them, which means they’ll have to get them at baggage claim. It also means the boarding process is slowed down, which means we all reach our destination much more slowly.

English: Luggage compartments of an Airbus 340...

English: Luggage compartments of an Airbus 340-600 aircraft (economy class). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pack lightly. If your rollaboard is completely full for a 4 day trip, you may have too much stuff. Imagine having to pay for your luggage by the pound. Now what could you get rid of? What is it you don’t actually need? Once you figure that out, you may be down to a reasonable amount.

Of course, you could always ship your belongings, possibly for much less than you’re going to pay in baggage fees. You can even ship your suitcase itself in a box. Ask your local Fedex or UPS store for help.

Finally, arrive early, and maybe consider buying a seat upgrade. For the cost of a checked bag, you may be able to upgrade for the same amount, and ride in much more comfort than your original seat. Not only that, you can get on board early and find a place for your luggage. So weigh your options: fly for less — in less comfort — and check/gate check your bag, or fly in more comfort and have your bag on board with you.

Passengers aren’t the only ones who should have to display some patience and manners. We hope the airlines can encourage this etiquette as well. Make sure people are only putting one bag in the overhead bin. Adopt a seating system where the people who sit near the back can get on first (and then make sure they’re not putting their bag up front). And would it be too much to ask that the overhead bins actually be large enough to hold everyone’s bags?

Here’s Why Plane Ticket Prices Change Every Day

July 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

These days, air travel seems pricier than ever (and that the amenities less amenable than ever). Would you believe, though, that when you adjust for inflation, airfares have actually fallen by about 50 percent in the past 30 years? It’s true, according to a chart-filled article in The Atlantic.

English: Airline Ticket Receipt of Southwest A...

English: Airline Ticket Receipt of Southwest Airlines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s no consolation to the average passenger, though. Paying hundreds of dollars just to get from Point A to Point B — often with nary a free bag of peanuts to soothe them — leaves many travelers with a bad taste in their mouths.

But perhaps even more frustrating than the high price of air travel is the constant change in exactly how high they’ll be. That’s because there are many factors, some not even remotely related to the airlines themselves, that determine what your airfare will be. And some of those factors change by the day.

Here’s a look at three of those factors, drawn from a Fox News article on the “9 Surprising Factors That Influence The Price Of Your Airline Ticket.”

  • The Price Of Oil: Gas prices ruin everything, from the cost of your daily trip to the office to the price tag on your plane ticket. Fuel has been airlines’ No. 1 operating expense since 2011, and so airlines keep adding fuel surcharges to the price.
  • The Timing Of Your Flight: Convenience is costly. So is flying when everyone else wants to fly. That’s why it can be extra pricey to fly on major holidays, spring break and even dates like the Super Bowl. The least-expensive days to fly: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and sometimes Saturdays.
  • The Government: Yes, there really is a Sept. 11 Security Fee. It’s rising to $11.20 per round-trip flight later this year, and that’s on top of the taxes and other fees airlines tack on to the price of your ticket to pay the government.
  • Strike A Bargain: Looking for your best bet on ticket prices? Several websites, including Fare Detective, Kayak and even the search engine Bing now offer historical fare comparisons that will let you know when it’s “safe” to buy.

What’s the best deal you’ve ever gotten on a plane ticket? What’s the most you’ve ever paid? Share your booking tales with us in the comments section.

Avoid These Common Travel Scams

June 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Benjamin Corey is an author, speaker, and blogger who frequently travels internationally, so he knows part of the travel game is for some locals to try to rip off unsuspecting tourists. He’s always on his guard and knows most travel scams. But after his flight to the Democratic Republic of Congo was delayed by a few hours, he found himself stranded outside the airport without his designated ride.

In a very dangerous area, he was very relieved when a taxi driver called his name and announced himself as the new ride. Turns out, this taxi driver was not his new designated ride at all, and Corey found himself in a life-or-death situation. Corey was able to draw on his years of experience and knowledge to escape the situation unharmed, frightened and embarrassed, but able to see where he went wrong. (It’s an interesting read.)

We were reminded of Benjamin’s story after seeing a Mental Floss article about several different travel scams flogged on unsuspecting tourists. Here are a few of our “favorites,” and how you can avoid them.

    Attention aux PickPockets (dans La Tour Eiffel...

    Attention aux PickPockets (dans La Tour Eiffel) @EiffelTower (Photo credit: dullhunk)

  • The Store Scam: A local starts up a conversation and mentions that his family owns a local store where you can get great deals on local goods. Deals that sound too good to be true (which should be your first clue). When you go to the store, you will be extorted and badgered for everything you have, and the deals aren’t that good to begin with.
  • The Change Scam: Merchants will often try to not give you exact change back, or give you change with incorrect exchange rates. To prevent this, carry small bills/coins or pay with your credit card. This helps you avoid getting shortchanged on the exchange rate as well.
  • The Taxi Scam: The very same scam that Benjamin Corey knew to avoid but still fell victim to. Before getting into cabs, ask if the driver knows the directions and for the ride fee. If he or she cannot answer, the ride is likely not legitimate. Try to only catch cabs in front of an airport or hotel, rather than just flagging one down that “looks like” a cab. If at all possible, arrange for a private driver to pick you up beforehand. Try to get a photo of your driver emailed to you, and ask him or her to confirm with you, even with a simple passphrase, like “John sent me.”
  • The Distraction Scam: You’re walking down the street. Someone bumps into you, spilling their drink or food on you in the process. They apologize and try to help clean you up, or so you think. You were actually just pickpocketed. Keep your money secured on your person, and don’t carry everything with you.
  • The Fake Cop scam: If a cop asks for you to pay a fine on the spot, he’s most likely looking for a bribe. Respond by politely saying you will only pay at a police station. Stick to this answer even if the cop becomes loud and aggressive.
  • The Dropped Ring Scam: A local will say he found a dropped gold ring, which likely isn’t even gold. He will give it to you, then demand a finder’s fee. He may even begin shouting to attract attention in the hopes of embarrassing you into paying. Don’t accept the ring in the first place, and just walk away. Drop it again, if necessary.

In all cases, it’s best to walk away from the situation as soon as you realize what’s going on. Never hand anyone your money, your camera, or any of your belongings. Keep your wallet and money in a secure place. And always take an official taxi; never accept a ride from a local.

How To Protect Your Money When Traveling

June 24, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

For some, international travel can be that once-in-a-lifetime adventure they’ve planned for years. For others, it’s just another day at the office. But whether you’re setting foot on new shores for the first time, or everyone shouts your name when you walk into the airport, your trip can turn sour if you don’t know how to protect yourself and your money.

Here are a few tips to keep worry-free about your money during your overseas travel.

    Money

    Do not carry this much money, or carry it like this, when traveling. (Photo credit: AMagill)

  • Make several copies of your identification. Carry your driver’s license with you, but have a backup copy with a friend or spouse. Do the same with your passports.
  • Alert your bank that you will be traveling, especially if you’re traveling internationally. Because while you know you’re in Istanbul, and your family knows you’re in Istanbul, all your bank sees is a sudden flurry of activity in Turkey. They may freeze your account to protect you against fraudulent purchases. Let them know beforehand to ensure your money is available when you need it.
  • Slim down your wallet. Bring identification, debit/credit cards and insurance cards, but leave the extras at home. If you lose your wallet, it will save you time from having to replace every card you’ve ever accumulated. Finally, carry little cash, as it bulks up your wallet and makes you an easy target for pickpockets. Carry your cash in a front pocket.
  • Do not use a money belt. A money belt, just like a fat wallet, will make you an easy target for thieves.
  • Finally, we are releasing a business case line with RFID (radio frequency identification) protection. Since many credit cards, and even the U.S. passport, use RFID, it’s easy for an identify thief to just stand nearby and capture all your electronic information. Our RFID protective cases block these individuals from gathering your information, leaving your finances, and your trip, intact.

What are some other money-protecting traveling tips you have? What strategies do you use? Or what are some lessons you learned the hard way? Leave a comment here or on our Facebook page.

Bring This, Not That: Boots versus Shoes versus Sandals

June 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

We’re always big fans of “pack light, wear heavy” when you’re working with limited space. For example, don’t pack your big boots into your Rollaboard when space is limited. Which gives rise to the question of whether you should take boots, shoes, or sandals with you for most of your walking.

One of the most important things to consider will be how active you plan to be, and where you will be. It may seem like a no-brainer, but an active vacation requires completely different clothing and apparel than a more passive, relaxing vacation.

An example of walking in sandals.

An example of walking in sandals. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can leave the button down shirt and slacks at home if your next trip involves scaling up a mountain. Conversely, if you’ll be dining in five star restaurants, there’s no need to waste valuable packing space with tank tops, Bermuda shorts, and flip-flops.

But what about your footwear? There are several different schools of thought for what you need on your feet when you’re going to do a lot of walking.

Again, match your footwear to your predicted level of activity. If your plans include museum visits, city tours, theme parks, or other activities that involve a lot of walking, make room in your suitcase for your favorite pair of running or walking shoes, so that you can move through the day in comfort. If hiking is on your schedule, get the lightweight boots that will provide comfort and support. And if you’re just lounging on the beach, grab your sandals.

It’s important to pack for function, but versatility is just as important. You should pack no more than two, and wear the third pair. The last thing you’ll need is to take up space by packing every pair of shoes you own, “just in case.”

For instance, if you plan on traveling throughout the city on foot, and will want to dine at nice restaurants, bring a pair of casual shoes, like loafers, that allow you to look presentable in public while also providing moderate comfort. While your hiking boots may be more comfortable, the maitre’d may decide he doesn’t have any tables that night.

Finally, don’t forget to wear your heaviest or biggest shoes on the plane. That will save you packing space and baggage weight. If you think your shoes may be too heavy on the plane, then you may also want to think twice about whether you needed them at all.

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When is Shipping Your Luggage an Option?

May 29, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

As travelers, it’s been our struggle to deal with our luggage. It’s been going on for centuries, even millennial, when early man began cramming carry-on satchels made of Mammoth hide into the overhead bins on their Pterodactyl planes.

Or was that The Flintstones?

Regardless, people are still dealing with how to get all their stuff from point A to point B easily, cheaply and quickly. But like the old saying goes, there’s easy, cheap, and quick, and you can only choose two.

Travelpro provides Rollaboard and Spinner carry-on luggage so people have the convenience of skipping the bag check and retrieval in the airports, which makes their travel a lot easier. Other people are finding that they still have to gate check their bags, just because they’re one of the last ones on the plane. Sometimes, carry-on luggage is not an option for longer trips that require more stuff.

Yahoo travel blogger Sonia Gil recently posted a video about the joys of traveling completely bag-free. (Well, almost completely. You need to carry your laptop, tablet, book, extra sweater, tickets, spare underwear, granola bars, and well, you just need a personal bag.)

Sonia looked at the joys and costs of traveling bag-free — no bag-check lines, no lost luggage, no worries about whether you have to gate check your Rollaboard. To do it, you need to ship your luggage, and it may cost you a few bucks.

There are a few companies that specialize in shipping luggage, like Sports Express and Luggage Free. There are also the main package carriers, like UPS, Fedex, and DHL. Shipping your luggage comes with a lot of caveats however, like needing to pack and ship several days in advance, or the fact that it’s not always the cheapest option.

For example, Sonia looks at the costs of sending a 75 pound oversize bag on a luggage shipper versus American Airlines, and finds that the shipper wins, $299 to $400 ($200 for oversize + $200 for overweight). Of course, you have to ship your luggage five days in advance to get the $299 rate, but it certainly is worth it if it means not having to wrestle your 75 pound behemoth off the baggage carousel and in and out of the cab and hotel.

So, if you need to pack a lot of stuff to take on your next trip, or have golf clubs or skis you want to send, consider shipping your luggage instead of taking it on your flight. The benefit is that you don’t have to mess with it at the airport or move it to and from your final destination. Your bag is already there waiting for you, probably with its own stories.

KLM Introduces Innovative Boarding Technique

May 22, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The premiere airline carrier of the Netherlands, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, has introduced a new method for passengers boarding planes in an effort to improve efficiency.

Replacing the standard boarding procedures will be a new, numerical process that will assign each passenger a number as they reach the boarding gate. That number corresponds to their seat number, and as that number is displayed by screens on the boarding gate, the passenger is allowed to board the plan and find his or her seat.

English: Aircraft: Boeing 747-406M Airline: KL...

Aircraft: Boeing 747-406M Airline: KLM – Royal Dutch Airlines at Schiphol Airport (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This new procedure will, of course, allow priority members, those with reduced mobility and passengers with children to be seated first.

After those individuals have been seated, the other passengers will be seated starting in the rear and working towards the front. Travelers with window seating will be seated first in each row, followed by middle seats and finally passengers seated in the aisle.

KLM designed the process with hopes to minimize the overall waiting time and increase the passenger experience. Instead of having to waste time idle in line, travelers can spend that time relaxing in the lounge. Because each seat is assigned a number as they reach the gate, there will be no confusion about sitting in another passenger’s seat.

The new process has been seen by many as a much-needed improvement for the traveler. However, a red flag has been raised. Some travelers are concerned that having to wait to be called to board will decrease the chance they will be able to use the overhead bins for carry-on luggage. While this may be a small complaint, it is one that must be addressed if the boarding technique is to be seen as a success and adopted by other airlines.

The current boarding technique is occurring on a test run with select flights. If all goes well, the procedure will be expanded to other flights in the coming months.

If you had to design a plane boarding procedure, what would you come up with? Any suggestions?

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Frequent Flier Program Changes Worry Travelers

May 20, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’ve been saving up those airline miles and points for a free trip, you may want to cash them out sooner rather than later. Airline loyalty programs are changing so quickly that travelers are wondering if the programs are even worth it anymore.

English: Different customer loyality cards (ai...

Different customer loyality cards (airlines, car rental companies, hotels etc.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have discussed previously that your frequent flier points are quickly becoming devalued. Delta and United have already produced “eye-popping” changes to their programs, and travelers are keeping a watchful eye on the merger between US Airways and American Airlines to see what happens. Of course, not everyone has to worry too much.

Coach fliers won’t really be impacted from these changes. Many of the frequent flier miles and loyalty program changes are affecting business class travelers. Airlines usually change their programs every couple of years and experts warn that you really should look at the terms and conditions for the programs before committing to a favorite one. Airlines change their programs all of the time because flights are getting so cheap and they are losing money.

Some airlines are even changing their loyalty programs to where it’s based on money spent, rather than number of miles. They even go as far as to offer credit cards. They make tons of money off of these cards, so be critical and wary of the offers you consider.

The way that these programs are changing, travelers are being left in the dust. Airlines are changing their minds so quickly that we recommend that you really think about using frequent flier programs before signing up.

Travelers are more wary as their loyalty points are quick becoming worth up to 40 percent less than they used to be only a few months ago. It’s good to be cautious of these programs and know what you are signing up for.

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