7 Newest Travel Startups

January 28, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

We’re more mobile than ever, and not just in our day-to-day lives. Over 1 billion of us traveled internationally last year, and that number is expected to increase by three to four percent this year. There’s lots to manage when you’re on the road, and seven companies have new apps to help you get the most from your experience. We found several new travel start-ups and apps that can ease the burdens of travel and make it a lot more fun.

For those who operate hotels, getting customers to choose your establishment isn’t such a shot in the dark any more. Kaptivating targets potential customers by studying their social media activities and initiates a relationship with them to let them know how a specific hotel could meet their needs.

Lyft car with pink mustacheDo you use Uber and Lyft when you are in a different city? Pistats allows you to analyze all the details of your experiences — frequency, spending, and locations most used — via an integrated map.

Want to get out of Dodge but don’t have a traveling companion? Eo will match your interests, budget, and travel plans with others wanting to go where you’re going. Scroll through profiles, make a connection, and make new friends before you leave town.

Ever wondered where in the world all the best jazz festivals or art festivals are held through the year? Cronomio is a travel calendar that will help you sync your travel with events you don’t want to miss (not just jazz and art).

If you’re a tour operator or travel agency desiring to make and maintain connection with your customers before and after a trip, Keeptrax makes that possible. Keeptrax collates travel information, details of places visited, and photos to help travelers remember all the good things that happened on their trips when they’re making their travelogues for friends.

Moving to Bora Bora and need a nanny? Expat Helpers is an app that explains local labor laws and currency denominations to expedite the process of connecting with and hiring local help.

Get Out is an app that connects those with less run-of-the-mill interests who are looking for out of the ordinary travel experiences with one another. This will help you find that needle-in-a-haystack adventure to do underwater basket weaving in the Great Barrier Reef.

Here are a few other apps that will help you travel safely.

STEP stands for Smart Traveler Enrollment Program and is a free service of the US State Department that makes the US Embassy in the country you’re traveling to aware of your presence there.

SOS is an emergency app that provides you with local numbers for police, fire, and hospital. It has a location finder to help you know where you are in an unfamiliar city.

Medical ID is an emergency app that will allow someone to access health conditions about you even if your phone is locked and you’re unable to communicate.

Finally, Trip It is a password protected app that collates your itinerary, passport, visa, identification information in one place in case those documents are lost or stolen during travel.

Seeing the world is supposed to be fun, not a hassle. These new apps offer you, the savvy traveler, an individualized, unique experience, tailored to needs and desires.

Leave us a comment below or on our Facebook page.

Photo credit: PraiseLightMedia (Wikipedia, Creative Commons)

Eight Ways to Spot a Lousy Hotel

January 12, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

You know the feeling you get when you show up at a hotel, and it’s nothing like you imagined? That sinking feeling when you open the door to your room, and wonder if someone is playing a prank?

Thankfully, today there are many tools at your disposal online to help you spot a lousy hotel before you get there.

The Cecil Hotel, which inspired the American Horror Story: Hotel series.

The Cecil Hotel, which inspired the American Horror Story: Hotel series.

  1. Photos. If the pictures online feature close-ups or artistic shots that don’t give you a clear impression of the room or the amenities, chances are something’s up.
  2. Too good to be true Photos. If the property seems to feature amenities that don’t jive with the neighborhood, like a beach in Kansas, or they feature something that seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  3. Dated website. If it’s obvious, either by the outdated material or the glaring typos, that the hotel’s management doesn’t seem to care that much about maintaining its online presence, you should be wary of your physical presence on their premises.
  4. Google Maps street view. If the site is short on pictures, but touts its amazing location, do yourself a favor and put the address in Google Maps to take your own look around. Sketchy neighborhoods can’t be hidden when you do a 360 view at street level.
  5. Poor reviews. You can usually tell if the recent reviews are factual or fake. Take note if every review is glowingly positive or completely negative. Black and white reviews aren’t a true representation of a property or an experience.
  6. Poor online etiquette. If management replies to the negative reviews online, that should be your first clue. Customer complaints should be handled privately, not responded to publicly. The one caveat: if management is actually showing how they’ve positively responded to a situation, that’s great. But if they get into arguments with customers, that’s not so great.
  7. Bed Bug Registry. It’s a real site. It only takes a few minutes to do a quick search before you book your room, instead of frantically searching for the bedside light in the middle of the night to find what you felt crawling on you!
  8. No interior photos. If the site has no pictures of the accommodations but only of the area surrounding the hotel, odds are what you see around is better than what you’ll see inside.

How do you spot a lousy hotel? Do you have any favorite websites or review sites? Tell us about them in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Flying Around the World for Free

October 27, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Wish you could travel the world but don’t see how you could afford it? Meet Ben Schlappig, 25. Since he was 13, Ben has been doing just that. Traveling around the world. Wherever he likes. For free.

A bored, bright teenager, Schlappig figured out how to work the airline travel system, manipulating rewards programs and airline-affiliated credit card incentives and discovering in the process a game he could win. By the time he was 16, he had so mastered the game that he became the first person to cross the Pacific six times in one trip.

English: The Gresham Palace in Budapest. (File...

The Gresham Palace in Budapest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He loved the high so much he dedicated himself to it full-time. After graduating from University of Florida with a degree in marketing (he traveled the entire time), he decided to start a business to help others do just what he does. The business is called PointsPro and its motto is simple: Make Your Dream Trip a Reality.

Schlappig flies first class and only stays in luxury hotels, all of which he pays for with points. And he does it constantly. A recent Rolling Stone story followed Schlappig around and mentioned that he flew to seven cities around the world in seven days.

He doesn’t stop, except to sleep for the night at one of his luxury hotels, enjoy a session in a high-price spa, and then it’s back to the airport for his next flight. Schlappig doesn’t see what he does as fraud; he just knows how the system works, and he works it. Hard.

He earns points with credit cards, and little-known tricks in the frequent flyer programs. He usually flies about four to six hours a day, and is a well-known figure in this small circle of enthusiasts in the game known as The Hobby. Fans greet him wherever he goes, and he receives a lot of attention — and free champagne — from those who are in the know.

He chronicles his ongoing world traversing adventures via his blog, One Mile at a Time. He has no permanent residence, living exclusively in hotels (he doesn’t pay for them either), and has logged 400,000 miles in the past year.

Airplane Seats Really ARE Getting Smaller

August 6, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Travel writer Peter Greenberg is confirming what we’ve believed all along: airplane seats are getting smaller, as is the space between them. Airlines have found ways to incorporate lighter, slimmer seats, which allows them to pack more seats onto the planes.

Worse yet, they’re even shrinking the size of the airplane bathrooms.

A seat graphic on a Song airplane.

A seat graphic on a Song airplane. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many carriers are adding the extra seats to shorter flights, although that is certainly not the case across the board.

One trend we’ve noted in conjunction with the smaller seats is that airlines are offering seat upgrades (so-called “comfort seats”) for folks who are willing to pay extra to sit in a seat that’s a tad roomier or comfortable. Let’s be clear that we are not talking about first class seats. These seats are another option between a standard seat and a first class seat. This is one of the many ways that airlines are increasing their add-on income.

Recently, one of our employees flew on an older plane to Europe and said the he has never sat in a seat with less legroom. He couldn’t even put the arm rest down between himself and his wife. The airline offered comfort seats, which cost $75 to $80 more for the 11 hour flight. He was on the aisle but was crammed into a small space. He handled some of the stress of the flight by moving around and getting up to walk around the plane whenever possible.

One way to make sure this horrible fate doesn’t happen to you is to check SeatGuru.com as a way to check out your seats on a particular plane before you book, so you can buy an upgrade if it looks like the standard available seat is an extremely tight fit or their is a electrical box underneath your feet. You can enter your information and a seat map for your plane will pop up along with comfort recommendations for the various seats.

Are you willing to pay for seat upgrades? What’s your minimum threshold where you’ll put up with the discomfort before you pay the fee? Let us hear from you here or on our Facebook page.

Hotel Safety Tips for Wifi

June 25, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Should you use the free wifi at your hotel? That depends on how sensitive the information is that you’re accessing online or you have on your computer. Even if you feel comfortable and safe and have good security measures in place, you still want to exercise caution when using it; avoid extremely sensitive tasks such as online banking or accessing sensitive business information.

Norton, a well-known antivirus provider, has several suggestions about Internet security within hotel rooms.

Chicago Hilton hotel room

Chicago Hilton hotel room (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One thing you should do when checking into a hotel is to make sure that you choose the proper wifi network. Hackers are known to trick users looking for free wifi by creating a network that will trick them into using it. Don’t jump on something called “Free Wifi” for instance. Before you ever log on, call the front desk and ask for the name of the network.

Another solution Norton discusses is using a VPN or virtual private network, if you’re traveling for work. If your company has a VPN, logging onto it will give you the same security you enjoy while working from your office behind the security firewall.

Next, change your passwords frequently. You’ve probably heard this a million times; we all have. But it keeps being repeated because it’s great advice. Set up a system to remind yourself to change passwords every three months. Don’t use single words or names of family members or pets. Use a password management system like 1Password to generate long passwords with random letters, numbers, and special characters.

Also, avoid network sharing. Norton says to avoid situations where other computers are communicating directly with yours while you’re in a fairly unsecure location, such as a hotel.

These are also good tips for working in the local coffee shop, your hotel room, or anytime you’re on a public network. What are some other computer security tips you follow on the road? Share them with us in the comments.

4 Frequent Flier Mile Pro Tips

June 9, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

One thing that we think about fairly often is frequent flier miles and programs. Since the airlines are changing how their programs are working, we’re always looking for new ways to earn and use miles.

A recent article on Vox.com gives us a few more tips on how to use these programs wisely.

United Airlines

United Airlines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first frequent flier programs was started in 1981 by American Airlines and was such a raging success that it immediately inspired other airlines to follow suit. And of course, these programs remain in place to this day.

(Which also means if one airline does something, it won’t be long before another one joins them. This includes changes to your frequent flier program.)

When you travel, figure out which program best suits your travel habits. Don’t just think about the airline you always fly; look at the one that best suits your needs based on how you travel versus how you spend money.

There are two basic types of rewards systems: mileage-based and spending-based. Mileage-based systems award you for the miles you travel; spending-based programs (i.e. credit cards) award points based on your spending. In many cases, airlines are now basing their awards on spending as well (cost of ticket).

If you frequently travel long distances, a mileage-based system may be your best bet, although the article says those types of programs are becoming a thing of the past.

Also, choose your airline program based on practical considerations, such as living near and flying out of a particular airport’s hub. If you live near Chicago O’Hare, United Airlines is your main airline, so it doesn’t make as much sense to join Delta’s program.

Another challenge is time and cost. When do you need to fly and what flights are available versus the cost of those flights? If you have the time, you can wait for cheaper flights. If you don’t have time, you may spend more money to fly when it fits your schedule, which may affect whether you can fly on your chosen airline.

If this happens frequently, this is where the spending-based program is your better option.

Finally, we also like the tip, “don’t’ sit on your miles, spend them.” Spend them when you get them. There’s no need to hoard miles. Use them for upgrades, or swap them out for merchandise, or even in a points-swapping program, like Points.com.

How do you manage your miles? Let us hear from you. Leave a comment here or on our Facebook page.

4 Ways to Prevent Your Miles From Expiring

May 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Airlines are tightening their mileage programs, raising the rates, and setting expiration dates on unused miles. This has travelers looking for new ways to get additional miles, and to hang on to their old miles until they can finally reclaim them.

The Huffington Post recently addressed one of the frequent traveler’s most burning dilemmas: how do you keep your frequent flier miles from expiring?

English: Express by Holiday Inn, Inverness The...

Holiday Inn Express, Inverness, Scotland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, it’s a good idea to keep track of your miles, especially if you’re using more than one loyalty program. The article suggests AwardWallet as a helpful tool. It not only keeps track of your miles, but also alerts you when something is about to expire.

HuffPo also notes that most programs simply require some form of activity every 18 to 24 months in order to keep your rewards on board. And in some cases, not much activity at all is required in order to count. You can often find partners that work with the airline or hotel and do something simple, such as ordering flowers, to keep your miles active.

Best of all, all the miles renew when you do this, not just certain miles as many people think.

Other options include using a hotel or airline website as a shopping portal for your online purchases.

You can even trade miles around using an online travel point exchange, such as points.com.

For instance, if you have 5,000 Holiday Inn Points and 20,000 Delta points, for around 10 percent of the points, you could transfer the Holiday Inn points to your Delta points account. This is very helpful if you have no upcoming plans to stay at a Holiday Inn.

It works almost like a co-op or a bank. The companies themselves aren’t working on these exchanges but simply allowing people to trade points via the points.com website. It’s a really handy way to keep at least some of your travel points alive.

What are you doing to keep your travel points from expiring? Share some of your best tips with us in the comments or on our Facebook page.

Marriott Tests In-Room Netflix Service

April 16, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’re staying in a Marriott hotel and find you miss your Netflix, Hulu, and Pandora, and don’t want to chew up the data on your cell phone, you’re in luck. Marriott is planning a new in-room entertainment service that includes access to the three entertainment streaming services.

A Yahoo Travel article reported that Marriott is working with a number of different content providers to get their different hotel chains up and running with the latest in on-demand programming.

English: Copenhagen Marriott Hotel Dansk: Cope...

Copenhagen Marriott Hotel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We think this is a smart move on Marriott’s part, because it not only helps the people who already have the service, but it could be a lower-cost alternative to the in-room movies or trying to catch up with the shows you may have missed.

Its usefulness will boil down to how much it costs. Hotels already charge a lot of money just to watch movies, so if this service will cost an arm and a leg, it may not be worth it to many travelers.

On the other hand, sometimes when people are bored and trapped in a hotel room, they’ll pay for anything. What else can explain the continued existence of the minibar?

And if Marriott can come up with an affordable way to do this, especially for people who already have accounts, or make it affordable for people who want to take the services for a test drive, it seems like a great idea.

It also seems like allowing people to view Netflix on the hotel TV instead of wifi would be a great way to free up some wifi bandwidth, which tends to get bogged down, as people watch Netflix on their laptops and tablets.

However, Marriott seems to also be exploring the option of allowing guests to upgrade to a paid “premium” Internet connection.

Since guests with Netflix and similar accounts can already access those services through wifi, they could get a guaranteed high-speed service. Or Marriott could throttle video streaming through their regular wifi, which would force viewers to shell out for the extra bandwidth.

Access to movies and music that doesn’t have to endure a long load time can perhaps be considered worth paying for, especially if your kids need it to settle down after a long day on the road.

What do you think? Would you pay extra for Netflix in your hotel room? Leave us a comment and let us know.

Bring This, Not That: Should You Take a Taxi, Hire a Car, or Drive to the Airport?

April 9, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

When you’re going to the airport, what’s the most cost effective way of getting there and getting home again? Should you hire a cab or an Uber driver, or even a black town car? Or should you park your car in long-term parking?

In some cases, this really is a “six of one, half dozen of the other” scenario. So how do you figure out which is the better choice?

English: A checker taxi cab. Deutsch: Ein Chec...

A checker taxi cab. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I always prefer to hire a car to take me to the airport if we’re going on vacation. I’m already going to have to pay for parking if we drive our own car, which can really add up if it’s an extended stay. Out of pocket, the car service will be more than parking, but the convenience can outweigh a lot of things.

For one thing, I prefer a car service because being dropped off curb side saves on a lot of stress, especially if the whole family is going. So it’s always important to look for a car service that is decently priced, because prices can vary quite a bit.

Other considerations are the distance to the airport. How far away are you and what is the cost to get there by yourself in your car versus hiring a car or taxi? If you’re close to an airport, it’s a lot more economical to take a cab.

The airport pricing for parking varies. Finding a spot can be difficult if you’re at a busy airport, so you may need to valet park the car, which costs even more.

You can also consider park-and-flies, which are offsite parking services. You pay less, and a shuttle transports you to your terminal. They come by every half an hour, so you can stand on the curb at the airport (and the parking lot) and wait for them to make their return trip. This option is generally a lot less expensive than airport parking

Another option in larger cities is public transportation. In Florida, look for the Tri-Rail, which can get you from West Palm to Ft. Lauderdale airport to the Miami airport with great ease. You have to buy a ticket both ways but it’s a great option for extended stays and could be cheaper than a car service or a taxi.

It is more time consuming because it has more stops, however, so there’s the whole money-versus-time conundrum to figure out. But in terms of total dollars, the only thing cheaper is a friend who’s willing to help you out.

So how do you usually get to the airport? What’s your standard mode of transportation? Do you park and ride, take a cab, or even public transportation? Leave a comment and let us hear from you.

Turkish Airlines to Improve Passenger Experience Even More

March 24, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A new airport is being built in Istanbul, Turkey over the next five years, with Turkish Airlines slated to be the “flagship tenant.” In this new space, Turkish Airlines plans to use cutting edge technology and personal hospitality to create a better passenger experience for their customers.

Turkish Airlines already takes great pride in offering comfortable spaces for travelers to relax in, so this should be interesting for those people who like to travel in comfort. The airline focuses on showing passengers a great degree of civility and hospitality, especially in their pay-to-enter lounges.

In the paying lounges, they’ve rolled out push notifications alerting passengers to gate changes, flight changes, and even nearby sales. This is already being tried out in airports in Istanbul and has apparently been a hit because Turkish Airlines announced last spring that they intend to make this a permanent feature.

Another great program that Turkish Airlines is rolling out is free tours of Istanbul to travelers on a layover of six hours or more. That way, travelers don’t have to waste a huge chunk of their time sitting around the airport, but can also feel more secure that they’ll get back to the airport on time since the tours are sponsored by an airline.

These types of pampering are about improving the travelers’ experiences and making things a little more convenient, even as travel seems to be more hectic and uncomfortable in this day and age.

Perks like this may eventually make their way to the U.S. If you’re in any major city in America, say New York or Miami, wouldn’t you be interested in a brief tour of that city during a long layover? We’re also interested in seeing push notifications for travelers, as well as a few other creature comforts at our airports.

We’ll look forward to seeing some of these improvements arrive here in the U.S. too.

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