5 Tourist Scams to Avoid: Pickpocketing Edition

October 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’ve ever traveled, especially overseas, you may have run into a variety of scams and cons. In our last post, we talked about different, mostly harmless, scams you may encounter on a trip. This time, thanks to a Lifehack.org infographic on common travel scams, we’re going to discuss some of the scams that involved pickpocketing.

1. Train Pickpockets

This is one of the most commonly known pickpocketing methods. Trains are often cramped and crowded. Locals will take advantage of tourists traveling with their duffels or backpacks, and rummage through them without your knowledge, or even the ability to get away from them.

2. The Punctured Tire

sketch "pickpocket" with George Appo...

Sketch “pickpocket” with George Appo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rental cars are usually obviously rentals. Locals will search for them and inconspicuously puncture the tire. They will then come over offering to help. While you are busy with the flat, their accomplice will go through your trunk taking valuables.

3. The Fake Policeman

A policeman (supposedly) approaches you explaining an issue with fake money circulating around. He will demand to inspect your wallet. Once returned, you will notice it quite a bit lighter. You’ve been scammed.

4. The Overly Helpful Local

Cash machines and ATMs can be confusing in a different country. We suggest you just try to figure it out on your own. If a local comes over offering to help while it may seem nice, they are probably memorizing your pin number for when they swipe your wallet later. Better yet, just use a credit card whenever possible, and get the most favorable exchange rate in the first place.

5. The Charity Petition

This scam involves a group of children who often have a disability such as being deaf. They will ask you to sign a petition to help them out. While shoving paper and clipboard in your face, they will touch and grab at you. If this happens to you, you’ve probably been pickpocketed.

Your best line of defense is to keep your money in a special traveler’s belt wallet, something that loops on your belt, but hangs inside your pants. Keep a small amount of money in your front pocket, and then pull more money out of your pouch in the restroom.

Have you ever been pickpocketed, or nearly so? What did you do? How did they do it? Leave a comment, or tell us on our Facebook page.

5 Tourist Scams to Avoid: Payment for Service Edition

October 14, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

People all around the world have come up with some clever ways to con tourists. Tourists are often a target due to having little knowledge of an area, the culture, and the currency. Because of this locals have created interesting ways to make you pay for something you did not want or even take.

We recently found a great infographic on Lifehack.com that showed several different tourist scams and how to avoid them. We wanted to share them with you here, over the next few days.

1. Friendship Bracelet

The friendship bracelet scam is when someone will come up to you and offer a friendship bracelet. They will try to put one on your wrist as if you’re their new best friend, and want you to share in their feelings of warmth. If they succeed, they will demand payment even if you had refused in the first place, and make a scene if you refuse.

2. The Shoe Shiner

Shoe shine

Shoe shine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Someone will drop their shoe shining brush in front of you and begin to shine your shoe. Afterward, they’ll demand payment for the big favor they did for you. This happened to me in Chicago during a visit — a shoe shiner started cleaning my shoe and then demanded I pay him. I gave him a dollar so there wasn’t a hassle, and I left with one shoe shinier than the other.

3. Woman Selling Rosemary

Rosemary is supposedly a sign of friendship, so an offer of rosemary is like the friendship bracelet scam we mentioned earlier. If a woman offers you rosemary, be aware that she might try to read your fortune. After that, she’ll expect to be paid for her services, and will loudly express her displeasure if you refuse.

4. A Rose for your Girlfriend

If someone were to sell you a rose in front of your girlfriend and you said no, you might have a very upset girlfriend later. Rose sellers are counting on this. The problem is that these roses are extremely overpriced. Once you touch the rose, the’ll demand payment for their single rose. This scam is common at restaurants especially ones with outside seating.

5. A Free Massage

You are laying at the beach when a man or woman comes over offering to give you a massage. They may start to rub your arm to give you a “sample.” No matter how long they did it, they’ll expect to be paid.

In all of these examples, the scam is not that these things they do or don’t have value, it’s the scene that the scammer will make if you refuse payment. While you might be able to argue that the masseuse or the fortune teller didn’t do anything, it’s the scene they’ll cause that creates the problem. It will attract unwanted attention, and may even bring in the police or anger the crowd. It’s best to just say “no thank you” when approached and keep moving.

But if you get caught, hand the person a few dollars — from a small roll of bills you keep separate from your “main stash” — and move on quickly.

Have you ever seen any of these scams or fallen prey to them? How did they turn out? Let us hear from you in the comments section or on our Facebook page.

Five Myths About Flight Attendants

October 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

We all know flight attendants greet us as we board our plane and bring us some snacks and drinks, but that’s only a small part of their job, and definitely not the most important part. A lot of people have misconceptions about flight attendants.

According to a July 2014 USA Today article, some of these include:

  1. Layovers are one big party.
  2. You should tip flight attendants for good service.
  3. Flight attendants are in it for the free travel.
  4. Flight attendants are basically waitresses/waiters in the sky.

USA Today interviewed several flight attendants to debunk these myths and educate the public.

English: A female flight attendant of Air Dolo...

English: A female flight attendant of Air Dolomiti (Italy) on board an Embraer 195 performing a Pre-flight safety demonstration. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For example, they said layovers are not parties, especially since they usually only last 8 – 10 hours. In fact most flight attendants do quite the opposite. Sara Keagle, flight attendant and The Flying Pinto blogger, calls these people slam clickers. Slam clicking, a popular term among flight attendants, refers to when a flight attendant gets to his or her hotel, ‘slams’ the door, and ‘clicks’ it locked.

Think twice about tipping. Most airlines have policies against accepting tips. Though the gesture is courteous and appreciated, most flight attendants will not and cannot accept it. Interesting fact: most tips are offered on flights to and from Las Vegas. Kari Walsh, flight attendant of 22 years, says she would rather receive praise via social media.

Free travel can definitely be a job perk, but it’s not as easy as you might think. Planes are often packed and sometimes even overbooked, especially around the holidays, so finding room for a flight attendant and family is difficult.

They’re also not there to help people lift their luggage into the overhead bins. While they want to be as helpful as possible, if they’re injured lifting your bag they are not covered by the airlines.

Flight attendants are there to attend to passengers’ needs, but they’re not there to serve passengers. Yes, they bring us our snack or meal, but that’s not the first item on their job description. Their primary role is to keep passengers safe, update us on any delays, turbulence and to actually assist if there is an emergency.

You Can Get Kicked Off a Plane If It’s Too Heavy

September 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Philippine Airlines Airplane

Philippine Airlines Airplane (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are some surprising (and not so surprising) reasons to get kicked off a plane. There are the obvious ones, like overbooking, and even some extreme cases like bad hygiene, refusal to obey policies, dressing too immodestly, or obnoxious behavior.

We just found one that we rarely hear about, but is crucial to the safety of the flight: the weight and balance on a plane.

This doesn’t mean an airline will kick you off because you weigh too much. It means an airplane can only carry so much weight, like an elevator’s maximum weight limit. The ground crew will do what they can by moving luggage around for better balance, but it can still happen.

If you’re asked to leave a plane because of balance or weight issues, make sure you know what compensation you’re entitled to. Conde Nast Traveler recently outlined the various policies when it comes to compensation. The compensation depends on how close to take off you are notified, and how many passengers the plane can hold. It’s usually in the form of a voucher or credit for your next flight, plus a new ticket for that flight.

If you’re entitled to compensation, you can also ask for a check instead of a voucher. Airlines would rather offer the voucher than actual cash, but they are required to do it.

We recently had a representative from the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) visit us in Boca Raton. He explained how weight is a big issue for planes, but said the bigger issue is the overhead storage bins.

Most people nowadays try to travel solely with carry-ons to avoid paying the additional cost of checking baggage. However, these bins were not made to hold the weight people put in them. There have been cases where overhead bins have actually fallen down due to excessive weight.

Airplane weight can be a serious issue and is something the airlines watch strictly. If you’re ever removed from a plane because of a weight issue, don’t take it personally. Smile, thank them for their concern, and then ask if they can slip you a meal voucher with your regular voucher too.

Three Airlines That Will Still Fly You On a Competitive Airline

September 23, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

United Airlines Boeing 767-300 at Zürich Airpo...

United Airlines Boeing 767-300 at Zürich Airport (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s lost to the annals of history, but up until 1978, there was a code that said if an airplane was delayed, the airline had to book you on a competitor’s flight. Unfortunately this code, Code 240, was dismissed in 1978 when the Civil Aeronautics Board was eliminated. However, three airlines still uphold this level of courtesy.

According to a recent USA Today article, Alaska Airlines, Frontier Airlines, and United Airlines will still fly you on a competitor, in the spirit of Code 240.

Granted they do have some stipulations, such as if the delay was weather-related or an act of God, then they won’t. But that’s still better than nothing. Even in the 1990s, many airlines would honor the Code. But after September 11th, security became stricter, and fewer airlines honored it.

If you’re ever caught in a flight delay, you can still ask for Code 240 to see if the airline will grant it. After all, the worst they can do is say no. However, there is an alternative.

Some airlines have ongoing working relationships called a codeshare, where they work together and will sell tickets on each other’s behalf, and even fly their passengers. For example, the SkyTeam codeshare has 20 airlines, including Delta, Alitalia, and Air France. Star Alliance networks 27 airlines including United, Lufthansa, and Air Canada.

So if you booked a Delta flight to Rome, and have a Delta ticket, you may end up on an Alitalia flight because of the codeshare. If you want to fly Lufthansa to Germany, you may be on a United flight, and so on. This codeshare, in a way, works like Code 240. If your Delta flight to Paris is delayed, you may be able to get a codeshare seat on an Air France flight a couple hours later.

You can also use these alliances to get cheaper tickets. If you want to fly overseas, check the different ticket prices on each airline’s website. You may be able to get a cheaper ticket on one than the other, even though you’d be on the exact same plane.

Furthermore, if you’re a member of a frequent flyer program with one airline, but you fly with a codeshare airline, you’ll still get your miles.

If you ever find yourself stranded because of a delay, ask the airline about their codeshare alliances and see if any of them are available to get you to your destination faster. At the worst, you’re going to be late anyway. But if you’re lucky, you can get there sooner than everyone else waiting for the next regular flight, and you can do it without any extra fees.

Airline Industry Putting $Millions Into New Terminals

September 18, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

An airline terminal can be a relaxing place to sit for a moment, after rushing and scrambling with last minute packing. Or it can be stressful with the chaos of other travelers anxious to get home. Airlines are hoping it will be the former, making it a place where more people are willing to spend time, relax, shop, and eat. Many airports are pouring in millions, if not billions, of dollars into renovation projects.

SFO Open House - Thom WatsonWe’ve talked about some of the ways airports are trying to enhance travelers’ experience such as the efficiency of baggage screening and the use of wearable technology. Airports are also revamping the themselves, according to a recent USA Today article.

Examples of the grandiose projects

  • San Francisco International Airport completed a $138 million project that features free wifi and even a yoga room.
  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport’s renovation features kiosks that print boarding passes and luggage tags.
  • The Los Angeles International Airport remade the Tom Bradley International Terminal to let in a lot of natural light through massive windows. It also has an aluminum roof resembling ocean waves.

Enjoyment and productivity for flier

These renovations will enhance both the enjoyment and productivity for the fliers in these areas. Not only is there free wifi for everyone, but there are even work stations and additional power outlets to get work done while you’re waiting. (If your airport doesn’t have additional outlets, here are a few backup battery options.)

Airports are also putting more of their region’s personality into their terminals, adding architectural flair, since it’s the last or first place a flier will see of their city. And they’re adding more and more dining options, including several local restaurants for more of that local “flavor.”

Of course, some people may not appreciate the renovations, because it either means fewer flights during renovation, or more likely, you have to navigate all the construction chaos to get to your gate. Renovations also cost a lot of money, which may mean an increase in ticket prices. And finally, some fliers just don’t want all the extra gadgets or bonuses, so they may not see what all the fuss is about.

But for those of us who travel a lot and sometimes feel like the airport is our second home, these improvements are much needed, much welcomed, and much appreciated. They may be inconvenient at times, but they’re being done to make your flying experience more convenient and stress free.

Photo credit: Thom Watson (Flickr, Creative Commons)

How to Get Results When Travel Goes Wrong

September 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Things are going to go wrong when you travel. Maybe not this time, but soon. Something will happen, and you — understandably — won’t be happy. It could be lost luggage or bad weather causing major flight delays. An article from Peter Greenberg this past spring discusses how to get results when something goes wrong during a trip. Getting positive results boils down to having manners and being polite toward other passengers and the airline staff.

There are five things we should or should not do when dealing with travel problems.

1. Don’t call customer service

Check-In Counter at London HeathrowCustomer service is there to deal with complaints, but they may not have the power to say “yes.” They can easily say “no,” however. Peter suggests going to someone who has the ability to say yes, so avoid calling the customer service line. Also, if you’re having problems with your current flight, skip the desk at your gate. Go to an empty gate for your airline and ask them for help. They’re plugged into the same system as your own gate.

2. Do address the problem right when it happens

Waiting until you get home or arrive at your destination will put extra distance between yourself, the problem, and those who can help fix it. It may mean staying in the airport, or hanging around the hotel a little longer. Keep your travel time a little padded for emergencies anyway.

3. Keep all documents, names, and receipts

If you’ve ever tried to return a purchased item without a receipt, you know how tough that can be. Without proof, they won’t budge. Keeping all information related to the incident will allow for those trying to help you to do so in a more efficient manner. If you have this information readily available, they’re more able (and likely) to help you.

4. Use your credit card

This is important enough that it’s worth doing every day. Not only do you get travel points (if you have one of those kinds of cards), but thanks to the Fair Credit Billing Act, you can also dispute an unknown or unwanted charge to that card. For example, if you did not order room service in your hotel, you can dispute it, as long as you paid for the room with your credit card.

5. Have an alternative to suggest

One suggestion we came up with after reading Greenberg’s article is to have an alternative when addressing a problem. For example, if a flight is delayed due to bad weather, ask the gate agent if an alternate route is available, and suggest a few possibilities yourself. That will make their job easier, because they will not have to spend extra time researching alternatives.

While you’re not going to have major problems on every trip you take, it helps to be prepared, and to be polite and have a positive attitude when dealing with others. You’ll get more done, and you’re more likely to get the desired outcome.

Photo credit: Travel Collector (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Virgin Atlantic Launches Wearable Tech Trial at Heathrow

September 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Wearable technology — fitness bands, health monitoring devices, Google Glass, and even garments that light up when your phone rings — is beginning to appear in business settings like airports. Instead of wearable technology being solely used as a consumer device, staffers are in the early testing stages of using it to help them do their jobs better. Airports have talked about using wearable technology in the past, but it finally took off (pardon the pun) when the airline, Virgin Atlantic, tested out Google Glass and the Sony Smartwatch at London-Heathrow Airport in the Upper Class Wing.

Virgin Airline's MollyThe technology was used to create a more customized customer service for passengers. Google Glass was used to identify passengers through facial recognition, while Sony Smartwatches were used to increase efficiency of passing along information instead of referring to paperwork.

Virgin Atlantic’s findings were presented at FTE Europe 2014. Although the trial lasted only six weeks, preliminary results were positive. The goal was to simplify the airport experience and reduce the amount of paperwork for the staff and passengers.

The only problem they discovered involved the reliability of connectivity, which they decided could be resolved by increasing wifi signals and using Bluetooth (something most travelers would love to see as well).

Right now, using wearable technology in airports is only in the testing phase, but as more airlines like Virgin Atlantic take the plunge and embrace the future, we may see wearable technology in the airport world quickly, and hopefully seamlessly.

 

Photo credit: Peter Russell (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Hotels Adapt Business Centers for Today’s Traveler

September 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

As broadband gets faster, wifi is found in more places, and smartphones can do everything but walk your dog. We’re seeing the world being disrupted, thanks to all this new technology. One place we’re seeing it is in hotel business centers.

While it was an important hub of activity 15 years ago, it’s now that lonely, empty room sitting next to your hotel lobby. There are a few desks with computers and printers. They used to be quite popular, before tablets, laptops, and smartphones sent everyone to their rooms for the night.

Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites - Paso Robles Business Center

Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites – Paso Robles Business Center

Hotels are realizing a change is in order for the business center. USA Today’s Nancy Trejos wrote an article about different hotels are approaching the business center. Some are getting rid of theirs completely while others like having the space available if a guest needs something. Others are making hotel rooms more “business center-like” with desks, USB outlets, and reachable plugs. Hotel rooms are becoming a workplace, not just a place to sleep, and the hotels are having to adjust their business centers.

As long as a hotel accommodates the needs of their business oriented guests, they’re going to earn more business versus another hotel because they recognize the needs of their target customers. When I visit a new hotel, especially on business, I quickly check the business center and my room. Is the room going to be a help or a hindrance? Will I enjoy working there, or will it be uncomfortable?

I sometimes go to the business center so I can get out of the room and into a place where I can work better. Personally, I’d like it more if a business center was like a coffee shop with a friendly, social atmosphere. I think more people would use it because it’s more of what they are used to.

As hotels look to change their business centers, they need to focus on what their guests are trying to do. If they need access to a printer and fax machine, they may already have that capability, but no longer through a business center. If travelers want a light and enjoyable place to work, the business center should have several small tables and chairs so it can be more of a social setting.

Regardless of what’s happening, business centers are changing as a direct result of new technology that makes traditional business centers obsolete. What are some features you would like to see in your favorite business center? What could you do without? Leave a comment below and share some of your ideas with us.

Photo credit: Holiday Inn Express – Paso Robles, CA (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Seth Godin on Stress-Free Travel for People Who Stress Easily

August 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Some people love to travel and find it very relaxing. It’s another adventure they can’t wait to take. Other people get very stressed, and they’re less interested in the journey than the destination. What if I forget something? Which gate has my flight? Did it change? Where do I get my ticket? What about security?

On of our favorite marketing authors, Seth Godin, came up with a witty list of anecdotes called “Self Assurance Checklist for the Anxious Traveler.”

Author Seth Godin at PDF 2007

Author Seth Godin at PDF 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We wondered if some of his points may be a little far-fetched — ship your favorite pillow to your destination ahead of time — but we all know people for whom this would be a very reassuring and important detail. They want to be sure of a good night’s sleep, and they don’t want a crick in their neck from sleeping on an under-stuffed and overused hotel pillow.

Godin makes points about planning, parking, and packing. Research the area around the takeoff airport, the landing airport, and the hotel in case you forgot to pack something or need to kill time. He also recommends taking a photo of where you parked and emailing it to a friend, in case you forget where you left your car.

The last suggestion may seem to be a bit much since you could just as easily look at the photo once you return to the parking lot, but it doesn’t hurt for that extra step of preparation in case you lost your phone or it died.

When it comes to packing, lay out the clothes you want to take a few days before the flight, and see if they’ll all fit into your luggage. If it doesn’t, eliminate what you can until it does. This way you know everything fits and that it’s all packed and ready to go.

Traveling does not have to be stressful, even for the most anxious of travelers. If you know you’re going to be nervous about your trip, and want to make sure you have all the bases covered, read Seth Godin’s list a few times, and take flight.

Share any tips that you use to reduce stress when traveling.

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