Churning Credit Cards for Points and Miles Can Hurt You

September 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

You get the credit card offers in the mail all the time. “Earn 100,000 miles if you spend $3,000 in the first three months.” Sounds easy enough. If you worked at it, you could spend three grand and then take a couple flights for vacation.

But if you’ve ever been tempted to sign up with the intention of spending the minimum, getting your miles, and then cancelling the card, you might want to reconsider. More and more airlines and credit card companies are cracking down on consumers who attempt to work the system, cancel the cards, and sign up again 18 to 24 months later.

The practice is called churning, and it can actually work against you.

Last year, USA Today travel columnist George Hobica warned of the dangers of churning credit cards as a way to game the airline’s system.

A messy stack of credit cards - Churning credit cards can damage your creditFor one thing, your credit score will take a hit. It may not seem like a big deal, but be aware that repeatedly applying for credit cards makes you appear to be a higher risk than those who apply less often. And if your score takes a hit of a few points and you own a home, your mortgage lender or credit card lender might increase your rate. Then those “free” flights aren’t so “free.”

And let’s be frank: do you really spend $3,000 in necessary purchases in a three month period? While credit card companies dangle the carrot of frequent flyer miles, they’re hoping you’ll be unable to pay off the balance and be hit with their exorbitant interest rates. They’re also hoping you don’t read the fine print to realize that there’s a relatively steep annual fee you’ll be paying, should you decide to keep this card in your portfolio of plastic.

Some of these dual credit card issuers are also putting a limit on the offer, like one time per customer. The American Express Delta Skymiles Card awards bonus miles once and once only. The Capital One Venture Card allows you to use the miles you earn on any airline, but you can only open an account and get 40,000 miles once.

If you still want to play the game, here’s one last warning: if you open too many credit cards, the next time you really find one you think has a great deal, you might end up being rejected. George Hobica said that, despite an excellent FICO score, he was turned down for a particularly great deal because he had opened too many credit cards in the last two years.

Do you take advantage of the credit card offers? Have you tried churning credit cards to boost your mileage or points? Do you have any suggestions for your fellow travelers on best practices? Share your ideas in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Nick Youngson (BlueDiamondGallery.com, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Busting Five Budget Business Travel Myths

September 7, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Everyone works hard for their money, and nobody likes the idea of parting with any more of it than necessary. In fact, everybody likes a deal. But when it comes to budget business travel, some of the advice you may have received is nothing more than myth and urban legend. Here are several:

Myth: Unlock your phone for international travel. This is completely unnecessary, unless you are going to be in an area of the world where you will need to be able to make calls whenever you want and you know you won’t have access to any reliable wifi. If you know you’ll have access to wifi, checking in is simply a matter of scheduling a time and finding free or paid wifi. There are other ways to communicate than just voice-to-voice. Apps like WhatsApp, Viber, and Skype make it easy to communicate offline via text or even make Internet-phone calls while abroad.

A rented Nissan Micra in Donegal, Ireland. Beware the business travel myths about rental cars!

A rented Nissan Micra in Donegal, Ireland

Myth: Rental cars are inexpensive overseas. While this may be true, what most Americans don’t know is that the price of fuel everywhere but the US is much more expensive. This turns something that appears reasonable into something that is costly. Public transit is much more developed in foreign countries, so utilize the local buses and trams, and use rail passes for the majority of your around town travel. Ride sharing also exists in foreign cities, so familiarize yourself with those apps before you leave. If it’s necessary to rent a car, consider Transfercar, which connects travelers with cars that need to be relocated, or BlaBlaCar, which allows drivers with available passenger seats the opportunity to sell them to travelers needing a ride.

Myth: Exchange money before you leave the US. With the right credit card in your wallet, this is completely unnecessary. Many credit card companies offer cards with no transaction fees for foreign withdrawals. You will pay a small fee if you use an ATM, but it’s minimal compared to the service fee charged by a bank. One caveat: notify your bank or credit card company of your plans to travel outside the US so your funds won’t be frozen for suspected fraud.

Myth: Book your flights and hotels very early. While there is some truth to securing your accommodations well before your departure, the same rule of thumb does not apply for booking airfare. You only need to plan six to seven weeks in advance in order to get the best price. Watching fares for a few weeks before then will give you the best intel about the fare drop. In fact, travel experts advise it is unwise to book your flight more than two months out.

Myth: Grocery shop instead of eating out. This advice has been proliferated by people who haven’t lived in a big city. (Okay, it was us! We recommended it! But we stand by this advice in most cases). Groceries in major metropolitan areas — New York, London, Toronto, Paris — are known for having higher prices, and the stores are not always easy to get to, especially if you don’t know where to look. You have to take a taxi to get there, traffic is terrible, and if you drive your own car, parking can be an issue. If you’re in a smaller city, then you won’t have as much of a problem.

However, if you’ve done your homework and saved on the other parts of your trip, why would you miss out on experiencing local fare just to save a few bucks? How often do you get to this part of the world, or get this chance to experience this local culture? Be sure to visit some of the best restaurants in the area and try to experience what that city has to offer.

Don’t be deceived; international travel doesn’t have to break the bank. But don’t just take our word for it; investigate your options and make wise decisions, and you’ll find affordable, memorable travel is possible.

What are some budget business travel “myths” have you found and debunked yourself? Do you know any conventional business travel wisdom that we’ve all shared but it turned out to be untrue? Share your ideas in the comments below,on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Joseph Mischyshyn (Geograph.ie, Creative Commons 2.0)

Travel Hacks and Myths That Don’t Actually Work

September 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The number of travel hacks that have been touted across the Internet as “the way” to get the “best” deal have many chasing the potential for something that isn’t out there.

For example, none of these well-publicized travel hacks for getting a cheaper flight — clear your cache to avoid high airfares, don’t use a Mac, buy 42 days in advance, book after midnight on a Tuesday — actually work.

If you want to get a deal on an airfare, don’t book too early or too late. Booking one to four months out should result in a decent price. And the differences in between prices are not so vast anymore either. You might save $40 or $50 on a discount site, but you may be penalized by not being allowed to select your seats or being more likely to get bumped if a flight is overbooked.

Lobby of the Novotel Nathan Road Kowloon Hong Kong hotel - Travel hacks like tipping the front desk staff don't always work. And may be impolite in some cultures.

Lobby of the Novotel Nathan Road Kowloon Hong Kong hotel – Travel hacks like tipping the front desk staff don’t always work, and may be impolite in some cultures.

As for booking the best hotel rate, don’t believe the hack about calling the property directly unless you’re negotiating a group rate for a special event. That’s another situation entirely. If you’re thinking that you’ll be able to use your amazing negotiating skills if you can just speak with a human being, think again. Calling a property directly will most likely end up in a reroute to a reservation center. Just go to their website and make sure to enter your loyalty number. If you don’t have one, join their loyalty club and then stick with them for future travel. That will always get the best rates.

Finally, if you don’t join a loyalty club and every dollar counts, check a meta-search website instead, such as Google or Kayak.com, Booking.com, or Expedia. Cross-check your findings with those of the hotel’s website, though, so that you don’t miss a deal there.

“Tipping” the front desk personnel when checking is another travel hack that usually doesn’t work. Most often, the employee keeps the money, not understanding that you were attempting to hack the system and get an upgrade. This does have a better chance of working at fancy hotels in big cities, but even then, it doesn’t always help.

Rental cars used to be able to be procured for deeply discounted rates by making a reservation via travel sites like Travelocity, Hotwire, Orbitz, or Priceline. Not so anymore. The best deals today are through Costco, AAA, or the rental companies themselves, such as Hertz, Enterprise, National, Avis, and Budget.

If you need an inexpensive rental car, start with the rental companies’ websites, but check the other sites as well. The rental car companies truly have figured out that it’s better to offer great deals directly to their customers than to make them hunt them down on competitor’s sites.

Everyone wants to figure out a way to hack the system and travel cheaper or faster. While it may seem innocuous at the time, many potential hacks may involve lying, bribing, or cheating, and those behaviors only end up creating consequences for the traveling public—often resulting in higher fares and tighter restrictions. So be careful in the hacks that you use.

Your best bet is to join loyalty clubs at your favorite hotel, airline, and car rental agency and stick with them as much as possible. Also, get a credit card that rewards you loyalty points. Your membership in those clubs can get you some extra perks.

What are some travel hacks have you found that don’t actually work? Any painful lessons you learned in your business travel? Share your experiences with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Novotel Nathan Road Kowloon Hong Kong (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

Top Five Strategies for Business Travel Efficiency

August 15, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Business travel is hard — hard on the body, hard on the mind — but making a few intelligent choices can make all the difference in terms of efficiency. To paraphrase the old saying about charity, “Good health starts at home.” You can’t be your best if you don’t take care of yourself first. Here are five strategies to help you be the most efficient traveler possible.

Travelpro Crew Executive Choice 2 Business Backpack - ideal for business travel

This checkpoint friendly backpack can get you through airport security with a minimum of fuss.

1. Pack wisely. Choosing the best luggage to meet your needs is the first way to set yourself up for success and streamline your travel experience. Our Crew™ 11 20″ Business Plus Carry-on is not only lightweight and durable, it features a complete business organizer with RFID protection for easy accessibility to your essentials and protection from identity theft. The Crew™ Executive Choice™ 2 checkpoint-friendly backpack is designed to maximize functional efficiency while on the road. Its exterior USB port and dedicated Power Bank battery pocket ensure you always have access to power on the move (battery not included), and the built-in business organizer has unique storage amenities, including padded and quilted sleeves for both a standard size laptop and tablet. Ensure all your essentials get where you’re going to and maximize efficiency while you’re doing it with a single bag.

2. Speaking of getting where you’re going, consider different modes of transportation. There are different, sometimes hidden advantages and disadvantages to various forms of travel, such as productivity en route. Weigh flying versus driving versus train travel to see which one gives you the best combination of productivity, less time wasted, and value for the dollar.

3. Be equally selective about your accommodations. Yes, the hotel further away from the customer is less expensive, but if you have to pay an Uber driver the difference to get there and back, the savings is a wash. Take the time to shop your options after you’ve thought through your needs for the location.

4. Fly once, visit many. It’s inefficient to spend the time and money to travel to a city where you have multiple existing or potential clients and not make time to see all of them. Take advantage of your proximity to schedule face to face meetings. Even if it costs you an extra night or two in a hotel, the lodging is usually cheaper than additional airfare.

5. Finally, create a detailed agenda. Those who fail to plan plan to fail, and that’s not you! Planning an itinerary not only allows you to schedule yourself effectively, it helps you articulate your thoughts and prioritize your goals. And, it even helps you figure out what clothes you need to pack, which results in wiser packing.

How do you travel efficiently? Do you do anything special to get the most out of your trip and stretch your time and money? Share your ideas in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Four Ways to Bootstrap Your Travel Budget

August 8, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Video conferencing, data sharing, cloud computing, and mobile connectivity have been touted as the way to do business in the 21st century. Turns out, it’s hard to beat being in the room to conduct business. Face-to-face meetings facilitate better, clearer, and faster exchange of ideas. And don’t forget all the conferences and trade shows you have to attend.

According to Entrepreneur magazine, business travel is expected to grow by almost 6% each year over the next five years. How can startups and small businesses, which often operate on shoestring budgets, bootstrap their travel costs so their salespeople can close crucial deals?

Business travel is costly, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. Entrepreneur magazine’s article had some helpful ideas for bootstrapping your travel budget, and we came up with a couple of our own.

Get organized. Concur Technologies found that disorganization — failing to fully understand the true cost of travel — caused companies to waste nearly 20 percent more than large businesses in this category. Bottom line? Do a cost analysis of your frequent travel options in order to create a detailed, thorough, comprehensive travel policy that everyone must adhere to.

Business traveler walking through an airport. You can still fly even if you're trimming your travel budget.Spell out the details. The more your employees know about what will and won’t be covered when expenses are reported, the more informed decisions they’ll make when booking their trips. Create a list of preferred airlines, hotels, and rental car companies, and be explicit about how these costs are to be paid. Specify how expenses will be itemized and what receipts will be needed. Defining what will and won’t be covered stops the post-trip argument before it happens. Post your policy online so employees can look it up when they’re out of the office.

Don’t be stingy. While you’re bootstrapping, that doesn’t mean your staff needs to fly on cargo planes and eat beans from a can. Make travel enjoyable for the people who are spending days and weeks away from home. They don’t have to fly first class, but let them fly in Economy Plus, and let them keep their frequent flyer miles and hotel points. If they don’t like traveling, or they feel taken advantage of, you run the risk of them leaving, which means hiring and training new salespeople, which could eat up any savings you might have gotten otherwise.

Revise, revise, revise. Travel regulations change, prices change, and even the benefits from hotels and airlines change, not to mention your company’s own financial health. So update and amend your travel policies at least once a year. Make sure the airlines you choose still have a decent loyalty program. Double-check that your company credit card is still the best option for paying for travel. Ask for major input from the people who actually travel frequently for your company, rather than leaving it in the hands of people who rarely leave the office.

A startup or small business’s success may hinge on the ability to go to its customers, but neglecting to create and commit to a travel budget is planning to fail.

What kind of travel policies do you have at your company? How do you extend your travel budget? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: MauriceBMueller (Pixabay, Creative Commons)

TSA May Require Additional Screening for Additional Items at Airport

July 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

As if we weren’t already in the throes of the busiest season for traveling, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has announced that it might require more items to be removed from your carry-on luggage during screening. For the past 18 months, TSA has been testing how to make it easier for its officers to consistently view what’s in the bags they screen daily.

According to Wall Street Journal “Middle Seat” columnist Scott McCartney, the X-ray machine color codes the items inside the bag based on the density, and the more tightly packed the bag is, the harder it is for all its contents to be identified. That makes it difficult for screeners to identify the items within the bag.
TSA Bag Check
TSA officials have been considering having all electronics, food, and paper added to the list of items that must come out of every carry-on during screening. Why food? Certain items, such as chocolate, are dense and mimic the shape of explosives, often creating the necessity of a second look, just to be sure. Paper, including books and notepads, obscures other things, forcing the screener to tag a bag for a manual check that slows the line.

If you haven’t heard us sing its praises before, all these measures give us another reason to urge frequent travelers to invest in TSA’s Precheck. According to the TSA, the removal of these additional items would only apply in regular screening lines.

What should you do if you can’t afford Precheck and want to make sure your bag doesn’t get tagged for a manual search? Think through your packing strategy and be organized.

Store items that you already know need to be removed in the easy-to-access exterior pockets of your luggage. Consider electing to pull out that special chocolate bar you purchased at a gourmet shop as a souvenir so that it can be screened in plain sight in a separate bin with your jacket or shoes. Have a specific place you always store that favorite book or notepad you plan to use to help you pass the time onboard.

While these additional items haven’t been added to the official list, thoughtful packing before you arrive at the airport will help you develop a few habits that could save you some time and avoid unwanted hassle if the list is expanded.

How will these new rules, if they go through, affect you? Are you an electronics-only traveler, or do you carry a lot of paper and food as well? Let us hear from you in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Bradley Gordon (Flickr, Creative Commons)

How to Prioritize Working Out While on a Business Trip

July 4, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Traveling can suck the life out of you. While it may seem crazy to think about adding something else to your seemingly already-too-full schedule while you’re on a business trip, choosing to pound the pavement or hit the gym or find your zen really can help. Exercise can restore focus, alleviate stress, boost your endorphins, and improve your sleep. Motivated now? Okay, here are a few ways to incorporate working out into those days away from home.

Plan ahead. If you’re already in the habit of working out and want to maintain your routine, the solution is simple: adjust your schedule and make the time. It may mean getting up 30 minutes earlier and making space in your luggage for your running shoes, but putting it on the calendar will give you a better shot at actually following through than if you just think you’ll fit it in “at some point.”

People jogging in Frankfurt am Mein. Could be on a business trip, or they could just live there. We don't know.

Jogging is a great way to work out on a business trip. All you need are your running shoes and workout clothes.

If you aren’t a regular exerciser, there’s no time like the present to seize the opportunities that present themselves. Let’s start at the airport. Walking between security and your gate instead of taking the train will help you stretch your legs and increase your heart rate without sweating. Those moving sidewalks can be walked on too, but don’t look at your phone while doing so. Better yet, skip the moving sidewalk and count the extra steps. (Make sure you have a good step counter on your mobile phone to keep track.)

Once you arrive at your hotel, take the stairs to and from your room, and consider checking with the front desk for dining establishments within walking distance. You might even go one step further (pun intended) and choose the location of your hotel so that you can walk to your appointments.

If you belong to a gym at home, check its website to see if there’s a location in the city you’re visiting. You know those workout rooms you’ve seen signs for or walked past on your way somewhere in the hotel? Those places actually exist and would allow you to walk or run on a treadmill or pump your legs on a stationary bike.

Swimming is also great exercise, and a swimsuit and goggles don’t take up much room in your suitcase, and your workout is only limited by the pool’s hours of operation. Investigate options for joining a class at a local yoga studio or find a mobile website or app that will provide a stretching routine you can do on the floor in your hotel room. You can also take a travel-sized yoga mat, and some higher-end hotels even provide them for guests. Do this before bed to encourage your mind to let go and wind down for the day.

Working out requires intentionality and perseverance. To help you work toward the achievement of a health goal, think about signing up for a race or setting a few goals using a fitness tracker like Fitbit, Leaf, or Misfit Shine. As Nike has been urging for nearly 30 years now, just do it. Your trip will be healthier, feel more productive, and you won’t be upset you missed those days when you get back into your routine at home.

How do you prioritize working out on your business trip? Do you maintain your same discipline on the road that you do at home, or are those a few much-needed rest days? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Robert Strauss (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 2.0)

A Healthier Approach to Business Travel

June 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

While the stresses of business travel on the body and the mind have been well-documented, some of you may not be paying attention to some bad habits you’ve developed as a frequent traveler.

When we travel for business, we often look at the efficient use of our time as the benchmark to determine a trip’s success. But if you don’t factor in the extra time you spend preparing for those meetings, as well as the pressure you feel to make a great impression or close an important sale, you’re not putting yourself in the best situation to succeed.

What if, instead, you flew in a little earlier so you could give your body time to adjust to the time difference, or even experience a little down time? You might find that extra time refreshes you and reinvigorates your approach to the meeting at hand.

Hotel room in the Renaissance Columbus, OH

Be sure to get plenty of rest while you travel for business.

Prep time isn’t just completing a checklist to ensure you have everything you need before you leave. It’s psychological as well. If you don’t allow yourself the time necessary to prepare mentally — which includes getting sufficient rest — your preparation isn’t complete.

Further, when we travel, our eating discipline might also be challenged. There’s fast food whenever we need something quick, or large portions and rich foods at nicer restaurants. We’re often expected to wine and dine our clients and create an experience for them that communicates how much your employer values them.

If you go into that dinner without giving any thought to the effect the heavy food and alcohol intake will have on your body and your ability to sleep well, you’re also setting yourself up for a difficult morning after, when you’re under pressure to perform your best.

Stress, lack of adequate, restorative sleep, and poor eating all take their toll on business travelers. What if you decided to create a new game plan for your travel that would allow you to treat your body and mind well?

Consider factoring in more time to get from point A to point B, instead of creating a rushed pace. Be mindful of the prep time you need in order to function well. And do whatever you need to perform at your best. That may mean saying no to an unnecessary dinner out and working out at the hotel fitness center, or being careful about what you eat, knowing that sugar tends to stimulate the brain instead of calming it. If you have certain habits that calm your mind and center your soul at home, don’t neglect those practices while you’re traveling.

If you approach business travel with discipline and healthy habits to follow, you’ll be able to accomplish more and the recovery time afterward will decrease.

How do you travel for business? Do you maintain your same discipline on the road that you do at home, or is that a mini break and a special treat for yourself? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

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

New Warning about Luggage Tags

June 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

As if air travelers don’t have enough things to keep track of when navigating an airport terminal, a recent report now suggests you need to be aware of potential hackers trying to access your flight reservations and other private information from your seemingly innocuous luggage tag.

The six-digit identification number located on your boarding pass, as well as on the accompanying luggage tag of your checked bags, is all a hacker needs to access all kinds of personal information — your email address, your phone number, your address — as well as your flight itinerary and frequent flier account.

This has become such a target-rich code for hackers because the airlines’ global reservation systems are antiquated and vulnerable. Put in place in the 1960s, their software coding does not account for personal privacy laws that have been instituted since that time.
Don't share photos of your airline luggage tags on social media -- the bar code is readable and contains a lot of personal information.
Since the onus is on the traveler to be alert and protected, here are a few suggestions to stop would-be hackers:

  1. Don’t post your boarding pass on social media. Hackers know our tendency to unwittingly overshare, so all they have to do is Google “boarding pass images” to reap a harvest.
  2. Consider only using a virtual boarding pass that comes to your email and uses a scannable image to get you through TSA. If you aren’t carrying a physical record that can be misplaced, lost, or captured by a hacker with a cell phone who takes a picture of what you’re carrying in your hand for anyone to see, your personal data is safer.
  3. Create complex passwords for your data so that if someone gets your information, they don’t have easy access. There are numerous apps available that create random, unique, strong passwords that are difficult to hack. The days of using one password for everything are over.
  4. Take your boarding pass when you exit the plane. Don’t stash it in the seat pocket in front of you. Doing so leaves that valuable code accessible to anyone who happens to find it.

Travel safety involves more than using a money belt or backing up valuable data before you leave. It also means taking steps to avoid getting hacked, even on something as simple as a boarding pass.

What are some extra security steps you take to protect yourself? Do you have any special tricks or even gadgets that you like to use, such as an RFID-blocking wallet? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Tony Webster (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)

Would You Ride in a Driverless Uber?

February 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

When Uber began testing driverless cars in several cities (and battled with California over its right to do so without a permit) last year, select passengers who wanted to try the experience weren’t the only passengers in the car. That’s because Uber is conducting research and has operators in the vehicles as it tests them in real life scenarios.

As Uber engineers test the automation, several things are proving to be troublesome for the artificial intelligence to interpret. First and foremost, the unpredictability of human drivers makes it challenging for the AI to compensate. For example, crossing over into the left lane to make a right-hand turn is a scenario that does not compute for the software.

Self-driving Uber prototype being tested in San Francisco

Self-driving Uber prototype being tested in San Francisco

Another quandary is bridges, so the company chose Pittsburgh specifically because of its many bridges, as a way to iron those bugs out. Bridges are difficult for driverless cars to handle, said Uber’s engineering director Raffi Krikorian, because they lack environmental cues that streets have, namely buildings. According to Business Insider, Krikorian said Pittsburgh was the “double black diamond of driving” and he believes conducting research in that city will help the research advance quickly.

Weather is also proving a challenge because snow, for example, obscures lane markings, making navigation tricky. Uber is also finding other challenges from nature during its tests, such as trees. The cars rely on high-definition maps with landmarks to navigate. In Pittsburgh, the images on those maps were taken in the winter when there were no leaves on the trees, so the car can’t determine what the new objects on its route are.
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