Price of US Passports Rose at the Start of the Month

April 5, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

As of April 2, the price you’ll pay to obtain a United States passport increased from $135 to $145, and passports for children 16 years of age and younger rose to $115 instead of $105.

According to the U.S. State Department, the price increase stemmed from a study done by the U.S. Department of Consular Affairs that determined that the $25 execution fee the U.S. Postal Service was charging was insufficient, and they weren’t making enough money. Thus the $10 increase.

The application fee for an adult passport book is $115 ($105 for children 16 or younger) remains unchanged. Those who apply for passport renewal also will not see an increase in their prices. Renewal fees are not determined by age and cost $110 per passport book.

Photo of a US passport on a map of the United States. Which is weird, since you don't need a passport to travel within the US.According to the Department of Consular Affairs, residents qualify for passport renewal if their original passport is undamaged when submitted, was issued when they were 16 years or older, was issued in the past 15 years, and was issued in your current name. (Name changes must be submitted by mail with an original or certified copy of a marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court order.)

For those looking for a less costly alternative and do not plan to fly internationally, a passport card can be obtained for $55 for residents over 16 and for $40 for residents under 16, with renewals only costing $30.

This card may only be used for land crossings and sea ports of entry, and is only accepted in lieu of a passport book for border crossings in Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. In other words, you can’t fly into those countries with the passport card, you must have the full passport.

But the passport card may be a viable option for anyone on closed-loop cruises which starts and ends in the United States. That’s enough to let you get off the boat on a Caribbean cruise and get back into the country.

The passport card is also Real I.D. compliant and can be used for domestic travel. This is important, since some U.S. states still do not have Real I.D. compliant driver’s licenses and state ID cards, which means people in those states are not allowed to board an airplane.

How do you manage your business travel during peak travel seasons, especially to those vacation hotspots? Any tips to share or horror stories to learn from? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Cytis (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0/Public Domain)

Considerations for Business Travel During Spring Break

April 3, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

You may not be aware of it, but we’re right in the middle of Spring Break. Elementary, middle, and high school students as well as collegians all have weeks off that begin as early as the first or second week of March and ending sometime in April. That means business travel is going to be expensive and hectic for the next few weeks.

With the uptick in family and student travel to popular destinations such as Florida, California, Colorado, and the Caribbean, creating and booking last minute itineraries means you’ll pay premium prices for flights and hotel accommodations during this time. And you may have trouble finding seats and beds, so here are a few ways to still get to where you’re going and to have a place to stay once you get there.

If you encounter problems booking flights, consider regional options, which may be less busy and offer more flexibility for your schedule and allow you to avoid the Spring Break crowds. Consider rescheduling trips to hot spots such as Orlando until after this season concludes. Or, fly into smaller regional airports nearby, and drive into the busier city.

With hotels typically maxxed out, look into Airbnb for other reliable accommodations. Don’t be surprised to encounter less availability than normal though, as this type of lodging is becoming an increasingly popular option for families and groups of students, as well as for business travel.

Weather in the northern parts of the country is still very unpredictable. In fact, as I wrote this, my home state of Pennsylvania was getting ready to be hit by another severe winter storm.

That means snow and severe weather remain a possibility even in late March and early April. If your travel takes you to Chicago, Minneapolis, Detroit, or other points north, keep this in mind as you prepare your itinerary and try to arrive at your destination the day before an important meeting so you don’t get surprised by inclement weather.

While traveling to warmer climes may seem easy to pack for, be sure to pack a couple outer layers — a fleece, windbreaker, or light sweater — so you can adjust your wardrobe between daytime and evening temperatures. Even if it’s supposed to be nice and warm during the day, early mornings and evenings after sunset will still need a jacket.

Finally, allow extra transit time when navigating Spring Break hotspots. Roads, shuttles, and ride sharing services will be experiencing higher volumes than usual, so add an extra 30 – 60 minutes in order to arrive at the airport unfrazzled. Apps like Waze will help you understand traffic patterns and make you aware of delays in an unfamiliar city.

Consider this a warm-up for your summer business travel, when infrequent travelers will again flood terminals, hotels, and restaurants. Make your plans accordingly and just try to avoid arriving at popular destinations on a Friday.

How do you manage your business travel during peak travel seasons, especially to those vacation hotspots? Any tips to share or horror stories to learn from? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: TSReptilien (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

The Benefits of Train Travel for Business

March 27, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Ever been frustrated by your desire to follow up on some great brainstorming that happened at a business meeting, but you couldn’t take advantage of that spurt of productivity because you were behind the wheel on your way to your next appointment?

If driving several hours between cities has put a big damper on your productivity, you should consider the possibility of taking the train. Whether it’s a commuter or medium- or long-distance intercity service like Amtrak, taking the train to get from here to there may allow you to make great use of the time spent getting to your destination.

Train travel can be an effective mode of business travel. It takes as long as a car trip, but you can get plenty of work done, or just have a good nap, while you're moving.Many business travelers may not be aware that Amtrak offers routes (called “lines” from their hometowns to regional destinations, such as the Hoosier State (Indianapolis to Chicago), Hiawatha Service (Chicago to Milwaukee); Amtrak Cascades (Portland to Seattle to Vancouver, BC); Acela Express (Boston to Washington DC); and The Maple Leaf (New York City to Toronto, via Albany) just to name a few. And they even have business class seating on most trains.

Plus, depending on where you travel, parking in some major cities like New York and Chicago can be extremely expensive and hard to find. Taking a train and catching an Uber or Lyft can help you avoid those headaches.

Here are a few things to consider for train travel for business:

  • Purchasing tickets online is often the best way to take advantage of deals. You can also decrease your costs by purchasing a rail pass if you know you’re going to make several trips via train in a given timeframe.
  • Amtrak offers a mobile app that streamlines your booking and boarding process. You can purchase your ticket through the app and display it during check-in as you would an airline ticket.
  • Amtrak has a loyalty program and accruing points can help you offset the purchase of your ticket just like you do when you book with an airline.
  • If you want to use the train for a multi-city tour with a day or two between cities, you need to purchase individual tickets for each leg of the trip.
  • Wifi and dedicated quiet cars give you the opportunity to make the most of the time spent en route writing that proposal, setting up appointments, or participating in a conference call. To ensure access to these amenities, be sure to book your ticket in business class.
  • Some train stations have business class lounges that allow you to work in a quiet, internet-equipped space as you wait for your train. This area creates a far more conducive atmosphere for conducting business than the crowded waiting area at a gate before a flight.
  • Train travel can have its delays, so be sure to adjust your arrival and departure times to ensure you don’t miss an important meeting due to unforeseen changes in the route’s timetable.
  • If you’d like to burn the midnight oil while you’re riding the rails, you can book a private bedroom and work as late as you need to before retiring. You’ll arrive refreshed at your destination.

Have you ever tried train travel for business? Did it make a difference in your commuter headaches? Share your stories in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: PXHere.com (Creative Commons 0, Public Domain)

Business Travel Habits by Generation

February 20, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

When we think about business travel habits, we generally believe that the aspects of it don’t vary much from person to person. Hop in the car or on a plane, go to your destination, do your thing, and go home. This is how travel works in the most basic sense, and for decades, this is how the business travel industry has worked — on a one-size-fits-all basis.

But when Carlson Wagonlit Travel surveyed Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials with regard to their business travel habits and preferences, some very interesting distinctions emerged.

Solo vs Group Travel. It seems that Millennials prefer traveling in groups, more than Baby Boomers: nearly six out of 10 Millennials prefer to travel with someone else, while as many as 70 percent of Boomers will travel alone. Meanwhile, 58 percent of Gen X-ers will travel alone, and they’re less likely to travel with a colleague or family member.

An older man holding a newspaper waiting for a car to pass. Different generations approach their business travel differently.Safety Issues Personal safety is a big issue for Millennials. According to the survey 29 percent of them have canceled a business trip over concerns for their safety, while 20 percent of Gen X-ers have, and only 12 percent of Boomers. Those two groups are more willing to get on the ground and get specifics, particularly if they’re already familiar with the area and where the unrest is taking place in relation to where they will be.

Communication. When it comes to communication with family, colleagues, and clients once per day, Boomers just aren’t as interested in it: only 29 percent of them will keep in touch with anyone from home. But 38 percent of Gen X-ers will keep in touch, as will 45 percent of Millennials. The 18 –29 generation are more likely to turn to Skype while the Boomers will just pick up the phone. But all of them will use email almost equally when it comes to business communication with clients and colleagues.

Business travel habits may vary from generation to generation, but businesses and business travelers need to figure out how they want to deal with those differences. Should businesses require people to travel in groups more often, especially for personal safety? Is it more beneficial or a hassle to ask one generation to travel more like another? Or do you just let everyone follow their personal preferences as long as it doesn’t create disharmony around the office?

Share your comments with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Skitterphoto (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

Five Tips for Traveling in Winter

February 15, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Traveling in winter isn’t for the faint of heart. It can be discouraging and downright frustrating to try to “move about the country” when Mother Nature seems out to get you. When I lived in Pennsylvania, near Scranton, I would often fly from Scranton to Philadelphia to my final destination.

Time after time, during the winter, my flight was usually canceled due to weather. Finally, in order to save myself the aggravation and be able to more accurately predict my itinerary, I decided to skip the Scranton leg of the flight and rent a car either to or from Philadelphia. I learned my lesson, and if I can ever help it, I skip the small regional flights during the winter months.

There are a few other things I learned about weatherproofing winter travel. While you can’t change the weather, these will at least give you options that keep you from being held hostage by it.

This is a common sight during travel in winter. This is a Norwegian SAS airplane on the ground and covered with snow.First, follow my lead. Don’t book a connecting flight through a city that has a reputation for being hit hard by winter storms: Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Detroit, and Boston. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for some sort of delay or cancellation. If you have to make connecting flights, make them in southern cities less likely to get hit with major winter weather — Atlanta, Dallas, Phoenix. I’ve seen flights from Detroit to Portland, Oregon make a layover in Dallas rather than Chicago, which avoided big snowstorms.

Better yet, book non-stop whenever possible. Sure, you may not get as many frequent flier miles, but you’ll get where you’re going and eliminate one possible leg where you might end up getting stuck because the connecting airport got snowed or iced in for 24 hours.

Always try to book your travel to depart first thing in the morning. When weather delays occur later in the day, you’re already out of the worst of it or your flight may be one of the few that gets out at all. Also, those on earlier flights have more rebooking options than those who wait until later in the day to change their itinerary or return home.

Never be without extra clothing. Even if it’s just a couple pairs of fresh undergarments, pack enough so that if you are delayed or stranded, you won’t have to wash out anything in the sink and hope it dries overnight in the hotel bathroom.

Finally, build time into your schedule so that you can afford to absorb a delay or cancellation. While this is smart travel advice throughout the year, it’s particularly wise to do this when traveling in winter: don’t schedule your arrival on the actual day you’re expected to give a presentation or close a big deal. Getting there the day before will ensure you’re there when you need to be, not sitting at the airport texting colleagues explaining why you’re not.

Most importantly, when you’re traveling during the winter, remain flexible, be aware of your options before you leave, and have backup plans. And if you can, work with a travel agent who can put all this together and make the quick changes on your behalf instead of you stressing out about it.

How do you deal with traveling in winter? Do you have any tips that help you get where you’re going? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Pxhere.com (Pxhere.com, CC0, Public Domain)

PreCheck and Global Entry Merger Considered

February 13, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are considering merging their respective “trusted traveler” programs, which means you don’t have to choose which program to use if you travel both domestically and internationally.

According to David Pekoske, Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) Administrator, easing traveler headaches across both the domestic and international systems is the main reason he is evaluating the idea with his colleague Kevin McAleenan, CBP Commissioner.

PreCheck, administered by TSA, provides travelers the option to go through a screening process that, for a fee, puts them at the proverbial “front of the line” when navigating security. Global Entry, administered by CBP, provides many of similar benefits for those wanting to streamline their customs and immigration process when re-entering the country after traveling abroad.

TSA PreCheck sign showing the way to an empty pathway, next to a line packed with people.This means, if you travel abroad frequently, you need PreCheck to leave the country fast, and Global Entry to get back in just as quickly.

Pekoske told TravelPulse.com the maintenance of two distinct infrastructures for PreCheck and Global Entry is a “big duplication of effort, sometimes in the very same airport.”

Currently, both programs support 12 million travelers. Sharing technology advances and data is another reason the idea is attractive to Pekoske. Global Entry, run by CBP, already uses facial recognition, while TSA doesn’t yet have the ability to use this when screening travelers, and that additional security measure appeals to DHS.

The travel industry is watching this development closely, and is all for the merger. According to Eben Peck, executive vice president, advocacy, for the American Society of Travel Agents, “Having two trusted traveler programs with similar costs, benefits, and application procedures has proved to be, at times, confusing and frustrating for travelers. A single program allowing travelers to get through the airport screening process quickly would be a welcome development, and we urge DHS to move this concept forward.”

There is no timeline for moving this concept forward from talking to implementation, but anything that would streamline the processes would be advantageous to the flying public.

Do you use PreCheck or Global Entry? Would you like to see the two merged? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Grant Wickes (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

How to Find a Cheap Hotel Room

February 6, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

According to Nomadic Matt (no, not me), former cubicle dweller and 9-to-5-er turned full-time traveler, finding a cheap hotel room isn’t as much about database results as it is about knowing what you want.

Having traveled the world full time since 2006 and authoring How to Travel the World on $50 a Day, he qualifies as an expert about how to do worldwide travel on the cheap. While he typically stays in hostels and books through Airbnb, he knows that there comes a time when those options aren’t available or may not be preferred by other travelers.

So he did a little experiment. He created an itinerary and plotted it on the major hotel booking sites, Agoda, Booking.com, HotWire, Orbitz, and Travelocity. What he found surprised him.

Hotel pricing is a lot more set than airline pricing and tends to fluctuate less. I wouldn’t spend hours searching hotel websites or days tracking prices like people do with airline prices. I’d spend, at the most, 30 minutes on booking a hotel. I found that the variation between sites isn’t enough to justify more time.

Hotel room in the Renaissance Columbus, OHHe did find that there were two clear winners in this site war experiment: Booking.com and Agoda.com. While they didn’t aggregate the largest number of places to compare, each provided him with the best selection of cheap establishments.

His opinion of Orbitz and Travelocity were mixed because both are owned by Expedia and therefore pull from the same databases for their results. He also found that they tended to provide results toward higher end of what he was requesting.

While he felt Priceline and Hotwire gave him excellent results, he didn’t like not knowing what hotel he was choosing until after he’d paid for his irrevocable reservation.

Based on his research, here are Matt’s suggestions for booking a cheap hotel.

Look at hotel websites directly. They often offer deals and will match whatever price you find on another website. Booking directly allows you to accrue loyalty points, which translate into free nights in the future, but you can only rack up points if you book direct.

About loyalty programs—sign up. “The best way to stay cheap is to stay for free,” Matt says. There are other ways to earn points besides stays, such as using credit cards that tie to the hotel chain you like, and shopping portals.

Bartering may work. If you want a better rate, you won’t know if they can give you one unless you ask. The best times to ask are mid-week and during non-peak travel times when the hotel may have empty rooms it’s trying to fill.

Membership has its privileges, and members of AAA and AARP get discount rates. Something you may not know is that AARP is open to anyone, not just people who are in their 50s!

Another little known way to earn loyalty points and increase your status is to purchase discount hotel gift cards. They allow you to book hotel rooms at discounted rates too. Giftcardgranny.com is just one example of such a site.

Lastly, take advantage of someone else’s reservation. Their cancelled reservation, to be exact. If someone cancels a reservation at a hotel, rather than being stuck holding the bathrobe, hotels often put these rooms on sites such as Roomer.com at discounted rates so that they can recoup a portion of the cost. Someone else’s loss could be your gain, so check it out if you’re looking for a room a day or two before you need it.

How do you shop for hotel rooms? Do you have any tips or tricks for finding cheaper hotel rooms, especially without sacrificing comfort? Leave your ideas for us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

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

AI to Change the Hassles of Travel

February 1, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

With the simple scan of a traveler’s facial features, many air travel hassles could be eliminated or at least reduced. But we may not be as far away from that reality as you think. According to a survey conducted by air transport communications firm SITA, 29 percent of airports and 25 percent of air carriers are working toward implementing this technology in order to streamline passenger navigation through security, customs, and boarding by 2020.

We reported last month about the test runs of fingerprint scanning to alleviate time spent waiting in lines at several American airports, but due to the steady increase in travel worldwide — a 7.4 percent increase from 2015 to 2016 — the need for more efficient processes to move the masses as well as enhance security is only too obvious.

This is the kind of AI-based security that could get you through travel security checkpoints.Here’s how it may work, as Sumesh Patel, SITA’s Asia Pacific president, explained to CNBC: Travelers would go to a face-scanning kiosk upon arriving at the airport. The captured biometric information would be matched to the person’s passport specs. At that point, an electronic token would be created and inputted into the airport’s system. At subsequent security checkpoints, the technology would be used again in order to match the passenger’s identity with the electronic token.

The major boon for travelers would be the elimination of the current, intrusive nature of the security system. The current challenge, however, is integrating the existing systems such as retinal and fingerprint scanning and facial recognition into one secure operating network that will not only help customers but provide sufficient data for border protection for countries. You only have to hear about all the data breaches at major retailers and even credit scoring agencies to know how important this is.

While this may sound futuristic, Dubai International Airport’s CEO Paul Griffiths, head of the world’s busiest airport, is absolutely convinced a system of this nature will be a reality within the next 10 years.

“Most of the touch points that we currently loathe about airports today — the security and immigration — will disappear. And technology will enable all of those checks to be done in the background,” Griffiths told CNBC.

What do you think about this new technology? Are you for it, or a little concerned? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Gerald Nino/CPB (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

More Companies Allowing Business Travelers to Use Sharing Economies

January 30, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Business travelers who have taken an Uber or Lyft instead of hailing a taxi, or stayed at an Airbnb property instead of staying at a hotel chain, you’re among a growing majority of employees whose companies are encouraging using the emerging sharing economies.

According to a survey conducted by Chrome River Technologies, an expense and invoice management technology solutions company, 78 percent of companies with 1,000 or more employees allow their travelers to use ride-sharing services, while 68 percent allow home-sharing services.

The company asked 100 chief financial officers, controllers, and treasurers at 100 U.S.-based companies for this data in order to determine how much freedom corporations provide their employees when they travel for business.

The instantly recognizable pink mustache of a Lyft car. It's becoming a favorite method of travel among business travelers.

The instantly recognizable pink mustache of a Lyft car.

“Corporate travel and expense policies should be agile enough to address the ever-changing nature of business travel. It’s refreshing to see that larger organizations have already incorporated sharing economy services into their policies,” Alan Rich, Chrome River CEO, said in a statement.

While less than one-quarter of the officers surveyed said their company doesn’t have any policy regarding the use of sharing economy services, 17 percent have instituted policies that don’t allow the use of ride-hailing services, and 24 percent prohibit their employees from booking accommodations through home-sharing platforms. Perhaps even more surprising were the percentages regarding the mandating of such services: 13 percent of companies require their people to use ride-sharing apps, while 12 percent have dictated that travelers must use home-sharing instead of hotels for lodging.

The implementation of rules and policies for reimbursement and reporting of expenses related to these services follows the rising trend among leisure travelers. The survey data shows some are still hesitant to utilize such options.

Does your company allow you to use sharing economy accommodations or are you limited to just traditional hotel and travel brands? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

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

Five Ways to Stay Healthy While Traveling

December 21, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Those who travel regularly know that maintaining their routines helps them be at their best. If you’re an infrequent traveler, here are the top five things you need to do while on your business trip to come home as healthy as you left.

Eat right. When we’re away from home, we’re out of our comfort zone. We’re with people we don’t know well, and we’re navigating a different city and its unique dynamics. While food is often equated with comfort, don’t buy into the myth. If anything, try to eat healthier while you’re away from home than you do when you’re at home. Don’t eat the heaviest meal, just because it’s on the company’s dime. Eating fruits and vegetables will help your digestion and keep you from feeling uncomfortable or run down.

Avoid alcohol. Not to be a killjoy, but we all know that consuming alcohol decreases your mental sharpness and gives your body one more thing to try to process while out of its normal rhythms.

A hotel gym is a great way to work out and help stay healthy.

The gym at the Onego Palace Hotel (Intourist Hotel Group) in Petrozavodsk (Republic of Karelia, Russia)

Exercise. Keep doing it. If you belong to a fitness chain or franchise at home, you can usually go to the same one in whatever city you’re visiting without paying any more. If you work out at home, use the hotel’s gym or pack whatever you need to work out in your room. No need to lose momentum just because you’re out of town. If you’re not an exerciser, consider making choices that will increase your physical activity, like taking the stairs to and from the lobby of your hotel or office, getting outside for a walk at lunch or after dinner. Even these small periods of movement will help alleviate stress and stretch muscles often kinked from sleeping in an unfamiliar bed or sitting too long in a meeting.

Get enough sleep. Be sure you get enough rest each night. While getting enough shut-eye in a hotel can be difficult, give yourself the best possible odds by doing a few things. Don’t eat too late. Late-night digestion can keep you from getting into REM sleep. Don’t stare at screens. Turning off your devices and the television 30 minutes before you retire will signal your body to begin shutting down for the day. Use a white noise generating app to drown out the unfamiliar sounds of your environment (or just the loud blower on the heater) to help you go to sleep.

Stay hydrated. If you’re not in the habit of drinking water throughout the day, pick up a bottle and make yourself drink it. Flying dehydrates us, and when we don’t give our systems enough water, they just don’t function as well as they need to. Coffee, soda, and fruit juice may be liquids, but they’re not as good as water when it comes to proper hydration, so stick with the H2O as much as possible.

All these tips are really just common sense, but it will take some planning to incorporate them into your trip. Be good to yourself and treat yourself well by trying to stay healthy. Life isn’t all about work, and you want to stay healthy for the downtime you’ll have earned by the time you get home.

How do you stay healthy when you’re traveling? Do you have any special strategies or tricks? Tell us about them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Онега Палас (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)

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