If you’ve noticed yourself paying extra fees when booking a flight, you’re not alone. Nowadays, travelers can expect to pay extra for everything from luggage and seat choice to in-flight snacks and – yes – even your carry on bag. According to a Chron.com article, a recent study found a total of 52 fee changes in 2012 alone — most of which were related to baggage. For example, many airports lowered the weight limit and size of both carry-on and checked bags in order to bring in extra revenue.
So why the sudden increase in fees? According to Alicia Jao of TravelNerd, government data shows that the revenue airlines brought in from baggage fees actually plateaued from 2010 through 2012, leaving airlines in a financial lurch and struggling to compensate for that lost revenue. These new fees have definitely given airlines the revenue boost they so desperately needed — in fact, overall revenue went up 11% between 2011 and 2012.
Many travelers ask if there is any way to avoid these new fees. The truth is, the actual airline ticket prices will always be low, so if you’re looking to save money, your best bet is to travel light and go with the bare minimum of amenities.
If you’ll only be out of town for a few days, consider packing all of your clothing into a carry-on bag. Thankfully, most major airlines have decided to not charge for carry-on luggage, so be sure to do your research and book with an airline that still offers complimentary carry-ons.
Another way to save a few dollars is to stick with your default seat assignment, as seat changes or upgrades can cost upwards of $25 each way. Finally, if you typically purchase in-flight snacks, you may want to consider packing your own – this simple move can save $10 or more per person.
Airline fees are not going to go away. They’re how the airlines are making money these days. When you’re budgeting and booking travel, don’t just go by the ticket price alone. Always assume there are fees involved, and then look for ways to avoid getting dinged.
It’s a trend that’s happening worldwide, including in the United States. Airports everywhere are improving shopping options for travelers. They’re branching out from the standard newsstand and souvenir shops to include more mainstream and high-end retail stores.
With all the flight options in existence for the average traveler, many people now have options when it comes to which airport they travel through when getting a connecting flight, and airports are realizing that a streamlined travel experience is just the jumping off point with what they must offer travelers in order to remain competitive.The demand for airports with more is a function of the meeting of capitalism and industry — if a traveler has an option in connecting flight airports, they would likely choose the one that is known for its live entertainment, excellent shopping, speedy wifi, unique restaurants, or some other defining quality.
Travelers with early arrival times, longer layovers, or delays have come to expect an array of options in food and entertainment, and airports are now becoming more creative in how they deliver value to their customers.
For example, the Nashville International Airport is known for its live country music played by local artists trying to make it big, in addition to cameos by country music stars, of course. Vancouver International Airport will have an entire outlet mall next to the airport in 2014, while Denver International Airport is planning a complete overhaul, with long term plans including mixed-use developments with shops, restaurants, offices and residences.
When examined as part of the bigger picture, we can see that airports are realizing that they’re in the business of customer service, competing with other airports as well as nearby shopping centers. Airports are now treating themselves more like a business, competing for consumers’ dollars just like any other shopping center would. They’re maximizing the value of their property by making it multi-functional. Airports are obviously travel hubs, but now they’re becoming social and shopping hubs as well.
- At airports, fliers’ shopping options multiply (usatoday.com)
- Park, shop, and eat at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and earn frequent flier miles (blogs.star-telegram.com)
We were kind of happy to hear the news: airport body scanners that produce graphic images of the human body at airport security checkpoints will be removed by June 2013, according to a January 2013 story on NPR.
The controversial body scanners provided by OSI Systems, which display detailed images of the human body, have raised many privacy concerns ever since they were installed at major airport security checkpoints. TSA ordered OSI Systems to upgrade their software in order to provide greater privacy to passengers, and it has now become clear that OSI Systems will not be able to meet the required deadline.Last year, over 75 scanners were removed from busy airports because they slowed down security checkpoints. According to a CNN story, , which raises fewer privacy concerns and which also allows for faster security pass through.
If passengers still don’t feel comfortable passing through the more generic body scanners, they can opt out of the scanner by simply telling the TSA official that they choose to opt out. Instead of the scanner, passengers would then be subject to a standard pat-down procedure by a TSA official. And, if a pat-down in the security area feels uncomfortable, travelers can request that the pat down is given in a private area.
Although the body scanners that produce more graphic images are being removed now, this does not mean that they are gone forever. If software updates can successfully address privacy concerns that have been brought up by the public and congress, the scanners may return. The important thing for travelers to remember is that depending on the airport, there are other options available for security checkpoints, and passengers should always be aware of their rights.
- ‘Backscatter’ scanners may be gone from Sea-Tac Airport in April (seattletimes.com)
- TSA Will Remove Some Nude Scanners (upgrd.com)
Southwest Airlines has made a name for themselves in the airline industry through their light-hearted atmosphere and democratic customer service policies. Southwest’s policies generally rival those of other airlines. For example, their “Bags Fly Free” policy allows up to two bags per passenger to fly free of charge, while many other airlines charge a minimum of $25 or more per checked bag.
In an era when airlines are differentiating themselves by the type of add-ons they offer and the prices of those extra benefits, Southwest has historically made a name for themselves by keeping things simple.
Southwest is now being a bit more creative with the fees that they do charge passengers. For example, Southwest has picked up on the fact that many passengers like to board their planes early.
For an extra $10 fee, Southwest passengers can opt for the Early Bird Check-In and improve their position in line to board the plane. As it turns out, there are plenty of customers who will pay an even higher fee to avoid waiting in line to board and having the last pick of where to stow their carry on luggage. For those passengers, Southwest offers a new $40 fee which guarantees that they will be among the first 15 people to board the plane.
To some, this $40 fee just to board the plane early may seem a bit pricey, but for the right passenger this could be a valuable decision. Travelers who are bigger in size or taller than the average person generally have trouble making their way down a narrow, crowded airplane aisle or sitting in certain seats.
So this $40 early boarding fee could serve these people well. Mothers with small children or busy business people could also benefit from this service. They can board the plane quickly and easily, get settled, and busy themselves with other things while they wait for takeoff, while everyone else is still finding their seats.
Photo credit: Phil Ostroff (Flickr, Creative Commons)
If you’re a parent, you’ve no doubt read your share of articles on travel with kids. Regardless of the duration of your trip – whether its an hour drive or a half a day of air travel – we’ve got some suggestions on what to bring with you so you don’t find yourself wishing you’d never left home in the first place.
We saw a recent post by Kristy Carlson on Babble.com that reminded us of what it was like when we were traveling with kids ourselves. Here are some of her recommendations, plus a few of our own.
1. Your tablet. If you have a Kindle Fire, iPad, or any other tablet device, this is a surefire way to quiet your kids. Tablets allow for movie watching, reading books, and playing games. Of course you don’t want your child to become addicted to electronics, but if you have a long flight ahead of you, your tablet device is a must-have.
2. Battery backups, chargers, and adapters. We can’t suggest that you bring your electronics without also suggesting that you’ve got an extra battery, charger, and an adapter. After all, what good does your mobile device do with a dead battery? At the very least, bring an extra charger cord.
3. A travel French Press. One of our favorite Kristy recommendations. If you need your morning cup of joe in order to function like a normal human being, consider bringing a French Press with you on trips when you’re not sure if coffee will be readily available.
4. A travel hand coffee grinder. If you’re the type who silently nodded your head when you read our previous recommendation of a travel French Press, consider getting a hand-powered coffee grinder. Bring your favorite beans as well.
5. Self-locking bags. A good, sturdy self-locking bag, like a Ziploc, can store snacks, toiletries, toys, and practically anything else you can think of. You can never have enough. Oh and there’s one more thing you can store in a self-locking bag that we think any parent can’t live without:
6. Huggies Wipes. For many parents, these are a life saver. Huggies Wipes aren’t just for babies’ bottoms. Did your child spill ketchup on their favorite shirt? Use a wipe to clean it up before it becomes a stain. After washing the shirt, you’ll forget the spill even happened in the first place. We’ve known people who continued to carry these long after their kids needed them.
7. Travel diaper bags. If you thought it was hard to change a stinky diaper while on a trip, it’s sometimes even more difficult to get rid of the offending diaper after it’s been changed. A travel diaper bag is something no parent should leave home without.
8. Hand sanitizer. After you’ve changed your kid’s smelly diaper, and before you have lunch or a snack, use hand sanitizer to get rid of any germs the diaper wipe may have left behind.
9. A carry-on just for kids. If your child is old enough, it will be beneficial for overall family packing capacity to provide them with their own piece of carry-on luggage. This will count as your child’s carry-on, rather than you sticking all their stuff in yours.
Now that half of Americans use smartphones as their primary mobile device and the number of smartphone users worldwide tops 1 billion, it’s safe to say that most of us are using smartphones or some type of mobile device on a regular basis. In travel especially, it’s common for smartphone users to rely on their devices for entertainment, flight information, and especially navigation.
In the Fall of 2012, Apple came out with its own navigation program dubbed Apple Maps, kicking Google Maps off their iOS platform with their new upgrade. But they may have put the cart before the horse, because Apple Maps failed miserably in the eyes of most iPhone users — and cartographers, journalists, travel professionals, tourists, and people who were lost — due to its inaccurate directions and shoddy 3D renderings. Three months later Google Maps came out with a free iPhone app, but by this time many tech consumers had learned this lesson the hard way: If you’re taking a trip to a city largely unknown to you, it’s a good idea to study maps before you travel.
With the failure of Apple Maps came an outpouring of digital navigation apps, both older companies like MapQuest and also newer startups have been trying to capture the market share freed up by the failure of Apple Maps. So it’s easy to predict that sooner or later, you will be able to find at least one navigation application that serves you well.
But one thing that is difficult to predict is your cell phone service. You may have all the latest map applications downloaded, but if your phone can’t connect to its network, your applications will likely be useless or severely inhibited.
That’s why it’s best to spend some time scanning the layout of your travel destination before you ever leave. You can get a feel for the city before you even set foot there. It may also be useful for you to bring a paper map or travel guide with you on your trip. In the event of a lagging data network, flip through your guidebook for advice on what to do. As for what to do with your smartphone if you don’t use it for navigation. . .?
We suggest using it as a camera.
Imagine you’re on a family road trip, and you need to make an unplanned overnight stop. What’s your strategy on finding a place to stay?
One option is to drive to the nearest hotel you see and accept their nightly rate, as high as it may be. Another option is to call multiple hotels, trying to find the best rate. Unfortunately, these options leave you at the mercy of potentially high day-of hotel booking rates, not to mention the time you’re spending looking for an affordable overnight stay when you could be doing something more valuable with your time, like eating dinner with your family, relaxing by the hotel pool, or getting that flat tire fixed.
Enter HotelTonight, an app for iPhone and Android users. The app is free to download and claims to offer discounts of up to 70% off. We first heard about the app when ABC News checked it out and compared it to Expedia and each hotel’s website.
First, the pros: six out of seven times, HotelTonight beat the prices listed on Expedia.com. Seven out of eight times, HotelTonight beat the individual hotel’s rates. Although HotelTonight’s rates were never 70% off the hotel’s rates, some of the prices were nearly 50% off, and many were above 30% off. For a last minute deal, that’s not bad.
The downside to using the app, according to ABC, is that you can’t check hotel rates until noon, and HotelTonight also offers only a limited amount of hotel selections. HotelTonight offered nine hotels, whereas Expedia.com offered nearly 500 options. So, if you’re looking for a deal on a specific hotel, that may be difficult to find on HotelTonight.
The bottom line is, if you’re looking for a last minute deal on a hotel, and if you don’t have your heart set on staying in a specific hotel, HotelTonight could be a great way to find a last minute deal on a place to spend the night, especially if plans suddenly change, and you need a room quickly.
So if you’re the type of person who enjoys a little spontaneity in your travels, why not try HotelTonight? It could be a great money and time saving solution for you.
One of our favorite business blogs is Spin Sucks, written by the PR company Arment Dietrich and its founder and CEO, Gini Dietrich. They frequently feature guest bloggers who are experts in their line of work, and we especially loved a post about paid time off (PTO) by Lindsay Bell, a relatively recent hire at Arment Dietrich.
Not that Lindsay is an expert in paid time off, but she’s an expert in being a working stiff (in a former life, of course) and living among the ranks of “no vacation nation,” otherwise known as professionals in the United States.
Of course, American workers have paid time off, but what little they do have is often eaten away at by life’s little nuisances: sick kids home from school, a busted sump pump. Suddenly, those vacation days in your PTO bank are gone, and you’re as pale, pasty and stressed out as you were before it ran dry.
Her post is about unlimited paid time off (UPTO), and we’re rather intrigued by the idea. We’ve written about one company’s revolutionary vacation policy , but there are less-extreme versions, too.
These company policies recognize that most American workers never actually stop working; it lets them strive for a greater work/life balance; and it implies a real sense of trust on behalf of management in the company’s employees. Companies monitor the amount of time taken and still require notice for longer periods away from the office, but in offices with UPTO, employees no longer need to ask for a half-day just to go to the doctor or run an errand in a neighboring town. They just do it.
Our take: Whether you have five days or an unlimited amount, use your vacation time, for heaven’s sake! And if your days are numbered, so to speak, don’t just use those days off to run errands, pay bills or paint your house. See the world. Make it count.
We love the idea of unlimited time off, though it may not be practical for every industry. It’s going to be hard to implement and monitor universally — we urge caution and careful thought for companies considering it — but we’ll agree with Lindsay that times have changed, and it’s time to start reevaluating policies like PTO at companies whenever possible.
- Do You Even Need a Vacation Policy? (noobpreneur.com)
- Paid leave offerings vary at Iowa businesses (thegazette.com)
- Why Don’t Americans Take More Vacation Time? [INFOGRAPHIC] (community.ally.com)
- Letter: Employees don’t take advantage of paid sick days (oregonlive.com)
If you’ve ever gone on a business trip, especially if you’re not self-employed and are traveling for a corporation, it can be more than a little frustrating when snags and delays waste your time and you have to suffer in a middle seat, or sweat out a tight connection, without so much as a nod of sympathy from the home office.
So when something goes wrong or you’re looking for an upgrade to ease your pain, who’s responsible for ensuring that you’re comfortable when you travel? Is it the employee themselves, or is it the responsibility of the company to provide some of those perks?
Business Traveler News set out to do a little research on the their readers’ sentiments and the industry’s thoughts on the topic, and we’ve got some opinions of our own.
From the employee’s perspective, they’re sending you to work and it’s part of your 40 hours a week, but you’re often going above and beyond that time during your travels. Even if you aren’t being “paid back” with comp days or extra monetary compensation for your travel, the least a company can do is let you choose the flight that’s most direct and works best with your schedule (even if it’s a little pricier), or keep the miles for yourself that you’ve earned when you travel — even if you booked your trip with a corporate credit card. (Other options include in-flight wi-fi, GPS in your rental car, room service when you arrive and more.)
But it’s often in employees’ interest to fend for themselves, do their booking solo and more. In one of my former workplaces, we had a qualifying system that determined who did the most frequent travel, and those people earned perks through the company, whether it was seat upgrades, elite-club access or better hotel rooms. But now, those employees who really pull their weight for companies and travel a lot earn elite status with hotels and airlines on their own — sometimes better than an employer could provide for them on a budget.
Consider this: In some of my past experiences, the people who have approved my travel haven’t needed to travel for business themselves. They’re always looking for the cheapest rate, and never worry about the discomfort, since they’ve never known it themselves.
From our perspective — and according to recent Business Traveler News research — the responsibility of paying for perks and making the most of an employee’s travels doesn’t rest solely on either party. It’s in everyone’s best interest to share the responsibility, and make sure it’s taken care of.
How is business travel handled at your company?
There are plenty of places online for travelers to commiserate and share tips for smoother journeys, no matter where they’re headed. One of those places is FlyerTalk, and it’s a site that we here at Travelpro browse every day for a glimpse into the mind of the frequent traveler.
One of our favorite posts on the FlyerTalk forum is actually an old one, but with recent statistics about the number of bags lost every year in airports, it’s as relevant as ever: the secrets of luggage-theft prevention.
The original poster notes five such secrets:
First, choose an inconspicuous bag, not a prestigious label or name brand.
Second, make it a little tougher for anyone to get into your bag, whether with tape, a TSA approved lock or some other method.
Third, create a seal that will let you know immediately whether your luggage was tampered with. One of the Austin House lock models, our 3-Dial Combination Indicator TSA-Approved Lock, actually has a pop-up indicator that lets you know whether your bag has been opened, including by the TSA for an inspection — which is helpful for travelers who want to double-check their bags after picking them up from baggage claim.
The last two tips are pretty old-school: Include a note just inside your bag indicating that you’ve made a list of your bag’s contents, with photos, which would deter people from pilfering your items.
And lastly, carry your bag on the plane. (Obviously.)
Another commenter suggests “uglifying” your luggage with rope, duct tape, floral print, bumper stickers, kids’ decorations, or even a coat of bright paint, if you’re willing to do it. Even if you do a bang-up job and your “uglified” bag actually looks quite lovely, a loud bag attracts a lot of attention from the tarmac to the carousel, which means thieves are less likely to want to make off with it. (Bonus: It’ll be easier for you to spot your own bag, too.)