First Look at Amazon Travel’s New Hotel Contract

March 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s never a surprise to hear that Amazon is planning to do something new, but this may be a little unusual: the online bookseller company has now decided to venture into the hotel booking business.

We recently read a Skift.com article about details about the contract, which discusses how they’re compensating the hotels and what type of commissions Amazon will receive for the service.

English: Bungalow at The Hotel Amazon Bed & Br...

Bungalow at The Hotel Amazon Bed & Breakfast, Leticia, Amazonas, Colombia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We actually didn’t even know Amazon was getting into the travel business, but it makes sense that an online mega-player such as Amazon would jump into the lucrative hotel marketplace. The company has already dipped its toes into the hotel booking pool by offering severely discounted, last minute deals via Amazon Local, which is a service similar to Groupon, but less well known.

The new scheme will expand that market significantly and allow hotels to list full price rooms.

It’s hard to say how their prices will shake out in comparison to discount travel sites at this point and it will be fascinating to see how this foray will work out for them. We’re especially interested to see how they stack up against Expedia, which we consider to be the main powerhouse in the travel website space.

Since Expedia has just gobbled up Travelocity, Orbitz, and other travel websites, we’ve seen a trend toward consolidation. It will be interesting to see how Amazon’s entrance affects all of that. Although the older companies have a big head start, Amazon is known for introducing change into the marketplace just by being one of the biggest.

According to the Skift article, Amazon Local first began discussing the plan with hotels last September and is already testing out the scheme in limited marketplaces.

What do you think about Amazon’s entrance into the travel space? Would you book a hotel room through them? And have you ever heard of Amazon Local before? Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page, and let us know if you’ll use Amazon for future travel.

To Boost Safety, Cruise Lines Want to Be More Like Airlines

February 24, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

With a number of embarrassing, and very public, hits to cruise ship safety over the last several years, cruise lines are looking at the airline industry as a standard for safety. A recent article in Businessweek looked at how cruise lines are responding to three huge safety failures in 2012 and 2013, including the infamous grounding of a cruise ship in Italy in 2012 and two serious fires in 2013.

The cruise lines have realized that they need to focus on being safe by reducing crew errors and increasing safety protocols.

Since the 1980s, safety has been a high concern for airlines. They’ve pioneered many programs that cruise lines now hope to adapt for themselves. They have seen that crew error is the largest risk factor in any type of accident, so they’re working to reduce those first.

Carnival Liberty, Carnival Triumph and Carniva...

Carnival Liberty, Carnival Triumph and Carnival Glory (near to far) docked in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The plan is to implement programs that make sure staff are following procedures. Such measures taken from the airline industry include a no-blame reporting structure where staff can report violations of protocol with no consequences.

Another way airlines have increased staff efficiency is to randomly send personnel out for an annual performance check of pilot performance in the cockpit. The cruise line is considering that as well.

Another airline safety protocol is to track data from the cockpit related to any deviation from standard procedure and finding out why it occurred. This could be an important protocol to increase cruise ship safety.

What do you think about cruise ship safety? Would you venture out into the high seas after these issues that have arisen over the past few years? Leave us a comment on the blog or our Facebook page to let us know what you think.

Important Travel Documents For Traveling With Kids

February 17, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Traveling with your children isn’t like running down to the grocery store with them. Just like you need your own passport and other travel documents, you need to have certain documents with you when you travel with your kids.

The Huffington Post has an extensive and helpful list they suggest you carry with you when traveling internationally with your family.

Air Canada planeObviously, a passport isn’t going to be a necessity on domestic trips, but HuffPo suggests you bring physical copies of the following: your child’s birth certificate, a signed permission slip if there’s a parent who isn’t traveling with you, vaccination certifications, travel insurance, emergency contacts, telephone numbers for healthcare facilities at your destination, emergency first aid instructions, a list of your child’s allergies, and your full itinerary with contact information.

The list makes a lot of sense, although it may be a little too thorough. Be aware that carrying all that paper documentation can be a security risk. (Think about what happens if that information were stolen.) But you can keep a lot of it on a cloud-based app, such as Evernote or Google Drive, which you can download to your phone or tablet as needed.

On the other hand, what if your phone charger is damaged or you end up in a remote site with no service? With Evernote, you can download documents to your phone’s app, and then lock it with a security code. Otherwise, you could end up with a huge phone bill if you need to access another country’s wireless network to access the information.

Be sure to do your research before you travel and know what you need. You may not need everything on this list for some of the places you’re visiting, so it’s better to determine it in advance.

Photo credit: Caribb (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Worth It or a Waste? The Real Deal on Five Common Travel Upgrades

February 12, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A recent article on Lifehacker got us chatting about which travel upgrades seem worth it to us, and which were a waste of money.

There were differing opinions on the Travelpro team about whether shelling out for extra space is worth the additional cost. Those of us who feel hemmed in on flights, especially those of us who are tall (I’m 6’5″) said they will pay extra, especially for longer trips. Those who are more frugal (or smaller) said they don’t see a big difference in comfort and recommend snagging an aisle seat since that can give you the illusion of more space. Another good way to increase the amount of space you feel like you have is to keep the under seat luggage to a minimum. It’s worth it if you need the room, but a waste if you’re smaller, or the trip is shorter than two hours.

English: Delhi Airport Lounge

Delhi Airport Lounge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We didn’t like the idea of paying for wifi, either at the airport or your hotel, especially if you’re on vacation. And even if you’re traveling for business, we suggest you trot down to a local coffee shop to get wifi while you sip a nice latte. Another option, which the article also mentions, is paying for a mobile hotspot so you have your own wifi wherever you go. And apparently, the new iPhone 6 includes this as a feature you don’t even have to pay extra for the bandwidth. (Another reason to upgrade sooner rather than later!) This one is a waste, unless you get the iPhone or other mobile hotspot.

A luxury we can get behind is the concept of club floors at hotels. These are special floors that serve meals, snacks, and drinks. You pay extra for the access but you do get pampered and you can eat there instead of going out. This feature adds about 20 to 30 percent to your bill, which is fine for those who don’t plan on eating out very often, making this worth it for the home bodies. It’s pleasant to be pampered, but foodies may not find it worthwhile. But if you’re going out more than staying in, or you prefer local eateries to chain food, this one is a waste.

A luxury the article doesn’t discuss is the option of paying for a day in the first class airport lounges. This typically costs about $50 for a day. It’s a great idea if you’re traveling for business or if you have a particularly long layover. The atmosphere is a lot more relaxed than the rest of the airport. Wifi is included and the staff make sure you know when your flight is getting ready to leave. This one is definitely worth it.

What are some of the worth it/waste upgrades you’ve found on your travels? Leave us a comment and let us know.

The Case of the Disappearing Amenities

February 10, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Most people take home a tiny bar of soap and some lotion when they leave a hotel. They may also have tiny bottles of shampoo and conditioner tucked away in their luggage as they glide through the lobby and out the front doors. Perhaps a shower cap to boot.

Not a big deal, as it turns out. In fact, many hotels sort of expect, and even want you to take their small sample soaps.

Sofitel Arc de Triomphe מלון סופיטל שער הניצחון

Sofitel Arc de Triomphe מלון סופיטל שער הניצחון (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A recent study by Hilton Hotels showed that 73 percent of respondents were willing to admit they took home some swag from their last visit to a hotel.

People take these toiletries home and use them to stock their guest bathrooms. It does feel pretty fancy to select your own soap when staying the weekend with Auntie Margie. Others use the stuff themselves or even give it away as gifts. (Because nothing says love and friendship like a small bar of soap with a major hotel chain’s name on it.)

In fact, Hilton is using premier brands as an additional selling point for their hotels. A recent article in Premier Traveler Magazine’s website lists Neutrogena, Giovanni, Aroma Actives, Refinery, and Peter Thomas Roth as new additions to Hilton’s arsenal of body care products. These are some toiletry heavy hitters. Hilton, in fact, is glad to offer these miniature bottles of bliss as part of what they offer the weary (and upscale) traveler.

We understand the importance of quality toiletries in ensuring guests stay revitalized during — and after — their travels,” said Chris Naylor, vice president, brand operations for Hilton Worldwide. “The refresh of these bathroom products is part of our commitment to enhancing the overall travel experience, leaving our guests fresh and ready for their next adventure.”

The brands themselves also get buzz from being placed into the posh hotels.

Of course, it’s unlikely that someone will book into a hotel based solely on a love for Peter Thomas Roth, but these little details add up. And in the world of high end travel, encouraging your guests to steal soap can be a solid move.

Avoid Selfies on Vacation

February 3, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

An October article by Narina Exelby on the Kitbaggers website really struck a chord with us, when it comes to vacation photos. She discussed how taking photos of yourself — selfies — while on vacation can distract you to the point where you fail to relish the beauty and new experiences around you.

We couldn’t agree more.

Exelby argues that selfies take time away from what is really important when traveling, which is exploring new things and remaining present to appreciate the moment.

Eiffel Tower SelfieAlthough everyone is free to take selfies at any time, we agree with Exelby. Slow down and take a look around you when on vacation. Enjoy yourself and don’t worry about telling people back home what you’re up to.

Posting a selfie to Twitter or Facebook can take as much as three minutes. If you do that five times a day, that’s 15 minutes per day spent posting photos. That’s over an hour a week. That time really adds up, and your vacation becomes more about posting photos of yourself rather than enjoying the vacation. Instead of admiring the Eiffel Tower, you’re focused on getting the best possible shot of yourself in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Another concern is that constantly updating your social media streams with vacation photos can be a security risk. That photo of you in a canoe in Florida lets folks know you’re not home, and won’t be for a while. And if you’re traveling some place where your personal safety is at risk, you may want to keep a lower profile.

You can still take pictures. You can even take selfies. Photos are a great way to remember fun times you’ve had. But don’t let the photos become the main driver of your vacation. It should definitely be the vacation, and your time to relax, that comes first.

Photo credit: Carlos Mota Jr. (Fickr, Creative Commons)

What is Travel Hacking? How Can I Do It?

January 29, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The term “hacking” has evolved from its use as a term that means breaking into a computer, and now means any shortcut or method of improving a function. The term “life hack” has been around for a few years, and there are entire websites devoted to finding life’s little shortcuts.

Needless to say, “travel hacking” is now also a field of pursuit, and there are any number of travel hacks you can do to make trips cheaper, easier, longer, and more comfortable.

In an October 2014 article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune travel section, Colleen Kelly discusses the art of travel hacking, and how she dabbled with it to earn free airfare and hotel nights.

Credit cards Français : Cartes de crédit Itali...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this context, travel hacking is a way of being clever with credit cards in order to shave money off planned trips. Kelly researches trips well ahead of time, decides where to stay and how to travel, and then she and her husband apply for new credit cards that will allow them to travel more cheaply by reaping credit card rewards.

She advises that you apply for cards very purposefully because there are generally spending limits you need to meet in order to receive the benefits you’re seeking (for instance, you may need to spend at least $1,000 on each card to get your points). And you want to make sure those benefits apply to the trip you want to take.

For example, Kelly and her family of four were able to score hotel rooms in New York City for $40 a night with the help of International Hotel Group (IHG) Rewards Club cards.

You should be careful when applying for and canceling credit cards though, as this activity could negatively affect your credit score. You need some good credit to begin with, just to qualify for the credit card offers, but you could see a drop if you get, and cancel, too many cards in a short time.

Also be aware of the amount of work needed to reap the rewards. Be mindful of the time it takes to follow through with the tracking needed to make sure you hit the spending limit. It may just be cheaper and easier to pay the full price.

If you have serious travel goals and a less generous income, this type of hacking can be very much worth your while. But make sure you make an informed decision. Just because something is touted as a “hack” doesn’t mean it’s for everybody.

What are some of your travel hacks? Share them with us on our Facebook page or in the comments below.

4 Health Travel Apps We’d Like to See

January 22, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A recent article in Forbes Magazine by Robert Szczerba pointed out some rather gaping holes in the travel and health app world. They all relate to dealing with medical emergencies while traveling abroad. This is one aspect of travel many people overlook; they don’t think that a sudden ailment or accident will come up as they daydream about their glorious trip to Italy they’re taking next summer.

Unfortunately, accidents do happen. Being struck down by a car or strep throat is no fun at any time, but especially if you’re in a foreign country where you don’t understand the customs or language.

Here are four useful apps Szczerba suggested and we’d like to see.

English: High View Chinese Medical Clinic

High View Chinese Medical Clinic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Find-A-Clinic could help you find the closest clinic or medical care facility that could help you with whatever medical situation you’re dealing with. It would even have a way to notify the facility you were on the way.

InsuranceAssure would interface with your insurance and let you know what is covered and what isn’t in real time instead of waiting several days. (This may take longer than the others, given that it isn’t always possible to get a straight answer from someone on the phone, but it would at least be a start.)

MedBox would guide you to find the nearest pharmacy that carries the over the counter or prescription drugs you need for the situation you find yourself in. We’re fairly close on this one, since you can use a barcode scanner to read the UPC code of the needed product. You can do that right now in the United States and a few other parts of the world, but you need to have the UPC code on hand.

HealthyFoodAnywhere can help you find the healthiest places to eat. This is useful for healthy eaters, of course, but it could also help those with health problems, such as diabetes or heart disease. The app could also be invaluable for people with food allergies or even people who choose to eat a specific type of diet, such as vegetarian.

Even if these apps are never developed, it’s a good idea to carry a list of your prescriptions, health problems, and any other key information a health care worker would need if you do become sick while traveling.

What health travel apps have you been using? What would you like to see someone create? Leave us a comment on our Facebook page or in the comments below.

Bring This, Not That: Travel Items We Can’t Live Without

January 15, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

We’ve talked frequently about the things you should or shouldn’t take the next time you travel, especially on flights. But what are those things you absolutely can’t live without, the items that, if you forgot them, might ruin the entire trip.

We talked to several Travelpro employees about those little must-have items that make traveling more bearable and comfortable for them, and the things they always pack first, just to make sure they didn’t forget them.

For many people, the answer is electronics. One of the essentials (no surprise) is the smartphone. A smartphone keeps you connected (with talk, text, e-mail and social media), amused (games), and even serves important functions like keeping time and getting you around (maps).

Another key item is a laptop computer. Some folks just can’t be separated from their work even for a short little trip. While it’s nice to unplug once in a while, others don’t have that luxury (or personality).

This vintage hair dryer is from the 1970s.

This vintage hair dryer is from the 1970s.

A tablet is another new favorite. For those that can’t bear to travel without books, a tablet is a much lighter version that allows you to select new titles while you’re sitting at the airport. You can carry an entire library in a single device, and watch TV or movies on it later. Some tablets can replace the need for bringing a laptop.

And many people don’t want to move an inch without a more traditional device, the hairdryer.

With all these devices jockeying for space in your luggage, make sure you not only bring their charging cords, but also that you make sure you have the correct adapter if you’re traveling overseas.

Quite a number of the Travelpro women said they don’t move an inch without their makeup case. Looking your best on vacation or business is important, as is personal comfort. Several people mentioned neck pillows. Some folks want to make sure they have something comfortable to sleep in, or they bring their favorite t-shirts with them. You can bring exercise clothing along for the ride. Whether you make it to the gym or not, the idea that you’re making your health a priority for your trip can be of great psychological benefit.

Finally, when you’re packing for your trip, make sure you have a high quality suitcase! A poor quality bag can ruin your trip or even break open and leak all your favorite items. You need something durable, light, and tough enough to handle the rigors of airline travel.

What are your must-have travel items? What do you always take with you, no matter where you’re going? Leave a comment here on the blog or on our Facebook page.

Photo credit: H is for Home (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Track Ticket Prices and New Airline Fees to Get the Best Deal

January 13, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

The best way to keep track of ticket prices and airline fees? Check the travel sites every day, sometimes more than once, keep a spreadsheet of the results, and buy your tickets when you see the price hit its lowest.

Actually, that’s the worst way to do it. It wastes time and you can’t always be sure you’re finding the lowest fees. Plus, it’s difficult to keep track of alternate routes.

English: Photo of a mobile boarding pass (a 2D...

Photo of a mobile boarding pass on top of a paper boarding pass for a KLM flight. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A September blog post on Peter Greenberg’s travel blog discussed two great sites for tracking ticket prices and fees. These are the best ways to track your fees, because you can use it to find the average and lowest ticket prices for your chosen destination, as well as find the cheapest time of year to fly.

Hopper.com will do all of that, plus give you information on alternate places to fly to and from. That feature is pretty standard these days, but Hopper’s detailed breakdown isn’t. It’s the best place to find out if you’re really getting a deal on a ticket and to give you a heads up on what you can reasonably expect to pay. It even lists the lowest recent price, just to make you jealous.

There’s also AirfareWatchdog.com, which has several useful sections, including a large list of airline fees, listed by carrier. For example, you can see how much it costs to bring a pet into the cabin, or reserve tickets by phone instead of online. Watch out for new fees, such as a $5 fee for printing out your boarding pass at the airport. Instead, use your home printer or the airline’s smartphone app instead.

How do you keep track of ticket prices and fees? Do you use any special tools, or do you have the spreadsheet technique down pat? Leave us a comment below or on our Facebook page.

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