Avoid These Common Travel Scams

June 26, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Benjamin Corey is an author, speaker, and blogger who frequently travels internationally, so he knows part of the travel game is for some locals to try to rip off unsuspecting tourists. He’s always on his guard and knows most travel scams. But after his flight to the Democratic Republic of Congo was delayed by a few hours, he found himself stranded outside the airport without his designated ride.

In a very dangerous area, he was very relieved when a taxi driver called his name and announced himself as the new ride. Turns out, this taxi driver was not his new designated ride at all, and Corey found himself in a life-or-death situation. Corey was able to draw on his years of experience and knowledge to escape the situation unharmed, frightened and embarrassed, but able to see where he went wrong. (It’s an interesting read.)

We were reminded of Benjamin’s story after seeing a Mental Floss article about several different travel scams flogged on unsuspecting tourists. Here are a few of our “favorites,” and how you can avoid them.

    Attention aux PickPockets (dans La Tour Eiffel...

    Attention aux PickPockets (dans La Tour Eiffel) @EiffelTower (Photo credit: dullhunk)

  • The Store Scam: A local starts up a conversation and mentions that his family owns a local store where you can get great deals on local goods. Deals that sound too good to be true (which should be your first clue). When you go to the store, you will be extorted and badgered for everything you have, and the deals aren’t that good to begin with.
  • The Change Scam: Merchants will often try to not give you exact change back, or give you change with incorrect exchange rates. To prevent this, carry small bills/coins or pay with your credit card. This helps you avoid getting shortchanged on the exchange rate as well.
  • The Taxi Scam: The very same scam that Benjamin Corey knew to avoid but still fell victim to. Before getting into cabs, ask if the driver knows the directions and for the ride fee. If he or she cannot answer, the ride is likely not legitimate. Try to only catch cabs in front of an airport or hotel, rather than just flagging one down that “looks like” a cab. If at all possible, arrange for a private driver to pick you up beforehand. Try to get a photo of your driver emailed to you, and ask him or her to confirm with you, even with a simple passphrase, like “John sent me.”
  • The Distraction Scam: You’re walking down the street. Someone bumps into you, spilling their drink or food on you in the process. They apologize and try to help clean you up, or so you think. You were actually just pickpocketed. Keep your money secured on your person, and don’t carry everything with you.
  • The Fake Cop scam: If a cop asks for you to pay a fine on the spot, he’s most likely looking for a bribe. Respond by politely saying you will only pay at a police station. Stick to this answer even if the cop becomes loud and aggressive.
  • The Dropped Ring Scam: A local will say he found a dropped gold ring, which likely isn’t even gold. He will give it to you, then demand a finder’s fee. He may even begin shouting to attract attention in the hopes of embarrassing you into paying. Don’t accept the ring in the first place, and just walk away. Drop it again, if necessary.

In all cases, it’s best to walk away from the situation as soon as you realize what’s going on. Never hand anyone your money, your camera, or any of your belongings. Keep your wallet and money in a secure place. And always take an official taxi; never accept a ride from a local.

How To Protect Your Money When Traveling

June 24, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

For some, international travel can be that once-in-a-lifetime adventure they’ve planned for years. For others, it’s just another day at the office. But whether you’re setting foot on new shores for the first time, or everyone shouts your name when you walk into the airport, your trip can turn sour if you don’t know how to protect yourself and your money.

Here are a few tips to keep worry-free about your money during your overseas travel.

    Money

    Do not carry this much money, or carry it like this, when traveling. (Photo credit: AMagill)

  • Make several copies of your identification. Carry your driver’s license with you, but have a backup copy with a friend or spouse. Do the same with your passports.
  • Alert your bank that you will be traveling, especially if you’re traveling internationally. Because while you know you’re in Istanbul, and your family knows you’re in Istanbul, all your bank sees is a sudden flurry of activity in Turkey. They may freeze your account to protect you against fraudulent purchases. Let them know beforehand to ensure your money is available when you need it.
  • Slim down your wallet. Bring identification, debit/credit cards and insurance cards, but leave the extras at home. If you lose your wallet, it will save you time from having to replace every card you’ve ever accumulated. Finally, carry little cash, as it bulks up your wallet and makes you an easy target for pickpockets. Carry your cash in a front pocket.
  • Do not use a money belt. A money belt, just like a fat wallet, will make you an easy target for thieves.
  • Finally, we are releasing a business case line with RFID (radio frequency identification) protection. Since many credit cards, and even the U.S. passport, use RFID, it’s easy for an identify thief to just stand nearby and capture all your electronic information. Our RFID protective cases block these individuals from gathering your information, leaving your finances, and your trip, intact.

What are some other money-protecting traveling tips you have? What strategies do you use? Or what are some lessons you learned the hard way? Leave a comment here or on our Facebook page.

London Stansted Airport Begins Using Smart Access Security Gates

June 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

London Stansted Airport is pioneering new technology to the airline industry by introducing smart access security gates in its terminals. At London’s third busiest airport just 30 miles northeast of the city center, the new smart access security gates will be able to scan boarding cards, passports and identification cards.

The gates will serve as an extra level of security, by correctly identifying flight passengers and also assist the boarding process by removing the hassles commonly involved with current boarding systems. Less hassle means less time and greater efficiency for the passenger, the airline, security personnel and the airport.

ePassport GatesIf the tests are successful, there is a good chance the new technology will be adopted by other airports around the globe. At the current rate of technological evolution, the creators believe it will be more affordable within the coming years. And with London Stansted creating the blueprint, other airports will be able to more easily adopt it just by following Stansted’s lead.

The goal of introducing smart access security gates is to improve the passenger experience by automating as much of the boarding process as possible. Customer service agents will still be available to assist customers, but they won’t be tied down with the mundane chores that can be done more efficiently through technology. They will be available to solve real customer problems, instead of printing and collecting boarding passes and checking the customer’s ID multiple times.

While some people may have security concerns about the automated system, we know from our work in the industry that airport officials wouldn’t just adopt new technology if they weren’t convinced of its effectiveness and safety. The fact that they’re considering it at all makes us believe they have a lot of the bugs worked out. If they weren’t convinced, they wouldn’t even try it out on a small scale because the risk is too high.

As a result, we believe this is going to be part of the coming wave of gate and ticketing automation that will result in faster and more pleasant flying experiences for airline customers’ everywhere.

Super Savvy Summer Travel Tips

June 5, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Warmer weather and longer days can only mean one thing: summertime is finally here!

While every family spends their summer days differently, one common thread is travel. Because the kids are out of school, the months of June and July are ripe for family vacations.

English: family vacation summer 2007

English: family vacation summer 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In order to get the most out of your next summer vacation, you need to thoroughly prepare beforehand so you know how to react no matter what life throws your way. To help you plan, here’s a short list of things to consider to make your next vacation go smoothly.

  • Scan and move any important travel documents to the cloud, including passports, travel insurance, medical records and anything else that can be needed in emergency situations. Storing these documents in a Google Drive, for example, will provide safekeeping and easy access. You can also use Dropbox or Evernote. You can also share these documents with family members and friends.
  • Pack a first aid kit. You never know when an injury may occur, so keep pain relievers, bandages, sunscreen, and any medications (inhalers, etc) in a water-resistant, cool environment. If traveling by car, keep a kit in the vehicle. If you’re hiking or enjoying the beach, keep the kit in a backpack or in another convenient place.
  • Plan for the worst-case scenario. Make sure everyone knows what to do in case someone in your family is separated from the group. For young children, it is generally advised that they stay in the same place and wait for a parent to come back and find them. For older children and teens, choose a location to meet in case of any separation or threat.
  • If traveling by car, be prepared for any mechanical failures. Bring jumper cables, a spare tire, tire iron, flashlight and safety flares in case your vehicle breaks down. It’s also a good idea to keep a bottle of water and a blanket in your vehicle in case you are stuck for long periods of time without help.
  • For small children, bring snacks, toys or books to keep them entertained on long drives or flights.

We could go on and on and on with all the different tips and ideas for family summer travel, but experience is the best teacher. Enjoy your summer and travel safe!

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Bring This, Not That: Boots versus Shoes versus Sandals

June 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

We’re always big fans of “pack light, wear heavy” when you’re working with limited space. For example, don’t pack your big boots into your Rollaboard when space is limited. Which gives rise to the question of whether you should take boots, shoes, or sandals with you for most of your walking.

One of the most important things to consider will be how active you plan to be, and where you will be. It may seem like a no-brainer, but an active vacation requires completely different clothing and apparel than a more passive, relaxing vacation.

An example of walking in sandals.

An example of walking in sandals. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can leave the button down shirt and slacks at home if your next trip involves scaling up a mountain. Conversely, if you’ll be dining in five star restaurants, there’s no need to waste valuable packing space with tank tops, Bermuda shorts, and flip-flops.

But what about your footwear? There are several different schools of thought for what you need on your feet when you’re going to do a lot of walking.

Again, match your footwear to your predicted level of activity. If your plans include museum visits, city tours, theme parks, or other activities that involve a lot of walking, make room in your suitcase for your favorite pair of running or walking shoes, so that you can move through the day in comfort. If hiking is on your schedule, get the lightweight boots that will provide comfort and support. And if you’re just lounging on the beach, grab your sandals.

It’s important to pack for function, but versatility is just as important. You should pack no more than two, and wear the third pair. The last thing you’ll need is to take up space by packing every pair of shoes you own, “just in case.”

For instance, if you plan on traveling throughout the city on foot, and will want to dine at nice restaurants, bring a pair of casual shoes, like loafers, that allow you to look presentable in public while also providing moderate comfort. While your hiking boots may be more comfortable, the maitre’d may decide he doesn’t have any tables that night.

Finally, don’t forget to wear your heaviest or biggest shoes on the plane. That will save you packing space and baggage weight. If you think your shoes may be too heavy on the plane, then you may also want to think twice about whether you needed them at all.

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When is Shipping Your Luggage an Option?

May 29, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

As travelers, it’s been our struggle to deal with our luggage. It’s been going on for centuries, even millennial, when early man began cramming carry-on satchels made of Mammoth hide into the overhead bins on their Pterodactyl planes.

Or was that The Flintstones?

Regardless, people are still dealing with how to get all their stuff from point A to point B easily, cheaply and quickly. But like the old saying goes, there’s easy, cheap, and quick, and you can only choose two.

Travelpro provides Rollaboard and Spinner carry-on luggage so people have the convenience of skipping the bag check and retrieval in the airports, which makes their travel a lot easier. Other people are finding that they still have to gate check their bags, just because they’re one of the last ones on the plane. Sometimes, carry-on luggage is not an option for longer trips that require more stuff.

Yahoo travel blogger Sonia Gil recently posted a video about the joys of traveling completely bag-free. (Well, almost completely. You need to carry your laptop, tablet, book, extra sweater, tickets, spare underwear, granola bars, and well, you just need a personal bag.)

Sonia looked at the joys and costs of traveling bag-free — no bag-check lines, no lost luggage, no worries about whether you have to gate check your Rollaboard. To do it, you need to ship your luggage, and it may cost you a few bucks.

There are a few companies that specialize in shipping luggage, like Sports Express and Luggage Free. There are also the main package carriers, like UPS, Fedex, and DHL. Shipping your luggage comes with a lot of caveats however, like needing to pack and ship several days in advance, or the fact that it’s not always the cheapest option.

For example, Sonia looks at the costs of sending a 75 pound oversize bag on a luggage shipper versus American Airlines, and finds that the shipper wins, $299 to $400 ($200 for oversize + $200 for overweight). Of course, you have to ship your luggage five days in advance to get the $299 rate, but it certainly is worth it if it means not having to wrestle your 75 pound behemoth off the baggage carousel and in and out of the cab and hotel.

So, if you need to pack a lot of stuff to take on your next trip, or have golf clubs or skis you want to send, consider shipping your luggage instead of taking it on your flight. The benefit is that you don’t have to mess with it at the airport or move it to and from your final destination. Your bag is already there waiting for you, probably with its own stories.

KLM Introduces Innovative Boarding Technique

May 22, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

The premiere airline carrier of the Netherlands, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, has introduced a new method for passengers boarding planes in an effort to improve efficiency.

Replacing the standard boarding procedures will be a new, numerical process that will assign each passenger a number as they reach the boarding gate. That number corresponds to their seat number, and as that number is displayed by screens on the boarding gate, the passenger is allowed to board the plan and find his or her seat.

English: Aircraft: Boeing 747-406M Airline: KL...

Aircraft: Boeing 747-406M Airline: KLM – Royal Dutch Airlines at Schiphol Airport (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This new procedure will, of course, allow priority members, those with reduced mobility and passengers with children to be seated first.

After those individuals have been seated, the other passengers will be seated starting in the rear and working towards the front. Travelers with window seating will be seated first in each row, followed by middle seats and finally passengers seated in the aisle.

KLM designed the process with hopes to minimize the overall waiting time and increase the passenger experience. Instead of having to waste time idle in line, travelers can spend that time relaxing in the lounge. Because each seat is assigned a number as they reach the gate, there will be no confusion about sitting in another passenger’s seat.

The new process has been seen by many as a much-needed improvement for the traveler. However, a red flag has been raised. Some travelers are concerned that having to wait to be called to board will decrease the chance they will be able to use the overhead bins for carry-on luggage. While this may be a small complaint, it is one that must be addressed if the boarding technique is to be seen as a success and adopted by other airlines.

The current boarding technique is occurring on a test run with select flights. If all goes well, the procedure will be expanded to other flights in the coming months.

If you had to design a plane boarding procedure, what would you come up with? Any suggestions?

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Frequent Flier Program Changes Worry Travelers

May 20, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’ve been saving up those airline miles and points for a free trip, you may want to cash them out sooner rather than later. Airline loyalty programs are changing so quickly that travelers are wondering if the programs are even worth it anymore.

English: Different customer loyality cards (ai...

Different customer loyality cards (airlines, car rental companies, hotels etc.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have discussed previously that your frequent flier points are quickly becoming devalued. Delta and United have already produced “eye-popping” changes to their programs, and travelers are keeping a watchful eye on the merger between US Airways and American Airlines to see what happens. Of course, not everyone has to worry too much.

Coach fliers won’t really be impacted from these changes. Many of the frequent flier miles and loyalty program changes are affecting business class travelers. Airlines usually change their programs every couple of years and experts warn that you really should look at the terms and conditions for the programs before committing to a favorite one. Airlines change their programs all of the time because flights are getting so cheap and they are losing money.

Some airlines are even changing their loyalty programs to where it’s based on money spent, rather than number of miles. They even go as far as to offer credit cards. They make tons of money off of these cards, so be critical and wary of the offers you consider.

The way that these programs are changing, travelers are being left in the dust. Airlines are changing their minds so quickly that we recommend that you really think about using frequent flier programs before signing up.

Travelers are more wary as their loyalty points are quick becoming worth up to 40 percent less than they used to be only a few months ago. It’s good to be cautious of these programs and know what you are signing up for.

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6 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Boarding Pass

May 13, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Once you arrive at the airport and pick up your boarding pass (or you print it out at home before you ever leave), the first thing you look at is the gate number and seat assignment. For most people, that’s about it. But you’re missing a lot of information that is helpful, and sometimes crucial, to know. If you’ve never really paid attention to your boarding pass, here are a few things you may want to pay attention to.

1. TSA PreCheck Status

TSA PreCheck allows you to go through security lines faster, making your airport visit much easier. However, you need to become a member in order to use it. It can be a great time saver if you travel frequently. However, you’re not guaranteed PreCheck for every flight, since it’s not available in every airport. Look for the PreCheck symbol on your boarding pass to see if you’re eligible for the PreCheck service on your flight.

2. In-Flight Wifi

English: A boarding pass from British Airways,...

English: A boarding pass from British Airways, for a flight from Vancouver to London Heathrow. The green sticker allows use of “fast pass” security clearance and the brown pencil mark on the stub shows that the passenger has cleared security. The large portion is meant to be retained by the airline but in this case it wasn’t. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Almost all of American planes have built-in wifi for travelers. Sometimes it’s free, sometimes it’s paid. Your boarding pass will let you know you if your plane has wifi access and whether it’s free or paid. Once you get the all clear from the flight deck, fire up your laptop or tablet, and visit a few of your favorite sites. Like our Facebook page, for example. . .

3. Flight Time

This may seem obvious, since you already know your flight time. But you need to know that flight times constantly change and may be different than the time you originally scheduled. This is also true of your gate.

Note: Depending on when you printed out your boarding pass, the information may have changed. The Departure/Arrival screens are going to have the most up-to-date information, but if you printed out your boarding pass at the airport, that’s a close second.

4. Bar Code

Your boarding pass now has a bar code instead instead of a magnetic strip. This change allowed you to print your boarding pass from home, saving you time at the airport.

5. Flight Number

You may actually be flying on an airline with a codeshare, even though you booked on a different airline. For example, if you booked a United flight to go to Europe, you may find you’re on a Lufthansa flight, which is United’s codeshare partner. Check your ticket for the flight number for codeshare information. If you have a higher-than-expected flight number, that usually means two airlines are sharing the same flight.

6. Seat Number and Status

The more perks you have with your chosen airline, the closer you are to the front of the plane. Being a preferred member of the loyalty club, upgrading your seat, and having priority check-in can all move you toward the front of the plane, which means you get to board early and be one of the first to depart. Anyone who’s ever been last on, last off knows how annoying it can be.

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Five Baggage Handling Solutions That Can Enhance the Passenger Experience

May 6, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

We’re seeing a lot of technological changes that can improve travelers’ experience as they fly around the world. Here are five baggage handling solutions that we think, if they were adopted around the world, would make flying much more enjoyable (or at least less stressful).

1. Home-Printed Bag Tags

Example of IATA airport code printed on a bagg...

Example of IATA airport code printed on a baggage tag, showing DCA (Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bag tags printed from home allow passengers to skip check-in and have the bags ready to go when arriving at the airport. You will have more control over your travel experience and could lower your drop off time to as little as 30 seconds. One drawback is some passengers don’t have the printing capabilities, so not everyone can take advantage of it. In addition, if your home printer is low on ink, the tag will not be able to be read by the baggage scanning device. Even with these potential drawbacks, the number of passengers who will not need to print tags at the airport will dramatically speed up check-in times.

2. Permanent Bag Tags

To those annoying bag tag stickers that can fall off, we say enough! The Vanguard ID company has created the ViewTag, designed to replace the throw-a-way paper tags used today. This permanent tag can be updated with a synchronization of a smartphone or tablet. Think about the positive environmental impact of using a permanent tag. Think about the waste of the huge number of throw-a-way bag tags that are created throughout the world’s airports.

After meeting Rick Warther from Vanguard in our office, we know how hard it is to design a permanent tag. There are still some things to consider when thinking about wear and tear and the clarity of the tags for scanning over time.

3. Bag Drops

A few airports are allowing offsite or remote bag drops for travelers, leaving them at a location like your hotel. It’s one less thing to worry about at the airport, but not many have adopted it. We nearly tried it out at a hotel in Las Vegas, but they needed the bags there too early so it didn’t meet our timeline. Aside from some minor issues, we think bag drops are a great idea, and expect to see more convenient systems in the future.

4. Bag Delivery

A delivery service called Airportr will allow passengers traveling to and from an airport in London to have their bags delivered, making the process less stressful. The VIP Luggage Delivery in the U.S. offers the same service now. Our only concern is the issue of security and the ability for a complete stranger to take a cartload of bags without being stopped.

5. Lost Luggage Improvements

Using the WorldTracer App on iPads, airline agents can scan your boarding pass and pull up your information quicker than trying to call the “hotline” for your airline, or visiting the lost luggage desk. You can even trace your own bag with other devices like the Trakdot device.

What are some baggage handling solutions you would like to see? What would make your own travel experience more enjoyable when it comes to dealing with your luggage? Leave a comment and let us hear from you.

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