Would You Ride in a Driverless Uber?

February 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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

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

Self-driving Uber prototype being tested in San Francisco

Self-driving Uber prototype being tested in San Francisco

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

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

February 17, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

As Uber, Lyft, and other ridesharing services continue to grow, it stands to reason that the emergence of these services would negatively affect the rental car industry.

But it turns out it’s not as cut and dried as it may appear.

Avis Car RentalsAccording to car rental industry leaders, the need that rental cars fill for the public is not the same as the one being met by Uber and Lyft. In fact, according to USA Today, Avis Budget Group reported a three percent increase in revenues over the first three quarters of 2016 and Enterprise Holdings saw a 10 percent increase in its airport car rental revenue in 2015.

So, no real disruption here.

The reason for these upward trends is that rental cars and Uber are not an apples-to-apples comparison. According to Neil Abrams, a consultant in the car rental industry, “Typically, auto rental is lumped into the general category of ground transportation, including taxi and livery services. However, whereas taxi and livery are of shorter duration and mileage, the rental customer normally has a different requirement which demands more time and distance.”
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Four Business Travel Budget Savers from Experienced Travelers

February 3, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Even if you’re an experienced business traveler, there are a few little things you can do to make your next travel experience more expedient, efficient, and economical. Based on our own experiences, as well as those of some of our customers, these are a few travel hacks you can do to save money, time, and your sanity.

Pay premium for the direct flight. The old axiom is true: time is money. And if you’re a business traveler, you’re losing money while you’re in transit, which means you need to find a way to shorten that time. Traveling more legs than necessary just to save money actually decreases your productivity, which costs you more money in the long run.
You can negotiate with your car rental provider on a business travel trip
Every segment you add to a flight also increases the risk of delay or cancellation, which costs time as well as energy. Plus, those who book full-fare tickets, even if they’re in economy, are more likely to get an upgrade if it’s available because the gate agent will know the price you paid by a code on the ticket. Remember, if you get to your destination sooner, you can start working sooner.

Negotiate with car rental agencies. Did you even know you could do this? According to some of our experienced business travelers, you can. While premium cars are more expensive, rental agents may be willing to negotiate if there are available cars in this category, and if they’re not pressed for time with lots of customers behind you.
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Business Travelers Can Now Schedule Uber 30 Days in Advance

November 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Business travelers who like to schedule all of the details of their trips now have another arrow in their quiver: Uber is rolling out a new program that lets you schedule Uber rides up to 30 days in advance.

The program, called Schedule a Ride, which rolled out in Seattle this summer, is the latest advancement for the company that pioneered a new category of ride sharing six years ago. Schedule a Ride is now available in 44 US and eight international cities.
An Uber taxi, suitable for business travelers
“Even though we’re an on-demand company, we totally get it. Sometimes you just want that extra reassurance that your Uber will be there when you want to leave,” Tom Fallows, Uber’s director of global experiences, told Wired.

The service will also send you a reminder notice 24 hours ahead and again 30 minutes ahead, and the standard cancellation policy that allows you to cancel a ride within five minutes of when the car is dispatched without incurring a penalty also applies to this new feature. Rates are the same as standard UberX rides, and surge rates during peak travel times will also apply.

The “Schedule a Ride” offering is in response to business travelers’ request for this level of predictability. As a nod to those users, Uber will offer priority access to those who have business profiles or whose profiles are linked to their company’s Uber for a Business corporate account.
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Ways to Avoid Lines When You Travel

August 5, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Unless you’ve already been authorized for PreCheck, you’re not going to be able to avoid the TSA security lines. But there are things you can do when you’re getting ready to travel and things you can do once you get where you’re going that can help you avoid lines like a pro. Let us show you how.

TSA lines at LAX international terminal, Santa Monica, Los Angeles,If you’re going to spend the day at an amusement park, you don’t have to spend a lot of time in line. Disney and many other theme parks have systems in place that let you essentially reserve a place in line. One side note: some parks offer this as a free service, while others, like Six Flags, charge for it.

Take advantage of online booking. Museums and other attractions allow you to purchase your tickets before you arrive. You then print them or keep them in your smartphone, and bypass the line altogether. Some cities also offer an all-inclusive pass that includes admission to its major attractions, again saving you from doing nothing but waiting in line.

Use express checkout at your hotel. Because your credit card is on file as part of your check-in process, you’re good to go at all major hotels without stopping by the front desk, provided the bill you find inside your door is accurate. This may not always be the case at smaller boutique hotels.
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Biggest Mistakes People Make When Traveling

March 12, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A recent article in Yahoo travel about the mistakes that travelers tend to make got us thinking about our own advice for travelers.

One tip we make over and over is not having cash in hand before we set out on our travels. Although we mostly recommend that travelers use their cards when traveling and to have a limited amount of cash before you set out is extremely helpful because some places in the area you’re visiting might not take cards (for example, the toll booths on the Florida turnpike don’t take plastic).

Nice ATM

ATM (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of our employees has upcoming travel plans that include Spain and he plans to get Euros at his bank before he heads out. He says that using ATMs overseas can be dicey in that you may have your card flagged. We also feel that the exchange places at and near the airports can be overpriced.

We also believe not researching your destination is a huge mistake. Know what you want to visit before you go. Otherwise, you may end up in a beautiful area and not know what’s so great about it. Smartphones can help in this case, but they may not know important tourist destinations could be booked or you could arrive on the wrong day to hit a hot spot. Know before you go.

Our same globe-trotting employee took a list of destinations on a recent trip to Italy. Once he got there, he and his family cut back on the list and talked to locals about what was really worth their time. They ended up having the best possible trip because they were able to create a big list and cull from it, rather than try to decide where to go each morning, and miss better sights and venues.

The article says that relying heavily on public transport is a mistake. However, we tend to think that renting a car is the bigger mistake relating to getting around while traveling in a foreign land. That’s because it’s hard to really understand the traffic patterns and it’s certainly difficult to navigate when you can’t read the road signs.

It’s probably better to rent a car only if you plan on staying somewhere for an extended period of time. Stick with the public transportation whenever possible; in many of these countries, especially Western Europe, they excel at public transportation, and many locals don’t even own cars because the transportation is so good.

What are some of the travel mistakes you’ve made? What have you seen other people do? Leave us a blog comment or post something on our Facebook page.

How to Avoid These 5 Gotcha Travel Fees

November 14, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s no secret that it’s becoming more and more expensive to travel. If you think that airlines are the only ones tacking on additional fees, think again. Thankfully, most of these fees are avoidable. Whether you’re flying, renting a car or staying in a hotel, there are a slew of hidden fees that everyone should be aware of when traveling. After reading USA Today’s article on gotcha fees, we pulled a few of our favorites, add weigh in with our own experiences.

1. Telephone booking fees

Do you prefer to book your flights through a telephone customer service agent? If so, you may be surprised to learn that you’ve been paying extra for this privilege. At $25 per telephone booking through several major airlines, it might cost you more to book a flight than it would to call Ms. Cleo’s psychic hotline.

To avoid this fee, use the same tool you’re using to read this blog post: your computer or your tablet. Visit the airline’s website to purchase your ticket. If you need assistance, you can still call and speak to an agent without incurring a charge, as long as you book your ticket online.

2. Hotel parking fees

Visiting a big city and planning on bringing (or renting) a car? Expect to pay big bucks for hotel parking. Parking in most big cities is already quite expensive, and hotels typically charge even more than the norm. If you must bring a car, do your research. There are plenty of websites you can use to find the cheapest nightly parking rate in the area you’re staying. If you’re renting a car, consider picking up your rental only when you need it, or renting it for the day and returning it at night. Other services like Uber ride sharing service, a taxi, or even public transportation like San Francisco’s BART or Boston’s T are much less expensive and sometimes faster.

3. Car rental insurance

English: Car rental counters of New Chitose Ai...

English: Car rental counters of New Chitose Airport (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Renting a car? The insurance the car rental agent insists you need can add hundreds of dollars to the cost of your rental. If you already have car insurance, you may not even need this insurance. Call your insurance company to find out if your existing policy covers rentals. Additionally, some credit cards (such as American Express) offers low-cost car rental insurance. Do your research before you book a rental car and avoid the need for this redundant insurance.

4. Resort fees

Surprise. The hotel you’re staying at may not resemble a resort in the traditional sense of the word, but they may still be charging you a resort fee, especially if you’re in a tourist town. These fees generally run about $25 per night, which add up if you staying long enough. The best way to avoid this fee is to simply ask the hotel if there are any additional fees before you book, and negotiate your way out of them. If you wait until checkout, you’re too late.

5. Early check-in fee

If you arrive at your hotel too early, it may cost you. Many hotels charge an early check-in fee for travelers who arrive before the official check-in time, which is usually around 1pm. If you arrive earlier in the day, be sure to ask about any hidden check-in fees before going through the check-in process. Don’t want to sit around the lobby for hours? Most hotels will store your bags for free until your room is ready (don’t forget to tip the bellman though).

What’s the craziest hidden fee you’ve run into when traveling? Share with your fellow travelers in the comments section.