Vacation? No Thanks, Boss

September 6, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

A new study has emerged confirming what’s easy to assume, given the stress level of the American workforce: we justaren’t taking vacation like we used to. This may not be news to anyone in America who works, but according to a Harris Interactive study commissioned by JetBlue, more than 50 percent of working Americans still had vacation time left at the end of 2011. Most of them had an average of 11 days still remaining in their bank; that’s nearly 70 percent of what they were given.

The reasons aren’t economic, for the most part. We scrimp on actually taking advantage of our vacation time because of work. We work more hours, perform more functions and are generally more in demand at the office. It’s the American way of life these days.

The people interviewed for the CNN article cite factors like too much responsibility in their positions — and worries about the pile of work they’ll return to post-vacation — not enough money to do things when they do go away, the desire to stay productive in their jobs and continued struggles to recover from the recession. Some even mention fear of losing their jobs as reasoning for forgoing vacation.

One man said that given his station in his company, he’s completely unable to take long blocks of vacation, though he does manage to find ways to get away from work and enjoy time with his wife and kids.

Even when we do take vacation, it’s easy to feel tethered to work by constant connectivity through e-mail and other portable technology. The unspoken expectation that we should always be keeping one eye on work is there across the board, even when companies encourage their employees to truly unplug during vacation. The fear of returning back to the office to a pile of work and hundreds — maybe thousands — of unread e-mails after a relaxing break can make a vacation anything but relaxing.

In the United States, companies aren’t required by law to offer their employees paid vacation. In the United Kingdom, employees are legally entitled to at least 28 days’ paid vacation. In countries like France and Greece, the minimum is 25 days; in Germany and Japan, employees receive at least 20 days. That’s entry level, which means long-standing, loyal employees get even more time off. Company culture in these countries also encourages employees to unwind. Europeans sometimes take a month off en masse during the summer, usually July and August. Factories shutter temporarily, offices close.

So, what is the vacation culture like in your office? Do you take advantage of your paid vacation time? Do the JetBlue survey results surprise you?

7 Common Expenses That Take Travelers by Surprise

August 30, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Atlantis Resort - Bahamas

Atlantis Resort – Bahamas (Photo credit: derekskey)

You may have budgeted carefully for your next trip, but there’s a good chance you’ll still be surprised by a few of the
unexpected expenses you encounter. A great Budget Travel article, reprinted on CNN’s website, mentioned a bunch of those expenses and explained what they are.

There really isn’t much you can do about these fees except know what they are — knowing is half the battle, after all — and grouse about them to your friends and colleagues. Here’s a look at those seven shockers:

1. Visa Fees

If you’re traveling to a foreign country, there’s a good chance you’ll need a visa. The costs can vary, but places like China and Brazil charge more than $100. Check in with the country’s consulate for costs, and be sure to give yourself plenty of time for your visa to come in — or you’ll pay extra to expedite it, too.

2. Departure Taxes

International flights, in addition to the other secret fees few know anything about, also include a tax just to leave the country, especially if you’re traveling from the Caribbean and South America. The CNN article says those taxes can go to fund things like airport construction work, road work, and water and sewage system maintenance.

3. Resort Fees

CNN calls these the most hated fees among travelers. Sometimes a flat fee and sometimes a percentage of the room rate, resort fees include things travelers often assume come for free, like towels at the pool or that daily newspaper outside the door. (You know, the one you step over on your way out?)

Some hotels include gym access and wireless internet in their resort fees, which you can’t sweet talk your way out of even if you don’t plan to use the services they cover.

4. Cruise Gratuities

Major cruise lines charge anywhere from $10 to $12 per person, per day, in gratuities alone. If you’re on a 10-day Caribbean cruise and have already been buying drinks and splurging on extras left and right, you’ll be even more stunned when hundreds of dollars in gratuity shows up on your final bill.

CNN notes that though the charges seem mandatory, you can take it up with the ship’s purser in person to adjust the gratuity, up or down, if you think you’ve received better or worse service than the rate indicates.

5. Baggage Fees

Need we say more? Baggage fees are killer, and rarely an actual shock, but it takes our breath away every time all the same. These fees are changing all the time, and usually not for the better — we’re all for carrying our bags onto the plane whenever possible. Failing that, be sure to do your research beforehand to find a carrier with reasonable baggage fees and fares to match.

6. Money Exchange

Especially if you plan on hitting smaller towns with mom-and-pop shops and restaurants, it’s always a good idea to visit a major ATM before you leave the city. They usually offer the best exchange rates and less hassle than a foreign exchange, too.

7. Foreign Transaction Fees for Airline Tickets

If you’re booking an international flight on a foreign carrier, you might want to find another flight or consider booking a code-share flight from a domestic partner airline — your credit card company could levy a foreign transaction fee for booking with British Airways, Air France or another foreign-based international carrier.

You can also use a credit card that doesn’t charge those fees, like Capital One. But your safest bet is just to book with an American carrier.

  • 7 common expenses that take travelers by surprise (cnn.com)
  • Watch out for new hidden hotel fee (newsnet5.com)
  • Hotels expected to fetch $1.95 billion in fees (travel.usatoday.com)
  • 10 most annoying hotel fees (travel.usatoday.com)

Apps and Scanners to Smooth Out Business Expense Tracking

August 21, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Nothing will take the wind out of your sails after a productive business trip like a few hours spent sifting through the mass of crumpled and unreadable receipts you’ve been stuffing in your wallet for the past few days.

If you’ve ever found yourself shaking your head and muttering, “There has to be a better way,” the article we found on CNN’s Business Traveller coveragemight help you breathe a little easier.

Receipt Please

(Photo credit: Peter π)

There are plenty of solutions being developed these days to help tracking expenses as simple as possible for business travelers. Many of them involve hardware — scanners and the like — which, if you’re trying to cut down on the amount of stuff you carry when you travel, may not be welcome news — but some are apps and software that help you manage things while on the go.

CNN interviewed Duncan Bell, operations editor of T3 magazine (which specializes in technology), who offered five solutions for business travelers looking to streamline their expense tracking. Here’s a look at them:

Scanners

  1. The Planon (pronounced “plan-on”) SlimScan
  2. The Epson Workforce DS-30 is a portable document scanner about the size of a paper towel roll that could be a bit heavy duty (and pricey) for tracking business expenses on the road, but if you’re in need of a scanner, too, this could be a good pick.
  3. You may have seen the infomercials for NeatReceipts scanners, a scanner that automatically digitizes the information on your documents and stores it in an online “filing cabinet” — but Bell complained that it frequently misread the information on his receipts.

Apps

  1. Concur is a smart phone app (available for Android, BlackBerry and iPhone) that interfaces with a paid web service that manages both travel and expenses. The app itself, which scans receipts and helps you manage them, is free, but the web-based service starts at $8 per month for small businesses.
  2. ExpenseMagic is a free iPhone app that photographs, scans and catalogs business travel receipts, but for an additional subscription fee, real bookkeepers will translate the information on your receipts and prepare reports that your accounting department can use.
  3. Another tool we like is OneReceipt, a free tool that lets you scan your paper receipts and store them in the cloud, automatically pulls in e-receipts and helps organize your spending — it works for personal expenses, too.

How about you? Have you had any experience with tools like these, or do you have another foolproof method for tracking expenses while you’re on the road? Let us know in the comments.