Bots Poised to Take Over Travel Industry

May 15, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

It’s not just other people who know you these days. Thanks to machine learning, artificial intelligence has evolved to the point that your personal preferences for nearly everything are not only being cataloged, they can assist an AI system in helping you complete everything from a hotel booking to a dinner reservation.

The process is so seamless that sometimes you may not even be aware you’re being helped by a computer instead of a real person. Chatbots are ubiquitous on online travel sites and airline reservation systems, as well as some financial institutions, software help centers, and ecommerce websites. They allow human agents to work on more complex issues, and they facilitate faster processing and confirmation of orders and reservations.

Delta Airlines' machine for biometric boarding passes. The travel industry is moving more toward this kind of technology.

Delta Airlines’ machine for biometric boarding passes

AI’s use in the travel industry is the result of traveler feedback about desired efficiency and convenience. For example, if you don’t want to make any decisions, Google Trips can plan a complete itinerary based on what it has learned from your past travel experiences. Just tell the app where you want to go, and everything is kept in one location and can be adapted if your plans change en route.

The hotel industry is also partnering with technology innovators, like IBM, to provide their guests with “personalized” attention from a robotic concierge, 24/7. Connie, the result of a partnership between Hilton and IBM, provides details about the hotel, its amenities, and local attractions. Its software allows it to continually enhance users’ experiences because it is able to learn from interactions and apply that knowledge in future conversations.

AI is also being used to enhance security at airports. While all of us are aware of the body scanners used in the security screening process, one airport is testing the use of hidden facial recognition cameras to identify who is moving through security areas. Dubai International Airport is testing its facial recognition in real time through the implementation of a virtual aquarium, where cameras track and catalog who moves through the tunnel.

With all this data collection, the next concern for this technology is the potential that exists for breaches of privacy and security, as well as misuse by the organizations storing our data. Do travelers have the right to know if they’re being scanned, photographed, and their data stored somewhere? As we continue to crave efficiency and convenience, this issue will have to be addressed.

What are your thoughts? Are you ready to welcome our robot overlords, or are you a little hesitant to turn your information over to a machine? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Delta Airlines

Five Tips for Getting Your Passport and Avoiding Headaches

May 3, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Passport applications and renewals are surging at an all-time high, so if you’ve been meaning to renew your old passport or need to apply for a new one, we’d like to give you some tips to make the process as painless as possible.

The reason for the surge dates back to 2007, when the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative of 2007 required all those traveling to the United States from other countries to show a valid passport or approved documentation. This changed from the days when US citizens could travel between Canada and Mexico with just their driver’s licenses. In 2007, 18 million passports were issued, and now all those are approaching or have exceeded their 10-year issuance limit.

Another reason for the record number of applications and renewals is the Department of Homeland Security’s implementation of phase four of the REAL ID Act. Beginning January 18, 2018, a driver’s license was no longer sufficient identification for boarding an airplane if the state didn’t comply with the mandated standards set by the DHS.

So, how can you get that little blue book in the shortest time possible so you don’t encounter any travel headaches? Here are our five tips.

Photo of a U.S. passport1. What should be obvious by now is this: don’t wait until the last minute to start. If you have a few months before your trip, that may not be enough time. Expediting is possible, but due to the glut of applications and renewal requests, don’t push your luck.

2. For you procrastinators, there is a service you can pay to handle the process for you. Called govWorks, it exists to change the way people interface with federal and foreign governments. The company can accelerate processing for travel visas, passports, and other travel documents by facilitating access to a customer’s information from a secure platform.

govWorks CEO Adam Boalt said, “Many countries will not accept a passport with less than six months of remaining validity. If possible, you should get a passport renewal at least nine months before it expires.”

3. If you travel internationally frequently, consider applying for a 52-page passport. Many people aren’t even aware this is an option, but that almost doubling in capacity can really come in handy when each country requires two stamps for entry and exit from its state. When a page can only accommodate four stamps, the standard 28-page booklet can fill quickly.

4. If you plan to travel with your children and live in a state that is currently out of compliance with the REAL ID Act, get passports for yourself and your children. Keep in mind that children’s passports aren’t issued for the same length of time as adult passports. They are only good for five years and will be required for children who travel with their parents in the continental US if their parents don’t have REAL ID-compliant documentation from their state.

5. Consider having two passports. Boalt confirmed it is possible, and sometimes necessary, to simultaneously hold two valid passports. “Some countries reject passports that contain visa stamps from certain other countries, such as traveling into Israel if you have a stamp from Saudi Arabia. Second passports are also helpful for frequent travelers who might need to apply for multiple visa applications on an ongoing basis,” Boalt said.

Bonus: Finally, don’t assume a passport is all you need to travel to certain destinations. Thoroughly investigate all necessary documentation before planning an itinerary. If you don’t, your biggest travel headache could occur at the airport gate when you are turned away because you lack the appropriate travel visa. To help travelers avoid this frustration, Boalt created Travel Visa, a division of govWorks. Do some investigating and make sure you have what you need before you ever leave the house,

Are you an international traveler? Do you have any passport success stories or horror stories? What have you done to get your passport renewed? Share your tales with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

2017 Air Travel Consumer Report Results

April 24, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

As the traveling public becomes more discriminating about which airline it flies and who’s the best at getting them where they’re needing and wanting to go on time, the annual Air Travel Consumer Report, a compiling of data submitted to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, reads like a tell-all tabloid.

And despite the crushing media stories about some problems, the airline industry has improved its performance year over year.

For example, 2017 was the lowest year for bumped passengers since 1995. The rate — just .034 for every 10,000 passengers — is half the rate of .062 of 2016.

That number doesn’t account for travelers who accepted travel vouchers or offered to give up their seats on overbooked flights, two of the ways airlines reduce the statistic they have to report to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Cancellations, on-time performance, tarmac delays, flights that are chronically delayed, and the causes of flight delays are also detailed in the report. The overall on-time rate was 80.2 percent, a small decline from 2016 when the number was 81.4 percent. That makes the numbers reported by the top three airlines exceptional.

Table from 2017 Air Travel Consumer Report by U.S. DOT

Hawaiian Airlines led the way in on-time performance with 88.2 percent on-time arrivals. Delta Airlines was second, with 83.5 percent, and Alaska Airlines rounded out the top three with 83.4 percent. According to the report, “a flight is counted as ‘on time’ if it operated less than 15 minutes after the scheduled time shown in the carriers’ Computerized Reservations Systems (CRS).”

The reporting of on-time arrivals is particularly important because the report shows that the number one cause of delays for passengers was due to late arriving aircraft (6.74%). The second leading factor contributing to delays was air carrier delay, which is defined as circumstances due to maintenance or crew that are within the airline’s control. That accounted for 5.46 percent of delays in December.

The report’s quarterly figures also highlighted unusually high tarmac delays for December 2017, as 96 flights reported tarmac delays of three hours or more.

While that seems unusually high, there’s actually a good explanation for it: 77 tarmac delays were from planes that were held away from the terminal at Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport due to the December 17 power outage. Another 14 were delayed departing from Atlanta because of a snowstorm on December 8. This makes the actual number of flights with an on-tarmac delay of three hours or more only 5 for for December 2017.

The airlines are listening to customer complaints and are doing everything they can to make our flights a more comfortable experience, and that shows in the improved numbers of 2017 over 2016.

Have you noticed an improvement in performance, or do you have your own story to tell? Share it with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Transportation (Public Domain)

Google Flights Can Predict Delays Before They Happen

April 17, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’re a frequent traveler, you probably have the mobile app for whatever airline you’re loyal to. Why? Not only can you check in to your flight 24 hours before your flight leaves, it also informs you of any current delays to your flight. You can adjust plans before you ever get to the airport and make any schedule changes necessary.

But what if you could save yourself the hassle of being caught in a flight delay before it ever occurs? You can, if you use Google Flights.

A new feature has been added to the app that uses machine learning algorithms and historical flight data to predict the likelihood of a specific flight being delayed. Not when the flight is actually delayed, but when it could be delayed. That could be a significant head start on making any schedule changes and could save you lots of headaches and stress!

Photo of a flight departure screen showing a delayed flight. Google Flights can more easily predict these now.While it’s not a 100% guarantee that a flight will be delayed, Google has said that it only posts the delay when it’s 80 percent certain.

While Google Assistant already informs you of a delay, Google Flight’s new features also provide detailed information about the cause, be it weather or system delays that prevent flights from taking off. To check the status of your flight, all you have to do is supply your airline and flight number or search your airline and route.

The Google Flights updates also allow travelers to view what isn’t included in the price of a ticket you’re considering. For example, United Basic Economy doesn’t allow you to access overhead bins, choose your seat, upgrade your seat, or change your ticket, but you may not have known that. Now this information is now available for all American, Delta, and United fares, so you can look up your ticket’s amenities online and see which ticket will provide you with the best value and most comfort.

Flight delays are expensive, aggravating, and exhausting. The airline apps have helped this a great deal, but if you start using Google Flights, some of this inconvenience can be avoided.

Have you used Google Flights? Is this something you’ll start using in the future? What do you hope it will provide for you? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Jason Tester Guerilla Future (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Hilton Guests Control Preferences with Smartphones

April 10, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

As if we weren’t already using our smartphones for everything, including as an automated assistant and running our smart homes, Hilton is now offering a “smart room” for its hotels nationwide. This will provide their guests the ability to manage their preferences without putting down their beloved devices.

According to a story on TravelMarketReport.com, the hotel chain plans to make some of its rooms “mobile-centric” this year, allowing guests to change the thermostat, operate the light switches, and sync their streaming service to the room’s television through the Hilton Honors app. And making the hotel room feel more like home will be possible by uploading personal images to the room’s digital frames. Then, you can take photos of your loved ones with you without actually packing any photos in your suitcase.

“Hey Hilton”

Hilton guests will be able to select their rooms and open their doors with their smartphones.This move is the first in the hotel’s ultimate goal of providing guests the ability to use voice commands to control these features. If you already have an Amazon Echo or Google Home device, you’re already familiar with how they work. A simple “Alexa” or “Okay Google” will let you activate one of its different commands, like turning on smart lights, changing the channel on your TV, or even ordering more coffee from Amazon Pantry.

Hilton is currently testing the system in one of their hotels, but said they plan to “scale rapidly” in the US this year.

Hilton expects to adapt the connected room based on the feedback it receives from its users. Hilton Honors app users already have the ability to check in, make their room selection, and open the door with a digital key, thus skipping any check-in lines if you’re at a conference. According to the company, four million keys have been downloaded since the program’s inception.

Marriott International is also vying for guests interested in utilizing mobile-centric amenities. It’s testing a voice-controlled shower and a yoga class video that can be viewed on the room’s full-length mirror.

Have you had a chance to use the new Hilton Honors app or smart room? Do you use a similar device at home? Will this make you more likely to stay at a Hilton? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Hilton Hotels (Used with permission)

Price of US Passports Rose at the Start of the Month

April 5, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

As of April 2, the price you’ll pay to obtain a United States passport increased from $135 to $145, and passports for children 16 years of age and younger rose to $115 instead of $105.

According to the U.S. State Department, the price increase stemmed from a study done by the U.S. Department of Consular Affairs that determined that the $25 execution fee the U.S. Postal Service was charging was insufficient, and they weren’t making enough money. Thus the $10 increase.

The application fee for an adult passport book is $115 ($105 for children 16 or younger) remains unchanged. Those who apply for passport renewal also will not see an increase in their prices. Renewal fees are not determined by age and cost $110 per passport book.

Photo of a US passport on a map of the United States. Which is weird, since you don't need a passport to travel within the US.According to the Department of Consular Affairs, residents qualify for passport renewal if their original passport is undamaged when submitted, was issued when they were 16 years or older, was issued in the past 15 years, and was issued in your current name. (Name changes must be submitted by mail with an original or certified copy of a marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court order.)

For those looking for a less costly alternative and do not plan to fly internationally, a passport card can be obtained for $55 for residents over 16 and for $40 for residents under 16, with renewals only costing $30.

This card may only be used for land crossings and sea ports of entry, and is only accepted in lieu of a passport book for border crossings in Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean. In other words, you can’t fly into those countries with the passport card, you must have the full passport.

But the passport card may be a viable option for anyone on closed-loop cruises which starts and ends in the United States. That’s enough to let you get off the boat on a Caribbean cruise and get back into the country.

The passport card is also Real I.D. compliant and can be used for domestic travel. This is important, since some U.S. states still do not have Real I.D. compliant driver’s licenses and state ID cards, which means people in those states are not allowed to board an airplane.

How do you manage your business travel during peak travel seasons, especially to those vacation hotspots? Any tips to share or horror stories to learn from? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Cytis (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0/Public Domain)

Supersonic Air Travel Just Took Another Big Step Toward Rebirth

March 22, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Boom Supersonic has partnered with Japan Airlines (JAL) and Virgin Group billionaire Richard Branson to bring supersonic air travel back to the skies. Boom, headquartered in Denver, wants to revive the ultra-efficient method of flight and make it accessible to non-millionaires. With JAL’s 10-million-dollar investment and Branson’s commitment to purchase the first 10 jets and offer the assistance of Virgin Galactic with test flights, we could see the first supersonic jet in the air this year.

Boom Airlines new jet will bring supersonic air travel back to the skiesBy collaborating to build a swift, more efficient model that capitalizes on the previous successes of the Concorde (the groundbreaking airplane fleet that was operated by British Airways and Air France for 27 years), Boom hopes to overcome the exorbitant costs associated with this specialized form of commercial flight and improve the travelers’ experience.

According to Boom’s FAQ, the plane’s interior design will provide, among other amenities, a large window, immediate access to the aisle, and a personal overhead bin to each passenger.

Its prototype, the XB-1 Supersonic Demonstrator, is one-third the size of its eventual commercial offering, and flies at 1,300 mph, twice the speed of today’s jumbo jet. The full-size model is projected to fly at 1,700 mph. JAL’s investment will allow them to purchase 20 jets when testing is complete. Seating 55 passengers each, they could create a flight itinerary between San Francisco and Tokyo that could take half the current 11 hours to complete.

The Boom Airplane factory

JAL president Yoshiharu Ueki hopes the partnership will “contribute to the future of supersonic flight with the intent of providing more time to our valued passengers while emphasizing flight safety.”

Supersonic air travel, which cuts the transatlantic flight time between New York and London from six hours to three and a half, hasn’t been available since 2003. When in operation, tickets were $12,000. According to Blake Scholl, Boom’s founder and CEO, the expected ticket price will be just $5,000. Boom claims it is on schedule to be operational in 2023.

Would you try supersonic air travel for $5,000? Does the price make it more likely? How likely are you to fly supersonic once it becomes available? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Boom Airlines (used with permission)

Business Travel Outlook for 2018

March 16, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Things are looking good for business travel. According to a recent survey by The GO Group, LLC, a ground transportation company that operates shuttle services to over 90 airports, the percentage of respondents expecting to do more business travel is almost double what was anticipated in 2016 (27 percent vs 15 percent). A mere six percent of travelers thought they’d travel less.

This is a major change from 10 years ago, when the Great Recession, saw a major drop in business travel as well as vacation/personal travel. But as the economy has improved, consumer confidence is on the rise, business travel spending is up, and more people are hopping on board airplanes and staying in hotels around the country and throughout the world.

Business travel often means working in an airport between flights. This is a photo of a white MacBook Pro taken in the Hong Kong airport.And when travel dropped 10 years ago, we saw a big rise in unemployment in the travel industry — fewer business travel opportunities meant fewer airline passengers and hotel nights, which had a ripple effect on the entire industry.

When it improved, there were key gains felt throughout the world. According to a report from the World Travel & Tourism Council,

. . . travel and tourism directly contributed US$2.3 trillion and 109 million jobs worldwide. Taking its wider indirect and induced impacts into account, the sector contributed US$7.6 trillion to the global economy and supported 292 million jobs in 2016. This was equal to 10.2% of the world’s GDP, and approximately 1 in 10 of all jobs.

Similarly, GO Group President John McCarthy believes this anticipated uptick in travel should have a “huge impact on airlines, hotels, and related industries.” McCarthy sees this increase as having nothing but positive implications for those seeking jobs within both the travel and tourism sectors.

Although an equal percentage of the respondents (27 percent) expected to see no change in the amount of business travel they would do in 2018, 39 percent were unsure how their travel schedules would be affected by their companies’ growth strategies. But the term “growth strategies” is heartening enough to make us think travel will continue to rise.

What plans do you have for business travel in 2018? Are you going to increase, decrease, or keep it about the same? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page,  or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Mark Hillary (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

Five Ways Business Travel is Changing in 2018

March 8, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Change is constant throughout life, and business travel is no exception. As we near the end of our first quarter of the year, we’re starting to see some changes in the way we’re approaching travel and the way the technology is changing how we get from Point A to Point B.

Lyft car with the signature pink mustache. This has become a popular mode of transportation for business travel.Sharing economies such as Airbnb, Uber, and Lyft have transitioned from independent rebels operating outside mainstream business to becoming accepted as helpful ways to accomplish business travel goals and keep budgets in line.

Because of the wide acceptance of these services, particularly among small business owners, an article on The Next Web wonders how these companies will expand. For example, in 2014, small business owners only chose Uber over taxis 1 in 3 times. As of the end of 2017, that had reversed, with Uber being the preferred choice 3 to 1. Airbnb has had a similar experience among the same demographic. In 2014, hotels were preferred to Airbnb properties 16 to 1, while just three years later, that ratio was only 6 to 1. It will be interesting to see how these ride sharing and hospitality service economies navigate saturation in the remainder of 2018.

Blockchain technology advances and the use of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are infiltrating marketplace transactions and this year could be a turning point in how it is accepted by the big players in the credit industry. In the final quarter of 2017, American Express, VISA, and MasterCard each announced its intentions to get in on the burgeoning tectonic shift in the way transactions are completed around the world.

One of the main reasons these three players are making moves to stake their claim in this Wild West of transaction technology is because blockchain transactions operate differently and outside of traditional banking systems. A decentralized network of computers has the ability to encrypt and maintain the integrity of a public ledger so that it is immune to hacking and fraud. Blockchain also allows individuals to conduct business without a middleman, such as a credit card company or bank, and this innovation has the potential to alter the landscape of how both businesses and citizens do business in significant ways.

While we are still a ways away from it being ubiquitous and part of the way everyone buys and sells goods and services, blockchain and Bitcoin’s use overseas is forcing banks and credit card companies to implement initiatives so they aren’t left behind.

Much faster than we expected and may be ready for, self-driving cars are no longer a futuristic concept. They’ll be operational in a limited number of cities as early as 2019, after Uber launched its first test fleet in 2016. Its recently-announced partnership with Volvo to add 24,000 such vehicles to its fleet, and Lyft’s partnership with Waymo to make similar advancements in its business strategy, self-driving cars are only going to increase the availability of another viable option for business travel very, very soon.

While it may still be some time before you’ll see a self-driving car pull up to the curb to take you where you need to go, artificial intelligence (AI) has already made significant inroads to the way we create itineraries online for business travel. Labeled “cognitive projects” in an IBM report of the business travel industry leaders, a third of all companies in this space are working on AI enhancements that will personalize the business traveler’s experience.

Whether you call it “interactive customer service” or a “chatbot” that pops up when you’re considering a specific flight itinerary, these cognitive projects are being designed to analyze large data sets and the preferences of other travelers in order to create an itinerary that appears to have been customized.

Business travelers may not even notice the influx of AI into the process, since the technology is being developed in such a way that it can converse in natural language with prospective customers in order to determine and meet their needs.

All of these changes are the result of the fact that there’s money to be made in business travel. According to the Global Business Travel Association, business travel is expected to increase by 6 percent this year, up from 3.5 percent in 2016. Increased trade worldwide and growth in both manufacturing and emerging markets are driving optimism. While this may be good for the economy, businesses will have to find creative ways to absorb or streamline the projected 3.5 and 3.7 percent increases, respectively, in airline tickets and hotel accommodations.

With all this potential for dramatic changes, the mature nature of the business travel industry will find ways to adjust and welcome these shifts because it knows they ultimately result in growth.

What plans do you have for communicating in an emergency? Do you have any plans or strategies already in place? Have you ever had to use them? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: PraiseLightMedia (Wikipedia, Creative Commons 4.0)

PreCheck and Global Entry Merger Considered

February 13, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are considering merging their respective “trusted traveler” programs, which means you don’t have to choose which program to use if you travel both domestically and internationally.

According to David Pekoske, Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) Administrator, easing traveler headaches across both the domestic and international systems is the main reason he is evaluating the idea with his colleague Kevin McAleenan, CBP Commissioner.

PreCheck, administered by TSA, provides travelers the option to go through a screening process that, for a fee, puts them at the proverbial “front of the line” when navigating security. Global Entry, administered by CBP, provides many of similar benefits for those wanting to streamline their customs and immigration process when re-entering the country after traveling abroad.

TSA PreCheck sign showing the way to an empty pathway, next to a line packed with people.This means, if you travel abroad frequently, you need PreCheck to leave the country fast, and Global Entry to get back in just as quickly.

Pekoske told TravelPulse.com the maintenance of two distinct infrastructures for PreCheck and Global Entry is a “big duplication of effort, sometimes in the very same airport.”

Currently, both programs support 12 million travelers. Sharing technology advances and data is another reason the idea is attractive to Pekoske. Global Entry, run by CBP, already uses facial recognition, while TSA doesn’t yet have the ability to use this when screening travelers, and that additional security measure appeals to DHS.

The travel industry is watching this development closely, and is all for the merger. According to Eben Peck, executive vice president, advocacy, for the American Society of Travel Agents, “Having two trusted traveler programs with similar costs, benefits, and application procedures has proved to be, at times, confusing and frustrating for travelers. A single program allowing travelers to get through the airport screening process quickly would be a welcome development, and we urge DHS to move this concept forward.”

There is no timeline for moving this concept forward from talking to implementation, but anything that would streamline the processes would be advantageous to the flying public.

Do you use PreCheck or Global Entry? Would you like to see the two merged? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Grant Wickes (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

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