Last-Minute Travel Upgrades: Are They Worth It?

December 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

We have discussed the little luxuries of traveling and how the experience can be enhanced by little niceties such as a mint on your pillow or a bottle of water when you check in. Getting an upgrade can be one of them.

Or not.

I have been offered upgrades due to my loyalty status in a frequent traveler program. They have been offered as a courtesy and to keep my continued business. In that sense, it’s worth it, because I’m going to keep using that airline, hotel, or rental car company. But for others, it may not give you the benefits you need.

English: EK J-Class

EK J-Class (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When checking into the airport or hotel, or renting a car, companies have begun asking at the counter if you want to pay for an upgrade, trying to make it sound like a good deal. For some, the upgrade is totally worth it, while others end up feeling like they suffered from a marketing scheme.

In the past, car rental companies ask if you want an upgrade for $10 a day more, but this is a relatively new concept for hotels and airlines. Airlines have increased their profit margins by this method of marketing alone, selling seat upgrades from Economy to Economy Plus, for example.

Some people have had good experiences with this new airline trend while others have not. According to Christopher Elliott’s article in the Seattle Times, Linda Petzler had a wonderful experience with her upgrade and found it well worth it. As she journeyed from London to Dallas, she made an upgrade to business class for $500 more. On the other hand, Judith Patrizzi made an upgrade on her trip from Rome to Boston, which she later regretted. She received terrible food and bulkhead seats with no more room than the ones she would have received without the “upgrade.”

This is a situation where you have to weigh the pros and cons. Is the room worth it? Or is saving money more important? We suggest always asking if you want an upgrade. Sometimes it may be given to you without a fee. For example, if your hotel has multiple stories, ask if they have any rooms on a higher level available with a great view. These are usually nicer and bigger anyway, and won’t necessarily cost anymore.

Would you pay for an upgrade to a nicer seat, room, or car? Is it worth it, or an unnecessary expense? Leave a comment on our blog post or on our Facebook page.

Five Myths About Flight Attendants

October 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

We all know flight attendants greet us as we board our plane and bring us some snacks and drinks, but that’s only a small part of their job, and definitely not the most important part. A lot of people have misconceptions about flight attendants.

According to a July 2014 USA Today article, some of these include:

  1. Layovers are one big party.
  2. You should tip flight attendants for good service.
  3. Flight attendants are in it for the free travel.
  4. Flight attendants are basically waitresses/waiters in the sky.

USA Today interviewed several flight attendants to debunk these myths and educate the public.

English: A female flight attendant of Air Dolo...

A female flight attendant of Air Dolomiti (Italy) on board an Embraer 195 performing a Pre-flight safety demonstration. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For example, they said layovers are not parties, especially since they usually only last 8 – 10 hours. In fact most flight attendants do quite the opposite. Sara Keagle, flight attendant and The Flying Pinto blogger, calls these people slam clickers. Slam clicking, a popular term among flight attendants, refers to when a flight attendant gets to his or her hotel, ‘slams’ the door, and ‘clicks’ it locked.

Think twice about tipping. Most airlines have policies against accepting tips. Though the gesture is courteous and appreciated, most flight attendants will not and cannot accept it. Interesting fact: most tips are offered on flights to and from Las Vegas. Kari Walsh, flight attendant of 22 years, says she would rather receive praise via social media.

Free travel can definitely be a job perk, but it’s not as easy as you might think. Planes are often packed and sometimes even overbooked, especially around the holidays, so finding room for a flight attendant and family is difficult.

They’re also not there to help people lift their luggage into the overhead bins. While they want to be as helpful as possible, if they’re injured lifting your bag they are not covered by the airlines.

Flight attendants are there to attend to passengers’ needs, but they’re not there to serve passengers. Yes, they bring us our snack or meal, but that’s not the first item on their job description. Their primary role is to keep passengers safe, update us on any delays, turbulence and to actually assist if there is an emergency.

You Can Get Kicked Off a Plane If It’s Too Heavy

September 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Philippine Airlines Airplane

Philippine Airlines Airplane (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are some surprising (and not so surprising) reasons to get kicked off a plane. There are the obvious ones, like overbooking, and even some extreme cases like bad hygiene, refusal to obey policies, dressing too immodestly, or obnoxious behavior.

We just found one that we rarely hear about, but is crucial to the safety of the flight: the weight and balance on a plane.

This doesn’t mean an airline will kick you off because you weigh too much. It means an airplane can only carry so much weight, like an elevator’s maximum weight limit. The ground crew will do what they can by moving luggage around for better balance, but it can still happen.

If you’re asked to leave a plane because of balance or weight issues, make sure you know what compensation you’re entitled to. Conde Nast Traveler recently outlined the various policies when it comes to compensation. The compensation depends on how close to take off you are notified, and how many passengers the plane can hold. It’s usually in the form of a voucher or credit for your next flight, plus a new ticket for that flight.

If you’re entitled to compensation, you can also ask for a check instead of a voucher. Airlines would rather offer the voucher than actual cash, but they are required to do it.

We recently had a representative from the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) visit us in Boca Raton. He explained how weight is a big issue for planes, but said the bigger issue is the overhead storage bins.

Most people nowadays try to travel solely with carry-ons to avoid paying the additional cost of checking baggage. However, these bins were not made to hold the weight people put in them. There have been cases where overhead bins have actually fallen down due to excessive weight.

Airplane weight can be a serious issue and is something the airlines watch strictly. If you’re ever removed from a plane because of a weight issue, don’t take it personally. Smile, thank them for their concern, and then ask if they can slip you a meal voucher with your regular voucher too.

Travel Tip: Getting On a Plane During Cold and Flu Season

December 24, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

There’s nothing worse than taking a flight when cold and flu season is in full swing. Combine the confined space with that nonstop cougher across the aisle, and you’re almost guaranteed to wake up at your destination with a scratchy throat. Fortunately, with a little education and preparation, you can dodge any viruses that come your way, even if you find yourself sharing a seat with your neighbor’s gross used tissues.

Why is it easier to pick up the cold or flu on a plane? Many of us seem to have an easier time getting sick when flying. While many people believe it’s due to the “recycled air” on flights, that’s actually a bit of a myth. In general, most planes use a 50/50 mix of outside and recycled air, while some planes actually use more outside air. Additionally, newer airplanes are equipped with HEPA air filters that capture 99.9% of particles, including airborne viruses.

Tray Tables Up

Tray tables can often be carrying a lot of germs. (Photo credit: nep)

So what’s the real culprit? Well, aside from any sick people in your immediate area, it’s actually the germs that linger on the surfaces you touch — the seatback tray, arm rests, seat, and so on. You know, the areas of the plane that dozens of people have touched, rested on… maybe even drooled on? And let’s be honest, those airplane bathroom sinks don’t really lend themselves to a good hand washing. To prevent picking up a virus from the surfaces on the plane, wipe everything down with an antibacterial wipe, use hand sanitizer while in-flight and give your hands a good washing with anti-bacterial soap when you first arrive at your destination.

Another common cause of the post-flight virus is low cabin humidity. At very low levels of humidity, we become dehydrated and the mucus in our noses and throats (i.e. our natural defense system) dries up, making it that much easier for germs to invade our system. In order to prevent this from happening, it’s important to stay well-hydrated while traveling. Drink plenty of water before and during your flight and consider using saline nasal drops to keep your sinuses hydrated.

The next time you’re getting ready to fly, don’t forget to stock up on antibacterial wipes, hand sanitizer and perhaps a few vitamin C tablets for good measure.

Do you have a tried-and-true method for staying healthy while flying? Share with us in the comments section.

New Boeing 787: New Era for Aviation or Missed Opportunity?

October 15, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

The new 787 Dreamliner is Boeing’s biggest aircraft launch since the 747 and is being touted as the most innovative aircraft to be launched in decades. Excitement surrounding this new aircraft is so high, one hardcore fan paid a whopping $33,000 to sit in on its inaugural flight. It has some big shoes to fill, and a big name to live up to. But what’s so special about the 787 Dreamliner?

On the technical side of things, the 787 Dreamliner is quite advanced and is built for not only speed and distance, but also comfort and efficiency. For example, it claims to be 60% quieter than other planes of its size and capacity. The plane’s fuselage is made of lightweight materials, resulting in less fuel usage, and less carbon dioxide emissions. Also, the 787 can reach speeds of up to Mach .85 (roughly 647 mph), has a range of 15,200 kilometers, making it the only mid-sized airplane that can fly long-distance. The Dreamliner even features a system that detects turbulence and changes wing control surfaces to counteract its effects.

First Flight of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner

First Flight of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the passenger, the 787 Dreamliner promises a more pleasant, relaxing flight. For example, the plane’s cabin will also be pressurized at an altitude of 6,000 feet as opposed to the standard 8,000 feet. This enables passengers to absorb more oxygen during their trip, cutting down on in-flight sickness or that post-flight “hangover” feeling. Space-wise, the aircraft features 7ft 5in. ceilings and 30 percent larger overhead bins. In regards to seat space, however, it will vary – each airline will configure the seat layout as they see fit.

Window seat lovers will enjoy the 787 Dreamliner’s windows, which are 30% larger than average and can be tinted and dimmed according to preference – they can even simulate sunrise and sunset! The aircraft also features nine inch plug-and-play seatback entertainment systems, which is a welcome addition for those on long-haul flights.

While the 787 Dreamliner sounds impressive, do passengers feel that it lives up to the hype? In a recent article, FutureTravelExperience.com founder Daniel Coleman states that he found the 787 to be a promising evolution, yet a missed opportunity to redefine passenger experience.

Have you had the opportunity to fly in a 787 Dreamliner yet? If so, share your experience in the comments section!

Expect Faster Wifi on Airplanes

June 13, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

If you’re a tech-savvy traveler, you likely have a wish list of technological advances you’d like to see in airplanes. Faster and/or free wifi, mobile device charging stations, free live television viewing, and more are all potential tech upgrades that many airlines are considering for their passengers.

Recently, the FCC took a step forward in improving wifi access for travelers. An air-to-ground wireless network is being proposed by Qualcomm, according to Bloomberg.com, and the FCC recently voted in favor of moving forward with the planning phase of this wireless network.

Sleeping on Turkish Airlines flight from Shanghai

Sleeping on Turkish Airlines flight from Shanghai to Istanbul in seat 3k (Photo credit: Toby Simkin)

So what does this mean for the average traveler? Nothing, yet. However, according to the article, the global market for in-flight technology and entertainment is estimated to grow to $3 billion in 2017. That’s a billion dollars in growth throughout the next four years, which likely means that not only will wifi be more readily available for passengers, it will be faster, and might even be free.

In a statement from Qualcomm, the broadband system they’re developing is designed to offer flyers an “in-flight broadband experience equivalent to what is available in their homes, offices, parks, cars, buses, and trains,” Qualcomm said.

Today’s travelers, especially the younger generation of road warriors, expect to be connected to the Internet at all times. Some people view flying time as a welcome respite from Internet connectivity, but that group of people is shrinking. Instead, travelers may want to put away their office email system during a flight, but instead they want to catch up on their Netflix queue. The proposed Internet system from Qualcomm could make this scenario a reality.

As of last year, just over 30 percent of airplanes were equipped for in-flight wifi, so there’s significant growth that needs to take place here. Some media pundits are worrying over the level of commitment to expect from each airline regarding the installation of in-flight internet services.

However, most airline industry experts agree that in time, wifi will have to be a standard offering on passenger aircraft if the airline wants to compete in the larger marketplace. Passengers who are traveling abroad or cross-country are expected to demand services like wifi and free live television viewing in the near future.

The next several years will bring a variety of technological advances into the airline industry. It will be interesting to see how Qualcomm’s proposed internet system will be developed and funded – and how quickly travelers begin using the new technological services being offered.

Extra Airline Fees are the New Normal

April 4, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

If you’ve noticed yourself paying extra fees when booking a flight, you’re not alone. Nowadays, travelers can expect to pay extra for everything from luggage and seat choice to in-flight snacks and – yes – even your carry on bag. According to a Chron.com article, a recent study found a total of 52 fee changes in 2012 alone — most of which were related to baggage. For example, many airports lowered the weight limit and size of both carry-on and checked bags in order to bring in extra revenue.

So why the sudden increase in fees? According to Alicia Jao of TravelNerd, government data shows that the revenue airlines brought in from baggage fees actually plateaued from 2010 through 2012, leaving airlines in a financial lurch and struggling to compensate for that lost revenue. These new fees have definitely given airlines the revenue boost they so desperately needed — in fact, overall revenue went up 11% between 2011 and 2012.

Delta Airlines ticket counter @ Bradley airport

Delta Airlines ticket counter @ Bradley airport (Photo credit: That Hartford Guy)

Many travelers ask if there is any way to avoid these new fees. The truth is, the actual airline ticket prices will always be low, so if you’re looking to save money, your best bet is to travel light and go with the bare minimum of amenities.

If you’ll only be out of town for a few days, consider packing all of your clothing into a carry-on bag. Thankfully, most major airlines have decided to not charge for carry-on luggage, so be sure to do your research and book with an airline that still offers complimentary carry-ons.

Another way to save a few dollars is to stick with your default seat assignment, as seat changes or upgrades can cost upwards of $25 each way. Finally, if you typically purchase in-flight snacks, you may want to consider packing your own – this simple move can save $10 or more per person.

Airline fees are not going to go away. They’re how the airlines are making money these days. When you’re budgeting and booking travel, don’t just go by the ticket price alone. Always assume there are fees involved, and then look for ways to avoid getting dinged.

What’s the Deal With Airplane Seats?

August 7, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

CNN recently started a five-week series on its website called “The Traveler’s Psyche,” which explores the feelings of travelers through different emotional scenarios. And it began with one of the most emotionally charged topics for air travelers: being crammed into a crowded plane and seated in those ever-shrinking coach seats on every flight.

“It’s not you, it’s the seat,” the article said. And it’s true. While one can argue that Americans are getting bigger, there is proof that airline seats are getting smaller with every change in design — and being moved closer together, too.

Issues with legroom notwithstanding, the seats themselves are not right for travelers today. One of the most interesting points the article makes is that airline seat engineers take measurements for the seats based on the average traveler’s hip size, even though the human body is actually widest at the shoulder. The industry actually used the average male’s hips as the measurement standard for seat size — back in 1962, there were probably more men traveling, so it makes a bit more sense — when women’s hips are generally wider than men’s.

From early on, airline seats were at least 5 inches too small, and now that we’re getting bigger, the 17 to 19 inches we get for “living space” on a plane is far too little. In addition to size, the seats just aren’t terribly comfortable — it would be interesting to see the ergonomics of these seats and understand why they were designed the way they were.

Without understanding the engineers’ and designers’ motivation, it appears that airplane seats are not designed with personal comfort in mind. If the reverse were true, maybe the engineers at Herman Miller could translate the comfort and ergonomics of their mesh Aeron chair — arguably the best office chair ever — into one heck of an airline seat.

Back in 1962, Herman Miller designed the Eames tandem sling seating for O’Hare’s airport waiting areas — it’s interesting that the airport was willing to invest in super-comfortable seating for airports while the airlines seek to make our seats smaller and smaller.

There have been many, many advances in office and even automobile seating, other places where we spend a lot of time sitting, but airline seating has fallen behind, and it’s taking a toll on travelers, both emotionally and in terms of the health concerns involved.

Photo credit: MattHurst (Flickr, Creative Commons)

What’s the Best Airplane Seat?

July 3, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Michael Koretzky of Money Talks News recently contributed to a MSN Money article about the best seats on an airplane. It’s highly subjective, and it’s no surprise that travelers have strong opinions about where they sit when they fly.

A British travel site, Skyscanner, recently surveyed more than 1,000 air travelers and found that the most popular seat anywhere on any airplane is 6A — and 45 percent of those surveyed prefer to sit in the first six rows of the plane.

The one absolutely no one wanted was 31E, a middle seat near the back of most planes.

For Koretzky, the hot seat is the right-hand aisle seat, five rows from the back of the plane. He’s clearly thought it out, because he offers not one but SIX reasons for preferring that seat, including the fact that it’s close to the bathrooms, he often has no one next to him in the middle seat (because most people do prefer to sit in the front), and he nearly always finds overhead bin space nearby for his carry-on bag.

Because he’s so far back, Koretzky deplanes later, but only by 7 to 9 minutes — and that’s apparently a small price to pay for all the benefits he’s getting.

The TravelPro team has their own thoughts on where they like to sit. I like to be closer to the front of the plane, because I like to be able to deplane as quickly as possible. Karen, our product manager, is in the same camp: she also likes to get out of the plane fast.

One of our marketing people, Andrea, prefers a window seat so she can lean against the wall and look out. (One fun fact from the article: The windows along the left-hand side of the plane are off center, which leaves more wall space for those passengers to lean against — Andrea says she’ll be choosing left-side seats from here on out.)Airplane seats

Many travelers, of course, prefer an exit row for the legroom (and maybe the superhero feeling of knowing they could be called upon to help save the lives of everyone on board), but most airlines are now charging extra for the privilege of sitting in those seats.

So, what’s your favorite seat? Where do you like to sit on a plane? Leave it in the comments and let us know.

Photo credit: Victor L. Anuez (Flickr, Creative Commons)

How To Beat Jet Lag

December 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

After all the anticipation and effort, you’ve finally reached your destination. And, guess who’s there to greet you?

Mr. Jet Lag.

When you travel across multiple time zones, your body’s internal clock is not in sync with the destination time zone. Thus, your daily sleep and wakefulness rhythms are out of whack, resulting in sluggishness and diminished performance.

So, what’s a long distance or international traveler to do? Whether you’re on business or a dream vacation, you want to be at your best, regardless of the time zone. Here are a few tips:

1. Get plenty of exercise and rest prior to your flight, while maintaining a nutritious diet. Plus, make sure you’re well hydrated. The healthier you are, the less jet lag will affect you.

2. Most experts agree that it takes one day for your body to adjust for each time zone traveled. Take steps to minimize jet lag, factoring in the direction you’re traveling:

  • West – Just prior to your departure, get up one hour later and go to bed one hour later for as many days as time zones you’ll be crossing. Granted, this may not be possible for long trips such as international travel.
  • East  – Use the opposite technique – Getting up one hour earlier and going to bed one hour earlier.

3. Since sunlight significantly affects your body clock, control your light exposure before you travel:

  • West – Avoid sunlight in the morning, and get it in the late afternoon and evening.
  • East – Get sunlight in the morning, and avoid light in the evening as much as possible.
  • If it’s overcast, simulate the sun’s effects with a light therapy box.
  • Wear sunglasses if you have to be in sunlight when you should avoid it.

4. During travel, regardless of the direction, be sure to:

  • Drink plenty of water, while avoiding large meals, alcohol and caffeine.
  • Move around the cabin regularly to promote circulation in both the body and brain.
  • Wear comfortable clothing.
  • Sleep, if possible. If you have difficulty sleeping on flights, consider taking a sleep aid (though we recommend consulting your physician first).

5. Upon arrival:

  • Avoid critical decision-making in the first day (if at all possible).
  • Adapt to the local schedule immediately, eating meals and going to bed at the appropriate times .
  • Get as much sunlight as you can.

None of us has time for jet lag. But, if you take to time to properly prepare, jet lag’s time is up.

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