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

Business Travel Habits by Generation

February 20, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

When we think about business travel habits, we generally believe that the aspects of it don’t vary much from person to person. Hop in the car or on a plane, go to your destination, do your thing, and go home. This is how travel works in the most basic sense, and for decades, this is how the business travel industry has worked — on a one-size-fits-all basis.

But when Carlson Wagonlit Travel surveyed Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials with regard to their business travel habits and preferences, some very interesting distinctions emerged.

Solo vs Group Travel. It seems that Millennials prefer traveling in groups, more than Baby Boomers: nearly six out of 10 Millennials prefer to travel with someone else, while as many as 70 percent of Boomers will travel alone. Meanwhile, 58 percent of Gen X-ers will travel alone, and they’re less likely to travel with a colleague or family member.

An older man holding a newspaper waiting for a car to pass. Different generations approach their business travel differently.Safety Issues Personal safety is a big issue for Millennials. According to the survey 29 percent of them have canceled a business trip over concerns for their safety, while 20 percent of Gen X-ers have, and only 12 percent of Boomers. Those two groups are more willing to get on the ground and get specifics, particularly if they’re already familiar with the area and where the unrest is taking place in relation to where they will be.

Communication. When it comes to communication with family, colleagues, and clients once per day, Boomers just aren’t as interested in it: only 29 percent of them will keep in touch with anyone from home. But 38 percent of Gen X-ers will keep in touch, as will 45 percent of Millennials. The 18 –29 generation are more likely to turn to Skype while the Boomers will just pick up the phone. But all of them will use email almost equally when it comes to business communication with clients and colleagues.

Business travel habits may vary from generation to generation, but businesses and business travelers need to figure out how they want to deal with those differences. Should businesses require people to travel in groups more often, especially for personal safety? Is it more beneficial or a hassle to ask one generation to travel more like another? Or do you just let everyone follow their personal preferences as long as it doesn’t create disharmony around the office?

Share your comments with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Skitterphoto (Pixabay, Creative Commons 0)

Five Tips for Traveling in Winter

February 15, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

Traveling in winter isn’t for the faint of heart. It can be discouraging and downright frustrating to try to “move about the country” when Mother Nature seems out to get you. When I lived in Pennsylvania, near Scranton, I would often fly from Scranton to Philadelphia to my final destination.

Time after time, during the winter, my flight was usually canceled due to weather. Finally, in order to save myself the aggravation and be able to more accurately predict my itinerary, I decided to skip the Scranton leg of the flight and rent a car either to or from Philadelphia. I learned my lesson, and if I can ever help it, I skip the small regional flights during the winter months.

There are a few other things I learned about weatherproofing winter travel. While you can’t change the weather, these will at least give you options that keep you from being held hostage by it.

This is a common sight during travel in winter. This is a Norwegian SAS airplane on the ground and covered with snow.First, follow my lead. Don’t book a connecting flight through a city that has a reputation for being hit hard by winter storms: Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Detroit, and Boston. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for some sort of delay or cancellation. If you have to make connecting flights, make them in southern cities less likely to get hit with major winter weather — Atlanta, Dallas, Phoenix. I’ve seen flights from Detroit to Portland, Oregon make a layover in Dallas rather than Chicago, which avoided big snowstorms.

Better yet, book non-stop whenever possible. Sure, you may not get as many frequent flier miles, but you’ll get where you’re going and eliminate one possible leg where you might end up getting stuck because the connecting airport got snowed or iced in for 24 hours.

Always try to book your travel to depart first thing in the morning. When weather delays occur later in the day, you’re already out of the worst of it or your flight may be one of the few that gets out at all. Also, those on earlier flights have more rebooking options than those who wait until later in the day to change their itinerary or return home.

Never be without extra clothing. Even if it’s just a couple pairs of fresh undergarments, pack enough so that if you are delayed or stranded, you won’t have to wash out anything in the sink and hope it dries overnight in the hotel bathroom.

Finally, build time into your schedule so that you can afford to absorb a delay or cancellation. While this is smart travel advice throughout the year, it’s particularly wise to do this when traveling in winter: don’t schedule your arrival on the actual day you’re expected to give a presentation or close a big deal. Getting there the day before will ensure you’re there when you need to be, not sitting at the airport texting colleagues explaining why you’re not.

Most importantly, when you’re traveling during the winter, remain flexible, be aware of your options before you leave, and have backup plans. And if you can, work with a travel agent who can put all this together and make the quick changes on your behalf instead of you stressing out about it.

How do you deal with traveling in winter? Do you have any tips that help you get where you’re going? Tell us about it in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Pxhere.com (Pxhere.com, CC0, Public Domain)

How to Find a Cheap Hotel Room

February 6, 2018 by · Leave a Comment 

According to Nomadic Matt (no, not me), former cubicle dweller and 9-to-5-er turned full-time traveler, finding a cheap hotel room isn’t as much about database results as it is about knowing what you want.

Having traveled the world full time since 2006 and authoring How to Travel the World on $50 a Day, he qualifies as an expert about how to do worldwide travel on the cheap. While he typically stays in hostels and books through Airbnb, he knows that there comes a time when those options aren’t available or may not be preferred by other travelers.

So he did a little experiment. He created an itinerary and plotted it on the major hotel booking sites, Agoda, Booking.com, HotWire, Orbitz, and Travelocity. What he found surprised him.

Hotel pricing is a lot more set than airline pricing and tends to fluctuate less. I wouldn’t spend hours searching hotel websites or days tracking prices like people do with airline prices. I’d spend, at the most, 30 minutes on booking a hotel. I found that the variation between sites isn’t enough to justify more time.

Hotel room in the Renaissance Columbus, OHHe did find that there were two clear winners in this site war experiment: Booking.com and Agoda.com. While they didn’t aggregate the largest number of places to compare, each provided him with the best selection of cheap establishments.

His opinion of Orbitz and Travelocity were mixed because both are owned by Expedia and therefore pull from the same databases for their results. He also found that they tended to provide results toward higher end of what he was requesting.

While he felt Priceline and Hotwire gave him excellent results, he didn’t like not knowing what hotel he was choosing until after he’d paid for his irrevocable reservation.

Based on his research, here are Matt’s suggestions for booking a cheap hotel.

Look at hotel websites directly. They often offer deals and will match whatever price you find on another website. Booking directly allows you to accrue loyalty points, which translate into free nights in the future, but you can only rack up points if you book direct.

About loyalty programs—sign up. “The best way to stay cheap is to stay for free,” Matt says. There are other ways to earn points besides stays, such as using credit cards that tie to the hotel chain you like, and shopping portals.

Bartering may work. If you want a better rate, you won’t know if they can give you one unless you ask. The best times to ask are mid-week and during non-peak travel times when the hotel may have empty rooms it’s trying to fill.

Membership has its privileges, and members of AAA and AARP get discount rates. Something you may not know is that AARP is open to anyone, not just people who are in their 50s!

Another little known way to earn loyalty points and increase your status is to purchase discount hotel gift cards. They allow you to book hotel rooms at discounted rates too. Giftcardgranny.com is just one example of such a site.

Lastly, take advantage of someone else’s reservation. Their cancelled reservation, to be exact. If someone cancels a reservation at a hotel, rather than being stuck holding the bathrobe, hotels often put these rooms on sites such as Roomer.com at discounted rates so that they can recoup a portion of the cost. Someone else’s loss could be your gain, so check it out if you’re looking for a room a day or two before you need it.

How do you shop for hotel rooms? Do you have any tips or tricks for finding cheaper hotel rooms, especially without sacrificing comfort? Leave your ideas for us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: David Jensen (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Air Vents, Status Challenges, and Other Flying Tips

December 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Whether you are a platinum member of one of the major airlines or someone who only travels occasionally, air travel has become the gauntlet travelers feel they must run before they can enjoy their trip. If you want your time in the air to be as comfortable and enjoyable as possible, here are a few flying tips to increase your likelihood, even if you can’t fly first class.

One of our favorite flying tips: Point air vents like these in your general vicinity but not directly on you. It keeps germs away from your face.1. Leave the air vents open and aimed in your general vicinity. While you’ve probably heard horror stories about the germs that are present in the recycled air, it turns out that the circulation of that air could actually help ward off germs. According to Dr. Mark Gendreau, the medical director and vice chair of emergency medicine at Lahey Medical Center-Peabody in Massachusetts, ventilation is key to keeping airborne germs at bay. “For airborne viruses, it is incredibly important to ventilate, since ventilation becomes your main means of control besides isolating the affected person,” Gendreau told Travel + Leisure.

2. Be loyal to an airline. When you commit to flying with a single airline and you enroll in the carrier’s loyalty program, you begin to qualify for upgrades and free baggage as your miles rack up. Airlines reward repeat business, so you should take advantage of the offer. The flights may cost a little more than shopping around, but the rewards can sometimes make the extra costs worth it.

3. If you’re a frequent flyer trying to earn a certain status with an airline, ask about the status challenge the next time you have a busy month of travel. Never heard of the status challenge? It’s not widely advertised, but it does exist. If you fly with American, for example, in order to qualify for platinum status, you have to fly 50,000 and spend $6,000 with them. If you ask customer service to take the status challenge, you have 90 days to fly 12,500 miles and spend $2,000. If you complete the challenge, you’re granted platinum status for the remainder of the year and the following calendar year. Be sure to check the fine print, though, because airlines don’t want to make this easy and may tack on some fees.

4. Pay for as much as possible with an airline’s credit card. It seems every credit card has perks these days, but airline credit card perks pay off in meaningful ways when you travel — free checked bags, earned miles, upgrades, and airport lounge access (which can really come in handy when there’s a weather-related delay). If you pay for your airplane ticket with your airline credit card, you usually get extra miles for that, and you want to make the most of every purchase, don’t you?

5. After you’ve downloaded your airline’s app to your phone, sign up for text notifications about your flight. You’ll automatically be notified about gate changes, delays, and what time your flight boards, making you more nimble that your less-informed fellow travelers in the event of a change in the itinerary.

What are some of your favorite flying tips? What advice would you share with your fellow travelers? Share them with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, orin our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Xianxing (Wikimedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License)

Five Tips for Surviving Your Next Business Trip

June 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Sure, a business trip is all about getting work done, and you may have built-in companions for your down time, but that doesn’t mean your next trip has to be all work and no play.

You know what they say about that, and nobody wants to be “dull.” We recently wrote about how John Greathouse, the creator of GoToMeeting, became a fan of spending a least half a day of each business trip finding something enjoyable to do. It changed his whole outlook on his business travel, and he began to see some sights and landmarks while he was traveling around the world.

There are a few other things you should do to make sure you and your traveling companions are getting everything out of your next trip.

  1. Plan carefully. When traveling with a group of colleagues, avoiding hurdles hinges on everyone knowing what to expect: what hotel you’ll be staying at, what the agenda is, how you’ll get from point A to point B once you arrive, and whether everyone should carry on or check their bags. Plan those details, and then share them with everyone in advance.
  2. Pack smart. Earplugs might help you sleep with a snoring roommate, and headphones on a flight are an international sign for “I don’t want to talk right now.” If you know you’ll have a layover, pack a paperback or a deck of cards to help pass the time.
  3. Dress for Success. This should go without saying, but if everyone isn’t aware of the travel itinerary, someone might show up dressed casually instead of being prepared to meet clients directly after deplaning. Don’t let that someone be you or anyone on your team. And if you’re going to be sharing a room, don’t rely on the hotel supplying a robe. Pack your own or pajamas so that your roommate isn’t subjected to you being unprepared for the situation. Nobody signed up for that on a business trip.
  4. Schedule Fun. We know a professional speaker who makes a point to visit a restaurant suggested by the locals.This looks like a nice place to eat on a business trip. Better than most hotel restaurants. She calls this her “Tour de Tastebuds.” She will take her assistant and someone from the event planning team to the recommended place, rating it for atmosphere, taste, and how it made them feel. Every city has something it’s known for. Give your teammates a taste of the locale by planning a small excursion of this type in your downtime.
  5. Choose Your Attitude. We’ve all heard the old adage, “Whatever can go wrong, will,” but don’t be overly nervous. You can’t anticipate everything even in a well-planned trip, so remember to pack your best attitude and be flexible. Control what you can and adapt as needed. Don’t be that one member of the group who whines and complains. That only makes the trip less fun, and you don’t want to be labeled as The Spoiler.

What kind of group travel stories do you have to share? Good ones, or some travel horror stories?Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or in our Twitter stream.

Photo credit: Inkflo (Pixabay, Creative Commons)

Must-Have Business Travel Apps for 2017

February 15, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Many business travelers appreciate the ability to plan, organize, and manage their travel with their mobile phone. No more printed boarding passes, maps, and scribbled directions to your next meeting. Everything can be managed on your phone, saving you all kinds of headaches and hassles.

We’ve seen several new travel apps released just in time for the 2017 business travel calendar, and have a few favorites you might want to try before your next trip.

You can use business travel mobile apps to find your way around AmsterdamGoogle Trips uses your browsing history to suggest places you might want to visit. It might feel a little Big Brother-ish, but a helpful brother nonetheless. The free app allows you to use your Gmail accounts offline to plan and organize your travel through one site, and lets you make hotel reservations, book flights, and arrange car rental.

Lonely Planet’s Guides not only offers visually stunning photographs of over 100 cities, it provides an overview of that city, its language, and different budget options. It also provides insights from on-the-ground experts and maps that help you decide what to see, where to eat, and where to sleep. If you like to “travel like you live there,” something we recommend business travelers do to make their trips more interesting, the Lonely Planet guides are a great place to start.
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5 Financial Mistakes Road Warriors Never Make

October 10, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

There are several categories of traveling business professionals: the occasional business traveler, the frequent flyer, and the road warrior. Road warriors spend significant portions of the work week traveling between clients, and have a few tricks up their collective sleeves that save them and their employers money.

The occasional traveler might still be learning the ropes, and don’t yet know all the tricks of the trade. But Insperity.com had a list of their most important ones, which we agree every business traveler should know.
TSA Checkpoint - Road Warriors know to avoid this by being a part of TSA's Pre-Check
First, fiscally responsible road warriors don’t incur expenses that aren’t reimbursable. They research their company’s travel and entertainment policies — the amount of their daily per diem, for example — and stick to them. This means they aren’t surprised by rejected submissions that leave them stuck with the bill.

Fiscally responsible road warriors know their corporation’s budgets for flights, hotels, meals, and entertaining clients. They seek pre-approval if they need to spend more than is typically allotted, and then proceed to execute their plan with confidence.

Fiscally responsible road warriors live by this simple axiom: time is money. They know they can’t afford to waste time standing in long security lines, so they apply for TSA’s Pre Check. Even if they only travel a few times each year, the $85 security preauthorization is good for five years, and more than pays for itself during that time. (If you’ve ever stood for two hours in a single security line, you’d be ecstatic to escape it for $85 just once!)
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Five Tips to Traveling Light

September 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Given the increase in travel and baggage fees by some airlines, it’s important to travel as light as possible. It simplifies the check-in process, and helps get you to your destination with a minimum of fuss. These are a few things we do on our business trips to make traveling light as easy as possible.

A Travelpro Crew 11 with suiter is ideal for helping road warriors travel light.

A Travelpro Crew 11 with suiter is ideal for helping road warriors travel light.

Use your carry-on as your only piece of luggage. With careful planning of your wardrobe and necessities, you can take all you need with you on the plane. You’ll avoid the time sink of baggage claim, the cost of checking your bag, and the fatigue of lugging what could be extraneous items through security to your final destination. It’s actually possible to carry 10 days worth of outfits in your bag if you pack it right.

Become a digital professional. Most anything you need can be retrieved from online “cloud” storage and printed at a hotel’s business center with a simple USB thumb drive. If you have documents you need to access, consider Google Drive or Dropbox for online storage. If you like to read while traveling, e-books take up no space in your luggage and an e-reader can be loaded on your tablet or phone so that you don’t have to pack a special, single-use device.
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Want to Get Healthy? Travel More

May 4, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Would you like to grow your brain, have more energy, eliminate stress, and decrease your risk for a heart attack?

A British Airways 747 - coach cabinBelieve it or not, you can achieve all that if you just travel more. It seems too good to be true, but there are scientific studies to prove it.

How does travel grow your brain? Paul Nussbaum, a clinical neuropsychologist and adjunct professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, explains.

“When you expose your brain to an environment that’s novel and complex or new and difficult, the brain literally reacts,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 2014. That exposure causes the brain to sprout dendrites — dangling extensions — which Nussbaum said grow the brain’s capacity. Who doesn’t want a bigger brain?
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