Reposition yourself, Part 2

Just as the cruise lines periodically have to move their vessels around, so do the airlines. But when it comes to offering bargains on repositioning flights, the airlines aren’t nearly as accommodating.

Once you’ve seen what kinds of deals you can get on repositioning cruises, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if airlines do the same thing.

Well, they do…and they don’t.

Actually, the airlines reposition aircraft all the time. Unlike the cruise lines, however, they don’t make a point of trying to sell seats on them.

An airliner due for maintenance may be flown from its last commercial stop to the city that hosts the airline’s maintenance base. Likewise, a plane that was used to fly, say, the Dallas Mavericks to to New York for a game against the Knicks may return to DFW.

These are known in the airline industry as “ferry flights” and the planes fly empty.

An airlines may list an extra flight when repositioning one of its aircraft and sell seats on it. They call these extra flights “sections.” They are publicly listed and you can find them online.

The trick is finding them because — again, unlike the cruise lines — the airlines usually won’t even tell you when one of their commercial flights is a repositioning flight.

But there is a way to spot one of those “sections” for yourself. According to Airfarewatchdog, the terrific airfare monitoring site led by George Hobica, the key is the flight number.

Regular flights have three digits in their flight number. The repositioning “section” flight has four, often starting with an “8″ or a “9.”

It’s a good clue, and also the only one the airlines are likely to give you.

I’ve never tried calling up a reservations clerk and just asking him or her to point me to a repositioning flight. I might try that one of these days, just to see what happens.

Perhaps the most important divergence between the cruise lines and the airlines on repositioning is in pricing. The cruise lines sell cabins at loss-leader prices on repositioning cruises. The airlines, if they sell seats on a repositioning flight at all, will sell it at their standard rates.

There was a time, several years ago, when an airline might cut you a deal every now and again on a “repo” flight, but it was infrequent even when they did it.

Like their airline cousins, charter air services also reposition their aircraft, especially when they need to fly them back after delivering their VIP clients to their destinations on their small private planes.

They call these “empty legs” and are more than willing to sell you a seat on them at discounted rates, perhaps as much as $75 percent off their normal airfares.

With rates for private planes being so much higher than regular commercial airfares, even a 75 percent discount might not be that much of a bargain. But if you can put together a group large enough to fill an empty leg, you just might be able to score a major deal — and an unforgettable flying experience — at the same time.

Reposition yourself, Part 1
CRUISE: Go “repo”

IBIT makes the Big Time

My feet may not touch the ground for the rest of the week.

Greg Gross

Greg Gross

First, Ebony magazine names I’m Black and I Travel! as one of 5 Travel Bloggers of Color You Should Know.

It’s an honor as humbling as it is huge, not only because of the Black media giant that bestowed it, but also because it puts IBIT in some pretty talented and well-traveled company:

Then comes word that another of IBIT’s favorite travel sisters, Lola Akinmade Åkerström, has been profiled by one of Sweden’s largest newspapers. Longtime IBIT readers already know Lola and her remarkable story.

I am thrilled, delighted, grateful and over-the-moon, for all of us.

Okay, break’s over. See you on the road.


Coming to San Diego: America’s biggest travel show

The Embarcedro, where cruise ships dock in San Diego.  ©IBIT/G. Gross

The Embarcedro, where cruise ships dock in San Diego. ©IBIT/G. Gross

The arrival of Unicomm’s Travel & Adventure Show series shows the travel industry is starting to recognize California’s second largest city as more than just a destination.

Every year, Unicomm’s Travel & Adventure Show series is the largest travel trade show in the United States. Over a winter weekend in a handful of the largest US cities, veteran travelers and travel dreamers alike get to soak up tips from experts and see what’s available from scores of tour operators and travel providers, all under one large roof.

For Southern Californians, your only chance to get in on this has been the Los Angeles Travel & Adventure Show, held annually in Long Beach.

Two weeks from now, that will change. That’s because the San Diego Travel & Adventure Show will be held March 29-30 at the San Diego Convention Center on San Diego Bay.

Fans of the wildly popular San Diego Comic-Con are already well familiar with this venue. Now, you have a reason to come back.

For those up in the Los Angeles-Orange County area who missed the Long Beach show, it means you get another shot at it, and a lovely little drive or train ride down to San Diego in the bargain.

For San Diegans, it means not having to schlepp up to Long Beach and back to immerse yourself in a world of travel possibilities.

But for those of us who follow the doings of the travel industry, it means that, at long last, “the trade” is starting to recognize this region as a two-way market.

And if you call this area home, that could be a very good thing, indeed.

With its seemingly endless beaches and almost sinfully perfect weather, San Diego has long been recognized as a great tourist destination year-round, especially by anyone who’s ever had to shovel several hundred pounds of winter snow just to find their front door.

But in justifiably hyping it as a cool place to visit, it often feels as if the travel industry forgets that San Diego also is a place where a lot of folks live.

Los Angeles may have the largest population in California with 3.8 million people, but the 3.1 million of San Diego city and county aren’t that far behind. And San Diego area residents like to travel as much as anyone else.

The arrival of America’s biggest travel expo to “America’s Finest City” would suggest that at least some in the industry are starting to recognize San Diego as a two-way travel market. And that’s all good.

Coming on the heels of — and in such relative proximity to — both Unicomm’s Long Beach show and the Los Angeles Times Travel Show, several of the big-name speakers who highlighted those two events won’t be in San Diego.

That means no Rick Steves, the PBS European travel guru. Likewise, CBS travel editor Peter Greenberg. Even more significant by their absence, Arthur Frommer, the man I call “the Godfather of Travel,” and his equally well-traveled and insightful daughter, Pauline Frommer.

Another significant absence will be Ethiopian Airlines, which is a shame, because too few Americans know about what just might be the best airline in Africa.

So what’s in it for you if you go? A lot, actually.

The Travel Channel will “represent” with two of its more popular show hosts, Don Wildman and Samantha Brown.

Patricia Schultz, author of “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” also will there. Not one to rest on past publishing, Patricia likes to update her books for her travel show audiences, which makes hearing her “must-sees” a must.

But it’s some of the not-so-famous speakers who may offer the greatest value at this show.

There’s Jorge Meraz, host and director of the KPBS San Diego television series Crossing South. His focus is northern Baja California — the attractions you know, the ones you thought you knew and the ones you’ll want to know.

Jorge comes across not as some sort of haughty “I’m-Jorge-Meraz-and-you’re-not” expert, but as a cool, curious, fun-loving guy who’s willing both to learn and to challenge his own fears.

In other words, the kind of guy you’d love to have riding shotgun on your own travels.

Beth Whitman, founder and editor of Wanderlust and Lipstick, will be offering tips for safe, successful solo travel for women.

In the mainstream news business, they call topics like this one an “evergreen,” because it never gets old. There’s always interest and there are always questions.

Beth figures to have a lot of the answers.

Angel Castellanos of will have two sessions of travel tips and tricks, including one devoted to how to use your iPhone and other personal electronics to your advantage when you travel — without bankrupting yourself.

If you know what “roaming” to your cellphone bill, you’ll want to hear this guy.

Think you’ve seen it all when it comes to Europe? Gary Scott of Right Path Adventures will be talking about the attractions of a region of Europe still largely unknown to most Americans, the Dolomite mountains, including Croatia and Slovenia.

And Chris Liebenberg of Piper & Heath Travel will be addressing a subject close to my own heart, “The Conservation and Social Value of Travel in Africa.”

There will be cooking demonstrations hosted by Cuisine Noir, “the first food and wine lifestyle magazine for African-Americans,” as well as dance performances representing cultures of Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

And that’s all on the first day.

But you’ll want to save some time during your day for the exhibitors. There are more than 100 of them, representing travel in virtually every major region of the world, including Africa.

That last point is important, because more American leisure travelers to Africa come from the West Coast than any other part of the country.

It’s one of the reasons why the Africa Travel Association, the leading organization promoting travel and tourism in the Mother Continent, also will be on hand in San Diego. Sop be sure you stop by and meet their reps.

And if you’re there on Sunday, stop by the ATA booth and say hello to IBIT.

The San Diego Travel & Adventure Show

San Diego Convention Center
111 West Harbor Drive
San Diego, CA

Saturday, March 29

Sunday, March 30

COST (per person)
One day — $10 online before March 28, $12 online after March 28, $15 at the door.
Both days — $16 online before March 28, $18 online after March 28, $24 at the door.

NOTE: If you’re coming down from Los Angeles, Orange County or northern San Diego County, there’s an alternative to battling Southern California’s notorious freeway traffic — the train.

North County residents can hop on the Coaster, while those farther north can take advantage of the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner. Both stop at the Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego.

From the station, jump on the San Diego Trolley’s Green Line. You’ll be at the Convention Center in two stops.

A hot hotel sale

A major hotel booking site turns to social media to ramp up activity. It’s a move that could save you some money on your next trip. But you may need to move fast.

While hotel booking sites like Trivago and are using TV commercials to hook the attention of prospective travelers, is going the way of social media to drum up traffic.

Here’s why that decision matters to you. is offering what it calls a “Private Sale,” promising discounts of 50 percent and higher on hotel rooms worldwide, but only to its email subscribers and fans of its Facebook page.

The discounts being offered range from sweet to staggering. Here’s a sample of nightly rates they feature on the landing page for this Private Sale:

  • Augusta’s Apartments, St.Lucia: $127.
  • Marriott’s Grande Vista, Orlando, FL: $65
  • Sunrock Hotel 7 Residences, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico: $48
  • Hotel Stuttgart Zuffenhausen, Stuttgart, Germany: $28
  • Blue Diamond Bay, Santorini, Greece: $22
  • Taba Luxury Suites, Istanbul, Turkey: $61
  • Dutch Design Hotel Artemis, Amsterdam: $58
  • Jasmine Grande Residence, Bangkok: $43
  • EAST, Beijing: $110
  • Sonaisali Island Resort, Fiji: $132

You get the idea.

Okay, here come the caveats.

We’re now in what’s known as “shoulder season,” one of those periods between major holiday seasons. Come summer, prices will be creeping upward again. They may still be very good deals, just not quite as good as these.

Further, there’s no telling how many of their rooms will be offered at these loss-leader prices, which means they could sell out fairly fast. Also, these are likely to be basic rooms; expect upgrades to cost more.

Last but by no means least, these prices may not include all local taxes and fees, which figure to jack up the rates somewhat, maybe significantly so.

Still, even with all that, you still might be able to score some pretty good deals here.

Again, however, says you have to be an email subscriber or “Like” their Facebook page to get access to these prices. But that process is both painless and free.

So if you’re planning a trip this spring, or even later, check it out and see what you can find. You have nothing to lose but a few keystrokes.

Selma march

A little place called Selma

Visiting hallowed sites where life-changing things happened is an emotionally powerful form of travel. For Black Americans, this is one of those places.

There are two kinds of places we look upon as “sacred ground.” One is sacred because some religious figure tells you it is. The other is sacred because something that happened there has deep and powerful meaning for you personally.

Each of us has our own sacred grounds that fall under one or both of those categories. Some are known to many, others only to you. All are worth seeing — and feeling their symbolic power — for yourself.

One such place for me is the Edmund Pettus Bridge. A fairly short, relatively nondescript span across a less than famous river, named for an obscure Confederate general, in a small Alabama town.

Called Selma.

It was on a March 7, 1965 — a Sunday like this one — that 600 Civil Rights marchers left Selma on a march to the state capital of Montgomery.

Their purpose in part to protest the killed the week before of an unarmed church deacon named Jimmie Lee Jackson, shot to death by an Alabama state trooper who was trying to club his mother.

But their larger goal was the one for which Mr. Jackson had died, the right of Black Americans to vote, a right systematically denied for decades.

Alabama wasn’t the only US state deliberately contriving registration processes to keep Black Americans from voting. It was just more blatant about it than most.

To reach Montgomery, the marchers had to cross the Alabama River, which meant they would have to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, six blocks away from where they began walking.

Waiting for them there was a force of state troopers led by rabid segregationist Sheriff Jim Clark, sheriff’s deputies and local whites deputized only that morning. Some were on foot, others on horseback, armed with billy clubs, tear gas and a savage resolve.

The unarmed marchers were gassed and viciously beaten, even as they recoiled from the attack. The mounted officers charged into the crowd. Fifty-eight people were hurt. One of the march leaders, John R. Lewis, had his skull fractured.

Off to the sides, white onlookers cheered.

The images broadcast by TV news crews from the bridge that day sent shockwaves across this country and around the world. Even Alabama governor George Wallace, who built his own political career on the battle cry of “Segregation Forever,” reprimanded Clark and his deputies.

Suddenly, the “land of the free and the home of the brave” didn’t look much like either.

Selma march

A larger march of 2,500 people, this time led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., returned to the bridge two days later. Again, the billy clubs were waiting. This time, obeying a federal restraining order, the marchers stopped just short of the bridge, kneeled to pray, then left.

Today is the 49th anniversary of that second march.

Many in the march were upset that they hadn’t tried to cross the bridge a second time. They hadn’t come there to stop short of what they saw as a just and righteous goal. On the other hand, nobody got their skull split open that day.

But that didn’t mean that no one would have to pay in blood.

That night, three white ministers who had come to join the march were attacked by four Ku Klux Klan members armed with clubs. One of them, James Reeb of Boston, was beaten so badly that he died two days later.

A week after Rev. Reeb’s death, the same federal judge who had issued the order limiting the second march cleared the way for the voting rights campaign to march all the way to Montgomery.

On March 21, about 3,200 marchers, this time covered by FBI agents and Alabama National Guard soldiers under federal control, started out toward the bridge. This time, no one stopped them.

By the time the march arrived in Montgomery four days later, the number of marchers had swelled to more than 25,000 — a number larger than the entire population of Selma, even today.

But even on this day, there would be a price. The night after the march reached Montgomery, four Klansmen waylaid a station wagon shuttling marchers back to Selma. The driver, a white Michigan housewife named Viola Liuzzo, was shot to death.

Five months later, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law.

All of this gives the Edmund Pettus Bridge great importance to me. But it’s not what makes it sacred ground. That happened almost three decades later and 300 miles away, when a white supremacist named David Duke decided to run for governor in Louisiana.

On Election Day, my father walked into a polling station, marked his ballot and submitted it like everyone else. Without nonsensical regulations designed to keep him from voting. Without hassles. Without fear. Along with a lot of other Black men and women.

Duke was buried under one of the larger election landslides in US political history. My father would die the following year, but not before describing that moment as the proudest of his life.

That moment never would have come without the courage and sacrifices of those who marched and bled, in Selma and a hundred other places. Voting may be my right as an American, but it feels more like a privilege when I think of the price that had to be paid for it.

That’s why, every time I cast a vote, I think about Jimmie Lee Jackson and John Lewis, James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo. It’s also why, at some point, I know I have to stand at one end of that obscure bridge in Alabama, and take my own steps across it.

Selma march 1965

Today, the Edmund Pettus Bridge is officially a national landmark in Selma, AL.

The nearest major airport to Selma is Montgomery Regional (MGM) in Montgomery, the state capital. It is served by three regional airlines — Delta Connection, US Airways Express and American Eagle.

From there, Selma is 50 miles west of Montgomery on Highway 80, a one-hour drive in good conditions.

Amtrak can get you as far as Birmingham AL or Tuscaloosa AL. You’ll have to drive or take a bus from there. Either will add at least an hour to the drive.

Once in Selma, you can follow the route the marchers took to the bridge, starting at Brown Chapel AME Church — like the bridge itself, now a national historic landmark — at 410 Martin Luther King St.

Walk two blocks southeast to Selma Avenue and turn right (if you pass C&S Auto Parts, you’re going the wrong way). Walk five blocks to Broad Street, aka Highway 8 and Business Highway 80. Turn left and walk five blocks.

You’ll be on the bridge.

Travel Clubs: Savings by the numbers

Second of two parts

You’ve got your travel club up and running. Time to start stalking those group travel deals.

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at what it takes to organize your own travel club — and as you saw, it takes a lot more than the snap of your fingers and the click of a mouse.

But you’ve done it. Everything is in place. You have your first members, your first officers. You’ve even decided as a group when you want to take your first trips and where you want to go.

Now you can start planning those trips, and stalking the bargains that are unique to group travel.

Airlines, cruise lines, railroads, bus lines, rental car companies all do group sales, as do hotels and resorts, worldwide. Likewise, there are travel agencies, tour operators and a host of other travel providers that routinely handle group travel.

The same also applies to sellers of the various forms of travel insurance.

They all love nothing better than knowing that on a given day, they can count on a large number of customers, which is why they’re willing to reward clubs like yours with discounts.

In addition to conventional airlines, there also are charter outfits that fly many of the same types of airliners as the Americans, Deltas and Uniteds, but deal only with privately arranged group trips. Instead of fixed schedule, they go when you want, where you want.

You provide the passengers and the payment; they provide everything else.

However, organizing group travel will be a little different from planning trips for yourself.

For one thing, the process itself is a lot less automated. Whether via a company Web site, email, “snail mail,” phone or some combination thereof, making these arrangements will require you to deal with real, live human beings. Old-school travel planning.

And you can bet the Devil will be lurking in the details.

To that end, make the trip planning a team effort. Get your club officers and other members involved. Having more than one set of eyes looking everything over could avert costly mistakes.

You’ll need to determine with each provider how many travelers, in their view, constitutes a “group.” That number will vary from one provider to another. But don’t worry. Whether your group can barely fill a van or is large enough to fill a cruise ship, there are group travel providers out there who will gladly hook you up.

Even after your numbers are established, group rates can still vary, depending on whether yours is a leisure, educational, business or religious group.

Lead time is going to be important, and you’ll need plenty of it. Group travel, especially for large groups, is seldom something you can set up on a spur of the moment.

Many group travel providers will want everyone’s name and initial deposit several months in advance, and will insist on final payments at least a month before your travel date.

All of the above is just for trips within the United States. Planning a group trip out of the country becomes even more involved, starting with passports. Everyone will need a valid passport. Men, women, children, right down to the newest of newborns.

But what constitutes a valid passport? Having one that’s not expired may not be enough.

Some countries require you to have at least three months left on your passport after your visit begins or ends. For many others, it’s six months. If your passport is too close to expiration, the host country may refuse to issue you a visa.

Travel providers in this post-9/11 era are increasingly strict about this, and since new or renewed passports are good for ten years, there’s really no excuse. Show up with a passport that’s “short,” and you won’t even be allowed on the airplane, much less in the country.

Remember that Devil? Something as small as a typographical error can destroy a trip.

Let’s say you’re planning a Caribbean cruise or a flight to Ghana. The tour operator or travel provider will want a list of all the travelers in your group.

If anyone’s name on that list doesn’t match exactly how their name appears on their passport, that person won’t be allowed to travel. No excuses. No exceptions. Nothing.

You need to make sure that every member knows all the rules governing passports and visas, and doesn’t get tripped up.

If you are behind $2,500 or more in child support payments, the feds will not give you a new passport nor renew an expired one until you pay up. Word to the wise, fellas.

Then, there’s the issue of health. Make sure club travelers have the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about what vaccinations or medications might be needed for certain parts of the world, and urge them to talk to their doctors. Also advise them to check with their health insurance provider to see what kind of coverage they have ojtside the United States.

Everything I’ve laid out might make group travel planning sound horrendously complicated. But as if does with most things in life, the web is ready to help with trip planning sites designed specifically for group travel.

Some group travel planners available online include:

Many travelers are already familiar with Tripit, using it for their individual travel planning.

Perhaps, after reading all this, you’re hesitant to get directly involved in planning a group trip at all. In the words of the Travelstormer site: “Travel planning is 90% decision-making. Try it with a number of people and you’ll reach chaos in no time.”

Wouldn’t it great if there were someone out there who could handle all this for you? Well, there is.

There are professional Group Travel Planners out there who will handle the trip planning for your club, just as travel agents do for individual travelers. And like travel providers specializing in groups, they can offer some pretty cool perks.

Example: Bring a travel planner a certain confirmed number of bookings in your group and the group leader gets to travel for free.

As you would any other vendor with whom you’re not familiar, you need to check out these planners through the usual filters — TripAdvisor, the Better Business Bureau and so on. Due diligence, always.

Never deal with any travel provider with whom you don’t feel completely comfortable and confident.

Once it’s all done, the only thing left is to hit the road, ride the rails, take to the skies or set sail.

Next stop: The trip of a lifetime, just you and your small — or maybe large — army of friends.

Travel Clubs: Make it happen

URGENT: Malaysia Airlines jumbo jet missing

Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200

Authorities say they have lost contact with Flight MH370, a Boeing 777-200 from Malaysia Airlines inbound from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew.

The plane departed Kuala Lumpur (KUL) at 12:41am local time for the 2,745-mile flight to Beijing (PEK). Air traffic controllers lost contact with the flight almost exactly two hours later.

It was due to arrive in Beijing at 6:30am local time.

Four of the passengers on board, including one infant, are Americans. The aircraft is overdue and by now would be out of fuel, according to the airline. A search is in progress.

Meanwhile, the airline is trying to verify a report that the aircraft has landed safely in Nanming, China.

There are two different Chinese cities named Nanming, one in Guizhou province and the other in Fujian province. Both cities are just over 1,000 miles short of the flight’s destination, but the Nanming in Guizhou is in line with the jet’s planned course to Beijing.

The Boeing 777 has been a long-range jumbo jet workhorse for the world’s airlines for 20 years. The 777-200 was the initial version of the plane. Sixty airlines currently fly the “Triple Seven” worldwide, according to Boeing.

Its safety record had been flawless until last year’s Asiana crash in in which a 777 crashed during landing at San Francisco. More information as it becomes available.

8:47pm Pacific
The Associated Press cites a Vietnamese website quoting a Vietnamese search and rescue official that a signal from MH370 was picked up 120 miles southwest of Ca Mau province, the southernmost tip of Vietnam.

9:17pm Pacific
Official Chinese media report authorities there have joined the search for the missing jumbo jet. China’s foreign minister describes his government as “very worried.” More than half the passengers on board — 152 — are Chinese citizens.

9:35pm Pacific
Vietnam media reporting that Flight MH370 crashed into the Gulf of Thailand. “According to Navy Admiral Ngo Van Phat, Commander of the Region 5, military radar recorded that the plane crashed into the sea at a location 15S miles south of Phu Quoc island.”

(NOTE: Until search teams report finding some physical evidence of a crash, this report should NOT be considered confirmed.)

11:53pm Pacific
Malaysian government still considers the flight missing, refusing to acknowledge Vietnam report of a crash. Still no physical evidence yet to confirm a crash. Darkness is rapidly approaching the waters where the aircraft abruptly went off radar, so it may be several hours before we know anything definitive.

(NOTE: While we still don’t know for certain exactly what happened to MH370, two facts raise the possibility of foul play:

  1. The flight disappeared from radar almost exactly two hours into the flight.
  2. There was no contact whatsoever from the flight after the plane dropped off radar.

Aircraft of this size and design do not simply drop out of the sky and vanish. If the Boeing 777-200 has gone down, this one may not have been an accident.)

9:03am Pacific
Media outlets are reporting that oil slicks have been spotted in the search area which Vietnamese officials suspect was made by the crash of MH370. Still no hard evidence that the plane has gone down there. It is just after 1am in the search area, so there will be no daylight in the search area for roughly another five hours.

11:18am Pacific
The Washington Post is reporting that two passengers aboard MH370 were traveling on stolen EU passports, one from Italy, the other from Austria. Both documents had been reported stolen in Thailand within the last two years.


AIRLINES: Changing the game for frequent fliers

Delta Airlines flight landing at Lindbergh Field, San Diego | ©Greg Gross

Delta Airlines flight landing at Lindbergh Field, San Diego | ©Greg Gross

Delta is the latest airline to award miles based on money spent instead of miles flown. It points to the airline pushing the bargain-seeking leisure traveler out of the picture.

If you’ve had the feeling for the last several years that the airline industry would love to get you out of the frequent-flier game, Delta may have just confirmed your suspicions.

The Atlanta-based airline announced Wednesday that it will no longer award miles toward free flights based on the number of miles its customers fly. Instead, it will award those miles based on how much money passengers spend on tickets.

The changes take effect in 2015.

The mainstream media are treating this as a major shakeup in the airline loyalty program game, but in fact, Southwest, JetBlue and Virgin America already were doing pretty much the same thing when Delta made its big announcement last Wednesday.

Of course, none of those airlines are the size of Delta, so in that sense, it is a big deal. And you can bet that the other big boys on the tarmac, especially American and United, are thinking hard about doing exactly the same.

This comes after Delta and United had already made it substantially more costly for travelers to earn elite status, which carries lots of perks, everything from free seat upgrades to the waiving of fees, including those onerous checked baggage fees.

To reach elite status via purchases made with airline credit cards, you now have to spend a minimum of $2,500 per year and fly at least 25,000 miles. And that only gets you to the lowest rung on the elite status ladder.

If you fly only once or twice a year for vacation, seek out the lowest possible fare on every flight and never fly in Business or First Class, all these changes are aimed straight at you — and not for your benefit.

The idea here is to encourage more flights by well-heeled business travelers armed with generous corporate expense accounts, the kind of travelers who can afford to sit in the front of the airplane whenever they wish.

The rest of you: Tough takeoffs.

What all this amounts to is the airline industry trying to slay a dragon of its own design.

When the airlines first launched frequent-flier programs back in the late 1970s, it was done mainly with the business traveler in mind. But once the banks got into the act, enabling consumers to amass miles just by using their credit cards, it caught on with bargain-seeking consumers.

Let’s face it, who among us doesn’t love the idea of free flights?

It didn’t take long for the airlines to realize they had created a monster. Individuals were piling up hundreds of thousands — and in some cases, millions — of frequent-flier miles, which the airlines were obligated to honor. Multiplied by tens of thousands of consumers, the numbers were eye-watering.

Especially to airline beancounters and CEOs.

The airlines countered with a carrot-and-stick approach, creating elite status programs aimed at their business clientele on the other hand, and slapping expiration dates on those outstanding miles on the other. Apparently, however, it wasn’t enough. Hence the latest move to convert the airline loyalty programs from miles to money.

The airline industry is reshaping the frequent-flier concept to lure the people for whom it created those programs in the first place. And if you’re not that aforementioned well-heeled business traveler, it definitely wasn’t you.

What remains to be seen is how the folks who fill the rest of the airplane respond while the perks go increasingly, if not quite exclusively, to the ones up front.

Come to the Mardi Gras!

Zulu king, Mardi Grtas, New orleans

Zulu king, Mardi Gras, New Orleans — image property of

Even if you can’t make it down to the NOLA for today’s big parades that wrap up the Carnival season, you can still get in on the action via the Web, wherever you — or your smartphone — happen to be.

This one’s for all the folks out there, be they displaced natives or nostalgic visitors, who “know what it means to miss New Orleans.” Especially on this day.

But even if you’ve never set foot in the place, that’s all right. You can jump on in here, too.

Tuesday is Fat Tuesday — or in French, Mardi Gras. It’s the last day of Carnival a season of unrestrained, self-indulgent merriment before the sobering self-denial of Lent.

Carnival is celebrated all around the world, but there are two cities that have done more to drive this day into global consciousness than any other. One is Rio de Janeiro. The other is New Orleans.

In the NOLA, it’s all about parades. Big parades. Big crowds. Marching bands. Huge, gaudy floats, full of equally gaudy revelers tossing out beads, doubloons and other “throws” to paradegoers young and old, a daylong street party that won’t stop until midnight.

If you’re not in New Orleans but wish you could be, you can still enjoy the festivities, from the comfort and convenience of your own electronic devices, courtesy of webcams and streaming video.

But first things first.

There are nine parades scheduled for this Mardi Gras Day, but unless you live in the New Orleans area, you’re likely to see only two of them on television or on the Web — the Zulu parade and the Rex parade.

The Zulu parade, put on by the Krewe of Zulu, is always the first parade to roll on Mardi Gras morning, 8 a.m. Central Standard Time — 9 a.m. Eastern, 6 a.m. Pacific.

Zulu is followed two hours later by the Krewe of Rex.

These two are easily the most prestigious parades of the day, if not the entire Carnival season. The Zulu King and the King of Rex officially are the honorary co-rulers of New Orleans for the day, an honor bestowed on them by the mayor the day before, on Lundi Gras. Fat Monday.

Zulu and Rex are easily the two biggest and most prestigious parades of the day, each representing traditions that go back decades. And fromm St. Charles Avenue in the Garden District all the way up to Canal Street in the heart of downtown, the streets will be packed with spectators.

At least one suburban parade, the Krewe of Argus in Metairie, is being shown here and there.

Do keep an eye on those spectators, by the way. Some of them, depending on how much they choose to drink or how little they choose to wear for the occasion, may be a sight by themselves.

Now, how to get in on the happenings:


  1. Check with your local cable or satellite TV provider to see if any of their stations are broadcasting the Mardi Gras parades from New Orleans this morning. One or more of them, especially perhaps a PBS station, just might show a half-hour or so of one parade.
  2. If that’s not happening, time to turn to the Web. New Orleans has five major TV stations, at least one of which is certain to be streaming the parades on their Web site. Last year, it was WDSU Channel 6 NBC did the honors, so check there first. But also check the Web sites of:

If you really want to get into the parades vicariously, WDSU and WWL also offer parade tracker apps on their respective sites for your iPhone or Android device, free for your download.

Treat these webcams as backups in case the TV station live feeds go down for some reason. Some of them will be sited on Bourdon Street and elsewhere in the French Quarter. No parades run through there (for reasons that will become all too apparent when you check out the action on the street), but the mostly good-natured chaos and revelry can be fun to watch.

Even if the majority of them are out-of-towners from everywhere.

If nothing else, let this whet your appetite and get you started on planning to attend next year’s Mardi Gras Day in person.

Travel Clubs: Make it happen

First of two parts

Can’t find a travel club that’s right for you? Create one. The potential advantages, financial and otherwise, are huge. But to make it work, you’ve got to put in work.

Readers often ask me “Do you know any good black travel clubs?”

You can find black-oriented organizations whose members travel together — church congregations, fraternities and sororities, social clubs. Others form around specific activities like cycling, skiing, hiking, surfing, fishing.

But you can always start your own. Having like-minded travel companions can be more fun than traveling solo, and group travel discounts can be sizable.

Be warned, however. This is not something you can do casually — or as folks in New Orleans might say, “half-fast.” Creating and then running a travel club will put demands on your time, energy and money.

If, for whatever reason, you’re not prepared to do this right, don’t even start it.

Okay. After talking to people in the industry and scouring the Web, here’s the best advice I’ve found so far, along with some thoughts of my own:

Choose your niche.
What’s your focus, your theme? You should have a clear idea of that before you begin.

Choose your name
Make it catchy, upbeat, welcoming, encouraging. Next, hit the search engines and make sure that your title isn’t already in use.

Recruit members.
Spread the word. Phone calls. Emails. Flyers. Business cards. Social media.

Develop a charter.
A charter. By-laws. A constitution. “Da rules.” By any name, you need a document stating the club purposes and policies. If you’re not sure how to create a charter, there are Web sites and sample club charters online that can help:

Choose officers.
Everyone should be clear on who’s doing what. Everything needs to be transparent and everyone accountable, especially when it comes to keeping tabs on the club’s money, which brings us to—

Set up a business bank account.
You need this to keep club members’ deposits/payments. There are steps to take before you open a business account, which this article explains. Once those are done, though, opening the account itself is easy. You could even do it online.

All this may sound like a pain, but it will save you from a world of trouble. Putting club monies in a personal account is something the law calls “commingling” and it’s considered a breach of trust. Don’t go there.

Legal shields up.
You’re not required to incorporate your club, but for everyone’s legal protection, you should seriously consider it. There are a lot of options, so seek legal advice on this.

Membership contract.
It spells out members’ rights and responsibilities. Make sure everyone reads, understands and signs it. No exceptions. Why bother with this hassle? Because ours is a nation of lawyers who just love to sue people. Here’s one example of a membership contract. You can find many others online.

Paying your dues
You don’t have to collect dues from members, but it might be a good idea. Use the money to pay routine club operating costs, or cover emergency expenses if a group gets stranded by unforeseen events during a trip.

Okay, you’ve put in the work. Your Black Travel Club is up and running. How do you track down those group travel bargains?

That’s next.


NY to London: Ten bucks?

The king of super-cheap European airlines says it can offer trans-Atlantic flight for $10 or 10 euros, as soon as it gets the right airplanes. Bombshell, bait-and-switch or BS publicity stunt? Color me skeptical.

Among your traveling friends, you may hear some buzz about this:

Ireland-based Ryanair, the McDonald’s of European short-haul, low-fare airlines, says it’s looking to jump into the trans-Atlantic game as soon as it acquires the right aircraft.

When that happens, Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary is telling people the airline could offer fares between the United States and Europe for what the British would call “a tenner.”

New York City to London: $10. London to New York: 10 euro.

Are you packing yet?

The attraction is obvious. Let’s face it, we Americans are addicted to all things cheap. If Walmart had wings, we’d probably fly it.

But before you start booking five-star hotels off Piccadilly Circus or the Champs Elysee with all the money you save on your $10 airfare, slow your roll for a moment.

This is one of those guaranteed conversation starters from an airline that specializes in generating buzz about itself. Reality says this is not going to happen in a matter of weeks or months, if it happens at all.

And if it does, you may want to think twice about going, anyway.

Because while we may love cheap, we don’t love suffering — and nowadays, to fly is to suffer.

Even on airlines that don’t make you pay extra for seats that recline…which Ryanair does.

Indeed, when it comes to Ryanair, you need to look long and hard at what you get — and don’t get — for the money.

Remember the old folk tale about “stone soup?” That’s pretty much the Ryanair approach to airfares. If anything, they pioneered that approach.

By the time you finish paying extra fees for using a credit card to book your flight, making a reservation over the phone, actually choosing your seat, checking a bag or buying a seat comfortable enough to sit in for seven hours, that $10 trans-Atlantic airfare of yours may have ballooned by 30 or 40 times.

Should you opt for a Premium Economy or Business Class seat, you’ll probably wind up paying the same fare as you would have on most other airlines, anyway.

Furthermore, that initial $10 fare is likely to be one-way only. Good luck trying to get a return flight for that price, or anything close to it.

The cattle car approach to air travel might be bearable for an hour or two. How about seven? That’s roughly how long it takes to cross the Atlantic by air.

And this is the airline that actually floated the idea of installing pay toilets on its airplanes and airliners flown by a single pilot.

Still, if the Irish airline could pull that off and sustain it, it would turn a large part of the air travel world upside down.

Mr. O’Leary is in the habit of floating radical ideas publicly, either to gauge public reaction or just to keep the Ryanair name — and his own — in the news. As such, it’s hard to tell when he’s serious about one of these off-the-wall proposals and when he’s just pulling our seatbelts.

The flying public seems to be equally ambiguous when it comes to Ryanair. On the one hand, they’re among the largest air carriers in Europe, obviously they’re doing some things right.

Still, when the London-based newspaper The Telegraph asked its readers in an online survey “Would you fly to the States with Ryanair?,” about 65 percent said “No.”

Maybe we Americans aren’t the only ones addicted to cheap.

Ryanair: Can a sweatshop have wings?
Will GOD be our co-pilot?
Have you ever bum-rushed an airliner?

Rome2rio screenshot

SITE Review: rome2rio

Rome2rio screenshot

SITE: Rome2rio

TYPE: Search engine/travel routing

LOCATION: Australia

COST: Free

Sometimes, you just want to know how to get there, especially if you don’t live near a major “hub” airport. These guys want to help you find your way — and maybe save you some money — at the same time.

More often than than not, there’s more than one way of getting from Point A to Point B, regardless where those two points may be in the world.

Rome2rio promises to show you most, if not all of them. Enter any two starting and ending points into its search engine, and this site will tell you how to connect them via plane, train, bus, ferry or car — or any combination thereof.

This is useful for two reasons.

Depending on ho you combine those different modes of transportation, routing trips this way can save you money.

For example, when I tried routing a trip from San Diego to Paris, it showed that taking the train from SAN to Los Angeles and then flying from LAX would be slightly cheaper than flying directly from San Diego.

At major destinations with more than one airport, such as Paris, London or New York, it can show you at a single glance which route would be cheaper.

If you’re willing to get creative in your routing to save some bucks, this site just might be your best enabler.

But support you don’t live anywhere near LAX, or ATL, or DFW or JFK. Rome2rio could be even more useful for those whose home address is a long way from a major “hub” airport.

To test that theory, I tried another search, keeping Paris as my destination, but this time using Fresno, CA as my starting point. The site produced three routing options.

The first priced out at $983, the second at $748 and the third at $667.

Would a $316 cost savings get your attention? It definitely hooked mine.

You can search routes by country, city, landmark or three-letter airport code. It also features secondary pages that will let you search for hotels and rental cars, in virtually any currency you choose.

Visually, Rome2rio’s primary search page is uncluttered, making it quick and easy to navigate. It also features secondary pages for finding hotels and rental cars.

If you’re environmentally conscious, Rome2rio also creates a link for every route search, showing how you can offset the carbon emissions generated on your route.

The site may not be able to produce specific information for every search that you enter, but it’s commendable that its creators make the effort.

The one negative I ran into involved using airport codes to check routes.

The airport for San Diego is SAN, but when i entered that into Rome2rio’s search box, it gave me San Francisco instead.

I love The City too, fellas, but you really need to fix that.

Overall, I would use one or more of your other trusted travel search sites to verify your Rome2rio findings, at least in the beginning. But as a starting point for your trip planning, it could prove very useful, indeed.

"Wherever you go, go with all your heart." — Confucius