Travelers trying to use debit cards to book air travel can be tripped up by an automatic spending limit. It makes last-minute bookings a risky business.
A recent teachable moment from a client of mine, whom we’ll call Adam (not his real name). He wanted to use a debit card to book an airfare for a domestic round-trip flight.
On general principles, airlines are more comfortable dealing with credit cards, but they do accept debit cards. Adam picked his flights and dates, then you tried to confirm the booking.
No good. Adam’s card was declined.
He assured the airline that he had more than enough money in his checking account to cover the airfare. It didn’t matter. The airline still refused, without telling him why.
What the eff, right?
The problem was not the airline. It was Adam’s bank.
Debit cards typically come with maximum daily spending limits, the better to keep you — or some ne’er-do-well — from draining your bank account all in one shot.
If the airfare you’re trying to book exceeds your daily limit, your booking attempt automatically runs into a computerized brick wall.
And as we all know from experience, trying to reason with a computer seldom ends well. Especially a bank computer.
NO CARTE BLANCHE
And if you’re wondering why the airline reservation clerk didn’t explain that to Adam, it’s probably because the clerk’s computer gave him no detailed reason for declining the card. It just said no.
To solve this problem, you do need to talk to a humanoid — not at the airline, but at the bank or credit union that owns your debit card. (And for the record, that card may have your name on it, but the financial institution still owns it, not you.)
This is the point at which someone invariably says, “Why didn’t the bank tell me that in the first place?” The answer is, they probably did, in the paperwork that came in the mail along with your debit card.
Call them up, tell them your travel plans and ask them to raise your daily limit long enough to let you buy your tickets. As long as you have the money ion your account to cover it, they usually will agree to do that without much fuss.
(NOTE: Getting your daily limit raised permanently is a different, and more involved, business, beyond the scope of this post.)
DON’T WAIT TOO LATE
How long does it take to get your daily limit raised? As with the original amount of the limit itself, that depends on your bank.
Some will do it almost instantaneously. Others can take 24 to 48 hours or more, and only after you physically go into your bank, talk to a bank officer and fill out paperwork.
The implications of all this are simple and clear. If you plan to use a debit card for travel, figure how what your daily spending needs will be, find out what your daily spending limit is, and if necessary, handle your bank business as soon as possible.
But do all of that well before it’s time to start booking flights. Procrastination could really torpedo your travel plans.
Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.
It wasn’t bad enough that your airline frequent-flier miles can expire. Now, thieves are trying to book free flights with your miles.
Does this sound like you?
You stalk the online travel agencies and booking sites, looking for the cheapest airfare from A to B, regardless of airline. Over time, you’ve gotten pretty good at finding them.
And each time you find one on a different airline, you sign up for its frequent flier program to make sure you get credit for those miles.
Result: You now have multiple memberships in multiple airline loyalty programs, perhaps even a dozen or more — and not enough miles on any of them to give you a free flight.
The result of that: You toss the membership cards in a drawer and forget about them — and the miles you’ve accrued on them — until it’s time for your next trip.
You seldom log on to the airlines’ Web sites to check the status of your miles. And you haven’t changed the password on any of them in years.
That indifference could prove costly.
Just because you don’t have enough for that free round-the-world dream flight in Champagne Class doesn’t mean those miles have no value.
You can make online purchases of other goods or services. You can donate them to charity. you could even make gifts of them to family and friends.
Whatever you choose to do with them, they’re yours, so you need to look after them. Because there are plenty of people out there who would love to separate them from you, starting with the airlines themselves.
With some air carriers, your miles are good indefinitely. With most, they’re not. They come with an expiration date. Let that date come and go and you can say good-bye to your precious miles.
Lately, however, a new and far more sinister threaten to your miles has reared its criminal head. Thieves are stalking your frequent-flier miles.
According to the Associated Press, at least two major airlines, American and United, have reported attempts by thieves using stolen login credentials to book free flights or upgrades.
United reported nearly 40 successful mileage thefts. American has confirmed two, so far.
It’s not just the airlines. Digital crooks have broken into hotel loyalty accounts in similar fashion.
The moral: check in on your frequent-flier accounts from time to time. Know how many miles you have in each. Change your passwords every several months. Don’t make it something that a crook could easily guess…or keep it in a place where a thief could easily find it. And don’t use the same password for every account.
Your airline miles are valuable, and they’re yours. Protect them.
Rather than pricey seat-blocking gadgets or juvenile, combative behavior, try this old-school alternative when you fly: courtesy. Works every time.
The buzz in the airline industry these days is about passengers apparently losing their minds when the passenger in front of them reclines their seat.
Airline travelers of a certain age will remember when there was enough space between each row of seats for every passenger to recline in comfort. No need to worry about bruising someone’s knees or maybe breaking their laptop…or their nose.
To put it mildly, things have changed.
The airlines’ determination to squeeze every possible dollar out of every flight has seen them cram extra rows of seats into their aircraft.
That’s how it is in Economy, anyway.
The farther you go toward the front of the airplane, and the more money you pay for your seat, the more legroom you get. Which makes all this a non-issue in First or Business class.
Back in Sardine Class, unfortunately, “it’s on!” Instead of Star Wars, we now have Seat Wars.
Nowadays, when we recline our seats, or the passenger in front of us reclines theirs, it’s increasingly becoming a cue for airline drama. Passengers are defending their precious few inches of “seat pitch” as if they were the Alamo, and the entire Mexican army were occupying the seat in front of them.
Complaints to flight attendants. Foul language. Kicking the back of the offender’s seat. In some instances, fights have broken out — three in the last week or so.
Some passengers are even resorting to using expensive gadgets designed to block the seat in front of them from reclining, leading to yet more drama.
The result: Flights having to be diverted due to disturbances on board. Passengers have been kicked off airplanes, even arrested after unleashing their inner brat at 35,000 feet.
(NOTE: Some airlines prohibit the use of seat-blocking devices. In some cases, breaking them out will automatically get you in trouble.)
Seriously, people, is this the 21st century? Are we grown-ups? Air travel isn’t already miserable enough?
IBIT has a solution to stop this madness. It’s simple. It’s been around forever. Best of all, it’s free.
It’s called “courtesy.”
If you want to recline your seat, ask the passenger behind you. If they object, don’t recline.
As soon as you can, even before the plane takes off, politely ask the passenger in front of you to give you a heads-up when they want to recline their seat. Or even more politely ask them not to.
Anything beyond that, explain the situation to a flight attendant and leave it with them.
I’m reluctant to call this “common courtesy” because, frankly, it no longer seems all that common, if it ever really was. But I’m convinced it still works, especially if we all commit to using it.
And there’s no better time to break out a courtesy jihad than when encapsulated in an aluminum tube moving at not quite the speed of sound seven miles above the ground.
We paying passengers may not have created this situation, but taking our frustration and discomfort out on one another is unlikely to make any of it better.
We’re all in this misery together; we might as well cut one another some slack and make the best of it until we reach our destination, yes?
Carry-on scofflaws with their oversized bags move a writer to act. Can social media succeed where the airlines themselves have failed?
If you’re one of those airline passengers who insists on dragging suitcases the size of hay bales onto an airliner and calling them carry-ons, you know the airlines are starting to come after you.
The people who do this slow the boarding process to a near-standstill, causing flights to take off late, which means they often arrive late, disrupting flights through throughout the air travel network.
Part of that delay includes having to take cases that wouldn’t fit in the overheads off the plane to be checked at the gate, a process that’s not only become increasingly common but becoming more expensive to travelers.
(Some airlines are now charging as much as $100 per bag if they have to take your bag out of the passenger compartment and check it. Ouch!)
Well, it turns out that the airlines aren’t the only ones ticked off by all this. Some of your fellow passengers aren’t too thrilled, either.
They’re tired of waiting for you to muscle your over-sized, overly heavy bag into the overhead bin, holding up scores of people behind you, many of whom waiting for their chance to do the same thing. They’re tired of you hogging the bin space with suitcases that were never intended to be stored overhead.
They’re especially tired of having your bag fall on their heads, either when it slips from your grasp or when the overhead bin latch pops open in flight and it comes flying out.
“We’ve all seen them,” says San Francisco Chronicle writer Spud Hilton. “The passengers at the gate dragging roller luggage that is more the size of a clown car than a carry-on. And of course they have a “personal item,” a bag or case in which you could smuggle a small pony.
“They stand in line at the airport, 2 feet from the airline’s carry-on sizer rack, clearly transporting the entire cast wardrobe for “Beach Blanket Babylon” (including the hats). Then they walk past the gate agents with an air of entitlement that says, “Those silly rules don’t apply to me.”
Evidently, Mr. Hilton has had enough of this nonsense. He’s launching his own one-man online shaming campaign against travelers who go to extreme lengths to evade the airlines’ much-despised fees for checked baggage.
He wants other travelers to snap cellphone pics of passengers slipping past airport gate agents with their ridiculously over-sized carry-ons, then post them on Twitter, Instagram and Vine with the hashtag #CarryonShame.
He has his reasons:
“If it were just passengers rationalizing their behavior as trying to cheat the airline out of checked baggage fees (or fliers just trying to save money), we wouldn’t care. But the increasingly aggressive disregard for the size standards — which has led to flight delays, a much longer boarding process, abusive passengers, and increased theft from gate-checked bags — also is disregard for everyone else on the plane. When your steamer trunk inconveniences someone else, there’s no excuse for that.”
Flight delays. A much longer boarding process. Increasingly aggressive passengers. I’ve seen all that with my own eyes. Theft from gate-checked bags, however, is a new one to me. New and disturbing.
This could get interesting. Actually, I could see it getting out of hand. Then again, when I watch the boarding process degenerate into a theater of the absurd, I suspect it’s gotten out of hand already.
Airline fare sales are a lot like playing the lottery. You have a chance to win big — just not a good chance. You’re better off tracking down airfare bargains on your own.
When I started publishing IBIT almost five years ago, one of the easiest ways to get my heart racing was to find out that Airlines A, B and C were staging a “fare war.”
Airline A would announce these eye-popping airfare reductions “for a limited time only.” Within a day, sometimes hours or even minutes, Airlines B,C — and sometimes through Z — would follow suit. And I’d breathlessly jump on here to spread the word.
Regular IBIT readers will tell you they don’t see such posts here nearly as often anymore. Here’s the reason: Over time, I’ve learned that these “fare wars” too often are far more style than substance when it comes to saving you money.
For most consumers, scoring a major bargain in a fare war is a bit like winning the lottery. Can you hit it big? Theoretically, yes. Are the odds in your favor? Definitely not.
By the time you’ve waded through all the exceptions, exemptions and restrictions, there’s virtually nothing left for you to consider buying. It’s enough to make you wonder why the airlines bothered in the first place.
What am I talking about? Consider:
Usually short to extremely short, the better to try to stampede consumers into making hasty spending decisions likely to cause them to spend more than they planned.
That gorgeous-looking fare to your preferred destination either will be based on the purchase of a round-trip ticket or requires you to pay a higher fare for the return leg. You have to spend a minimum number of days or nights, or stay over on a Saturday. In the case of major cities with more than one airport, the fare may apply only to the one that farther from the city center, which means more expense in ground transportation for you. And on and on and on.
The discounts don’t apply to the airline’s entire route system, only to certain carefully chosen destinations — none of which remotely interest you. Your travel must be started by a certain date and completed by a certain date. And there are blackout dates when you won’t be allowed to fly in either direction on that discounted fare.
And those are the catches the airlines tell you about. What they don’t tell you is that there may not be that many seats per flight available at those bargain-basement prices.
Another hidden catch: If the airline thinks its fare-war sale has grown too popular with the public, it can cut it off at any time, without warning.
By the time you’ve waded through all those airline “clauses,” too often you find there’s no bargain left to be had.
When it comes to fare wars, I no longer believe the hype.
When it comes to finding an airfare at the right time to the right place for the right price, you’re better off tracking it yourself. The Web has lots of ways you can do that.
Many of the more popular travel booking sites — including one or more you may be using already — have airfare alerts you can use. Other sites are dedicated strictly to tracking airfares. Both work in basically the same way.
Just enter your departure point, destination and the amount you want to pay. The site will take care of the rest, sending you email or smartphone text messages to “pull your coat” when the fare has dropped to the level you’re looking for.
(NOTE: When setting your alert price, be realistic. I’d love to fly from LAX to Paris for $100 round-trip, too, but the odds of the fare ever dropping that low are slim to none.)
While some booking sites will let you know when fares drop to your chosen destination, there are other sites designed exclusively to keep tabs on airfares that might prove more useful.
Some even track the rise and fall of specific fares over the course of a year or more, allowing you to follow airfare patterns and time your trip to get the best possible fare.
You can find some of the best sites for both airfare booking and fare tracking right here on IBIT:
Go to the AIR-LAND-SEA pull-down menu at the top of this page.
Roll your cursor over the linked marked AIR.
Roll your cursor over the link marked AIRFARES and click.
Look them all over. See which ones work best for you. Then start stalking those bargain fares on your own.
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.
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.
THE DEVIL AND THE DETAILS
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.
DID YOU KNOW?
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:
DON’T DO IT YOURSELF?
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.
The federal government announces loosened restrictions on the use of personal electronic devices aboard airliners — with enough qualifying clauses to hold a convention at the North Pole.
The Federal Aviation Administration made an announcement last week that a lot of you have been waiting for. It is rewriting the rules governing the use of Personal Electronic Devices aboard airliners.
Basically, you now will be able to use your smartphone, laptop or tablet computer throughout your flight in ways that have been prohibited up to now:
“Passengers will eventually be able to read e-books, play games, and watch videos on their devices during all phases of flight, with very limited exceptions.” So says the FAA itself in its press release.
And yes, that includes during takeoffs and landings. Further, if the aircraft has wifi available for airborne use, you’ll be able to use it with your own device.
Bluetooth devices like wireless keyboards are now okay, too.
A word of caution, however, before you fire up your iPhone or iPad in the friendly skies. Did you notice that “…with very limited exceptions” clause there? It won’t be the last one.
And as you’ll see in a moment, you haven’t seen the last of “Airplane Mode” just yet.
For years, the FAA has been under pressure to change its rightly conservative but admittedly arcane safety rules governing PEDs.
Air passengers increasingly travel with electronic gear — smartphones, tablets and the rest — and they increasingly chafe at rules limiting their ability to use them aboard airliners. Many, if not most, have long suspected that the safety features designed into modern avionics rendered the regulations outdated years ago.
At long last, it looks as if the FAA agrees. Sort of. But to understand what this announcement really means, you need to be clear on what the FAA is not doing.
It is not issuing a blanket approval of using PEDs on airliners. It is not setting a date after which passengers will be free to use their devices on all airlines.
And you still won’t be able to place calls on any of your personal devices from 35,000 feet.
What it’s saying, in effect, is that it’s comfortable enough with the safety features of modern avionics that it will leave it to the discretion of the individual airlines whether to allow PED use in flight:
“Once an airline verifies the tolerance of its fleet, it can allow passengers to use handheld, lightweight electronic devices – such as tablets, e-readers, and smartphones—at all altitudes,” the FAA says.
Short form: You’ll need to check with your individual air carrier to find out what it does and doesn’t allow where PEDs are concerned.
Be prepared for it to vary from one carrier to another.
Meanwhile, remember those FAA “clauses” I mentioned earlier? Here are a few more:
Changes to PED policies will not happen immediately and will vary by airline.
Current PED policies remain in effect until an airline completes a safety assessment, gets FAA approval, and changes its PED policy.
Devices must be used in airplane mode or with the cellular connection disabled.
In some instances of low visibility – about one percent of flights – some landing systems may not be proved PED tolerant, so you may be asked to turn off your device.
Devices must be used in airplane mode or with the cellular connection disabled.
A special caution for international air travelers. As goes the United States, so goes the world when it comes to commercial air safety rules, so you can expect the airlines and regulatory bodies of most other countries to follow the FAA’s lead on this.
However, these new FAA regulations don’t apply worldwide — at least not yet. So just because you board that non-US airline at JFK or LAX, don’t automatically presume that US rules apply. Check with the airline first.
Another caveat: all airline wifi is not created equal. Some works at all altitudes, while others are null and void below 10,000 feet.
Which airlines have which wifi? According to this Business Insider story, only Southwest and Allegiant airlines have wifi that works everywhere up there.
Still, even with all the regulatory hems and haws, this will be a welcome change to millions of travelers. The next step — electric outlets at every seat.
The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel
747 — END OF AN ERA?
After more than 40 years, her familiar humpback silhouette is still instantly recognized around the world and she’s still the largest airliner built in the United States. But there are signs that the famed Boeing 747, the aircraft that more than any other transformed modern air travel, is rapidly nearing the end of the runway.
Several media outlets, including USA Today, are reporting that Boeing is drastically cutting back production of new 747 models and has yet to sell a new one this year.
Bottom line, the airlines just don’t want four-engined airplanes anymore, especially big ones that burn a lot of fuel to carry less than full loads of passengers.
All good things come to an end, but this traveler will be sorry to see the big bird go.
My first real international trip was aboard a Japan Air Lines 747 from LAX to Tokyo in 1976. Boarding one for the first time was a thrill — even if your Economy Class ticket didn’t entitle you to visit the swank upholstered lounge at the top of the spiral staircase.
When they began flying commercially in 1970, airports used to boast that they were a destination for 747s — even as they struggled at first with massive new volumes of passengers, freight and luggage. And even after four decades, it remains one of the most comfortable airliners in the sky.
But while successive waves of upgrades have kept the 747 technically viable, it looks as if economic realities will shortly be its demise.
A BOLT COMES TO CALI
The airlines aren’t the only ones going the low-fare route. Bolt Bus, a spinoff of the iconic Greyhound inter-city bus line in operation since 2008, is hitting the highway in California.
Already in service in the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest with super-cheap fares, the New York Times reports that Bolt is opening up a new route starting Oct. 31 between Los Angeles, San Jose and Oakland.
To mark the occasion, Bolt is selling one-way tickets for the first four days of the new service for $1.
That’s right…a buck.
In a sense, it’s a throwback to the days when Greyhound and Continental Trailways buses roared up and down Highway 101 and Interstate 5 between Northern and Southern California, usually loaded with college students, budget-conscious vacationers and others who couldn’t cope with the cost of air travel — or just didn’t want to.
Those Trailways buses were pretty comfortable back then, with real legroom and even attendants who served coffee, sodas and sandwiches on board. None of that on Bolt buses, but you do get free wifi, electric outlets and leather seats. Unlike the old days, you also can get reserved seats if you buy your tickets online.
AFRICA — One region, under a visa
Little by little, the stable regions of Africa, looking to boost their tourism, are moving toward regionalizing their immigrations and customs controls for travelers.
West Africa, through multi-nation trade group ECOWAS, already has a visa that allows citizens of the 14 ECOWAS member nations to travel freely among each other’s countries on a single visa.
Comes now Univisa, which would allow visitors to travel between multiple countries in southern Africa on a single visa, instead of having to get separate visas — and pay separate visa fees &mdash for each country.
It’s only in the idea phase at the moment, but according to Travel Weekly, it’s an idea that generated a lot of traction at this year’s meeting of the UN World Tourism Organization in Victoria Falls.
This is an idea whose idea is long overdue in arriving — not just for the sake of non-African tourists, but travelers within the Mother Continent. In too many instances, it currently is easier to travel from Europe to Africa than it is to move between African countries.
If African travel, tourism and commerce are ever to reach their full potential, that has to change.
THE EUROPE THAT EUROPE KNOWS
When we Americans first start traveling to Europe, the fascination is endless, and why not? Centuries of history to pore through. A multitude of languages, cultures, interwoven histories. It’s all layered amid cutting-edge architecture, fashion, music, food — and all stitched together by perhaps the most streamlined and sensible transportation et on the planet.
Soon enough, though, you may find an uneasy feeling coming over you as you contemplate yet another visit to London, Paris, Rome or Barcelona. That been-there, done-that, got-the-T-shirt feeling.
It’s the Web site for hidden europe magazine, which reveals the less-familiar pleasures of Europe for travelers, especially to Europeans looking for something a little different for their own vacations. In their own words, “we criss-cross the continent to bring our readers the very best of what’s new, what’s overlooked, what’s odd and what’s fun.”
What’s more, they’re big on travel by train and ferry, which makes them travelers after my own heart.
And now, here’s The Digest:
AIR from theWashington Post
Have airline reservation change fees climbed so high that it’s now cheaper to just not show up? Sometimes, the answer is yes.
fromUSA Today Ryanair, Europe’s ultra-cheap airline, has built itself an image — low fares and no respect. And by its own admission, the latter may be wearing thin with its customers.
LAND fromTravel Weekly
Zipcar and its contemporaries are forcing Hertz to get into the self-serve car rental game.
SEA fromTravel Weekly Princess Cruises will have five cruise ships instead of seven for European summer cruises in 2014. So where will the other two ships be? Alaska.
Viking River Cruises is no long Viking River Cruises. These days. it’s Viking Cruises. Why? Because it’s elbowing its way into the ocean cruise business, starting in 2015.
FOOD & DRINK from theNew York Times
Going beyond fast-food chains, airports around the United States are bringing in restaurants offering travelers some truly local flavor.
Some travel purists are fond of looking down their noses at “foodie” travel. The industry is not. Food-oriented travel has become a major niche category all its own, and its growth shows no signs of slowing.
AFRICA fromThe Point(Banjul, Gambia) via allAfrica.com The Gambia — Africa’s smallest, least populous nation becomes a magnet for tourism investors from Russia.
fromNewZimbabwe.com (Zimbabwe) via allAfrica.com Zimbabwe looks to tap into religious tourism in the country, partly as a way to prevent Victoria Falls and Great Zimbabwe from becoming over-saturated.
fromAngola Press (Angola) via allAfrica.com
Angolan citizens are being asked to select the country’s own seven national wonders — and it looks as if they have nearly 30 impressive sites from which to choose. Voting is being done by SMS, naturally.
Good reasons to visit some of the less-visited travel destinations in Mexico. And no, I haven’t lost my mind.
ASIA/PACIFIC from theWashington Post
In Thailand, elephants have been so badly mistreated by logging — and tourism — that the Thais felt compelled to create a sanctuary for most badly abused of them. SLIDESHOW
fromThe Guardian(London, UK)
File this one under “Who Would Believe It?” A 460-mile hiking trail that criss-crosses virtually the entire length of the Korean Peninsula. That’s right, North as well as South Korea.
EUROPE from theWashington Post
A visual tour by day and night through the twin cities of Budapest, one of the best-preserved treasures of Eastern Europe. SLIDESHOW
fromThe Guardian(London UK) Ice skating on the ocean? They do it off the coast of Sweden.
fromThe Guardian(London UK)
An insider’s guide to beautiful, fun-loving, independent-minded Barcelona.
Spotted something you’d like to see in the next IBIT Travel Digest? Send me a message using the handy form below:
The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel
DANCING THROUGH CUSTOMS
One of the fringe benefits of writing a travel blog is that you can make some great friends doing great work. One such friend of mine is Renee King, who publishes A View to a Thrill.
In her most recent installment, she gives us the 4-1-1 on of the US government’s trusted traveler programs that can seriously speed you through the Customs process upon your return to the United States. It’s called “Global Entry” and here’s what Renee had to say about it:
“Originally created to target frequent international travelers, the U.S. Global Entry program has been a virtual god-send for travelers who want a fast and secure way of skipping the lines altogether when re-entering the United States.”
To pick up all the details on “Global Entry,” check out Renee’s article here. And then bookmark it. You’ll want to keep this one handy.
Anyone who doesn’t “get” the importance of this program has never walked/stumbled/staggered off a jumbo jet with about 300 other exhausted souls after a transoceanic flight lasting 12 hours or longer, only to queue up in a Customs line…with the passengers of two, three or four other jumbo jets, all doing the same thing you are.
I have. I don’t recommend it.
If such a trip is a one-in-a-lifetime deal for you, then you may not need this program, especially when it costs $100. You’ll also have to make an appointment to be interviewed, electronically fingerprinted and see if you qualify for the program — and frankly, not everyone will.
But when you walk off that plane in a jet-lagged fog and breeze by all those folks suffering in line, you’ll swear it was the best time and money you ever spent on travel.
And if you make more than, say, three or four globe-girdling flights per year, you need this.
ALL ABOARD…THE NIGHT TRAIN
If it’s true that, in the words of the old Amtrak commercial, “there’s something about a train, then there’s something even more captivating about an overnight “sleeper” train.
Watching the sun set from the privacy of your own compartment, then bedding down for the night with a window full of stars and awaking the next morning in a different city — or a different country — is unforgettable.
It’s also practical. A sleeper train combines transportation and lodging in one. Instead of losing a day traveling between points, you arrive at your destination early the next morning.
It’s not cheap, but a private compartment often includes all your on-board meals, as well as other perks unavailable to Coach passengers, all of which makes the sleeper experience worth considering.
Paris-Barcelona? Paris-Berlin? London-Penzance? Yeah, I could happily do any of those.
AFRICAN FASHION MADE EASY
Not many folks on this side of the Atlantic are aware of it, but Africa has developed quite the fashion scene. We’re talking high-end threads for men and women from high-profile designers from the length and breadth of the Mother Continent.
Until a few years ago, your best shot at checking out this vibrant and growing fashion world was to fly to one or more of perhaps seven African cities:
Cape Town, South Africa
Johannesburg, South Africa
And if you want to get a feel for the sources of inspiration that drive these African fashions, that still might be the best idea.
However, you do have alternatives. Lots of them, in fact.
from Business Insidervia Yahoo
A Germany-based air safety monitoring group lists the world’s ten most dangerous airlines over the last 30 years. Read with some large grains of salt.
from eTurbo News
An Indonesian airline adopts new Sukhoi Superjet 100 airliners from Russia. The reason: They can operate from the country’s short runways.
from NBC News Southwest Airlines is betting that you’ll be willing to pay $40 extra to board their planes early. Would you?
from eTurbo News Ethiopian Airlines cuts flights from Addis Ababa to Europe.
from Travel Weekly
A heavy late-December snowfall has the skiing looking good at America’s ski resorts.
from The Telegraph(London UK)
What do you get when you take an Amtrak train between Toronto and New York? A 12-hour rail cruise through US history and some of North America’s most gorgeous scenery.
from Forbes via Yahoo
Can you measure a country’s happiness? The Legatum Institute of London says it can, and it’s produced a list of the world’s ten happiest nations. And no, the United States is nowhere in the top ten.
from Cruise Industry News
More evidence of the cruise industry’s growing tilt toward Asia: Princess Cruises to homeport a second cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, in Japan.
from Cruise Critic
For those of you dying to escape the frigid winter, there are six cruise ships sailing in warm waters that nearly always have cabins offered at a discount.
from Cruise Industry News
The upscale cruise line Silversea plans to offer shorter (and thus cheaper) cruises in Northern Europe and the Mediterranean.
from Cruise Industry News
As cruises go, this one’s the ultimate icebreaker. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises is planning an August cruise of the Northwest Passage fron Greenland to Alaska on one of its expedition ships, the Hanseatic. You don’t often see the words “expedition” and “5-star” in the same sentence.
You might want to hold off on that Cairo vacation a little longer. Things are getting hectic — and deadly — again in Egypt.
from al Jazeera
Museum in Mali trying to protect some of the country’s historic artifacts from the threat of destruction by radical Muslim insurgents.
from eTurbo News British Airways pulls out of Tanzania, and Emirates is the first airline to step into the void.
from The Telegraph(London UK)
Tourism officials in Egypt report that foreign visits are up, but not as much as expected.
from eTurbo News
Ethiopia turning to China, India and Russia as potential new tourism markets.
from the Huffington Post George Hobica says Albuquerque NM has been overshadowed by Santa Fe, but it deserves a closer look. Especially if you’re a fan of beer, road trips and under-the-radar cool.
from Travel Weekly
Want a shot at some warm winter weather and a whiff of that new hotel smell? Start saving your coins and circle Dec. 2014 on your calendar. That’s the the 1,000-room $1 billion Baha Mar casino resort is set to open its doors.
from the Chicago Tribune
If you’re a baseball junkie, a visit to Chicago’s historic Wrigley Field is something close to a religious pilgrimage. Now, the Sheraton hotel chain is planning to put up a boutique hotel directly across the street from the old ballpark. Think they’ll pt bleachers on the roof?
from Reutersvia NBCNews
More flights and a weaker dollar have combined to create record-setting tourism in Hawaii.
from BootsnAll Southeast Asia is a great destination for rail travel.
from China Daily
The dispute between China and Japan over the Senkaku (or if you’re Chinese, Diaoyu) Islands is throwing cold water on tourism between the two countries.
Walking in the path of samurai. Scenic medieval walkways in Japan.
from The Guardian(London UK)
What would you see on a 40-mile walk across a city of 30 million souls? Marcel Theroux gives us his answers from his trek across Tokyo, the first of a series of walks across the largest cities on Earth.
from ABC Newsvia Yahoo
Welcome to County Kerry in southwest Ireland, where drunk driving is legal. And no, that’s not a typo.
from eTurbo News Ukraine’s largest airline, AeroSvit, goes belly up, stranding hundreds of passengers in the process.
from The Guardian(London UK)
It wasn’t that long ago that the term “luxury hostel” might have been the ultimate oxymoron in travel especially in Europe. It’s fair to say that things have changed. A lot. SLIDESHOW
The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel
Welcome to the first IBIT Travel Digest of 2013. Let’s get going.
SAN FRANCISCO: BAY HEATING UP?
The folks at Smarter Travel have listed San Francisco as one of the travel destinations to watch in 2013.
That might sound a bit like saying the sky is blue and water is wet, since San Francisco has always been a hot travel destination. But the city that calls itself “The City” has some new attractions going on line this year, and it’s all about the bay that gives the city its name.
This year, the Aquarium of the Bay is putting in an exhibit devoted to the rare river otter — one of which recently turned up, almost as if on cue, in the ruins of the old Sutro Baths, to the delight of sightseers and the puzzlement of scientists.
The Exploratorium, which has delighted generations of visitors with its science exhibits, also is getting a new and greatly expanded headquarters this year along the city’s waterfront.
But the main event will be the opening of the sleek new east span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, replacing the old span damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
Not only is the new bridge gorgeous and designed to hold up better in an earthquake, but it incorporates something that cyclists have dreamed about for decades — a separate bike/pedestrian path. The illustration above shows you how it will look once it’s in service.
People will be able to ride or walk from Oakland to Treasure Island, the halfway point of the bridge, something that was never possible before.
Plans/discussions/arguments are underway to add a similar deck to the original west span of the bridge.
I can’t wait for the chance to take my bike up to the Bay Area and join my cycling friends, old and new, for a spin over the bay — even if it’s only to Treasure Island. Half a bay is better than none.
GO SMALL, LEAVE HOME
You already know about the cruise ship industry’s building boom, but it’s not just the big lines building big ships. Less well-known outfits also are turning out new, smaller vessels. One example is Alaskan Dream Cruises, which currently operates three small ships for Alaskan cruises.
How small is small? ADC’s three vessels hold a combined total of 162 passengers. Your typical Carnival or Royal Caribbean cruise ship may hold close to ten times that many — on one deck.
When you board a typical cruise ship, holding anywhere from 2,000 to 5,400 passengers, you may feel as if you brought half of your hometown with you. Not so on a small cruiser. It’s a completely different experience. Faster. Smoother. More intimate.
The super-small cruise ships can easily get into scenic inlets and bays, even explore small rivers, where the floating behemoths would surely run aground. Once ashore, you get more time to sightsee, because your small cruise vessel can dock at much smaller harbors. The mega-ships have to shuttle you back and forth on tenders, which really eats into your limited time in port.
Being smaller, such cruises are seldom cheap. But the experience can more than make up for the price.
AMERICAN + USAIR = ?
With each passing day, a merger between American Airlines and US Airways looks like a done deal.
Even before American filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year, industry analysts have been expecting the airline to be snapped up by one of its financially healthier rivals. When Delta dropped out of the fray and United opted to buy Continental instead, that pretty much left the field open to USAir.
And as we move into the new year, the wheels are already turning.
from National Geographic
Ice hotels. If you’re not “cool” after spending a night in one of these places, see your doctor.
from Smarter Travel
For a lot of women, wearing stiletto heels while traveling may be impractical. In Greece, it’s also illegal. One of 11 weird laws around the world that can trip up the unwary traveler. SLIDESHOW
from CNN Travel
Ten cars for every type of traveler.
Ways to save on your next cruise.
Take a good look, world. Here they come: A smartphone and a tablet computer, designed by an African, built by Africans. Hitting the market now. This could be IBIT’s future travel gear…and maybe yours, too?
Forget “The Lion King.” The leopard — not the lion — is the real “king of the jungle.”
from the Washington Post
Not all of Africa’s fascinating sights are of wilderness and wildlife. A look at urban Tanzania and Ethiopia. SLIDESHOW
from Africa Review
Mali’s Islamic extremist insurgency threatens the country’s deep musical traditions.
The good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media
DOWN AND (NOT) DIRTY EATS, WORLDWIDE
I’m not a foodie; I just like food. And I love checking out the hidden, under-sized, under-rated places. The incredible street vendor. The lovingly run Mom-and-Pop storefront.
It’s great when you do that in your hometown. When you can do it on the other side of the world, it’s magic.
So I could hardly restrain the joy when London’s The Guardian newspaper introduced me to a blog after my own heart, or at least my own palate: Culinary Backstreets.
This blog focuses on five cities — Istanbul, Athens, Barcelona, Mexico City and Shanghai. If their content is any indication, you could lose your mind — and gain some weight — in any of them.
It’s a reminder that you don’t need a fistful of Michelin stars to find a galaxy of wonderful flavors.
A story like that speaks not only to my love of urban street food, but my taste for preserving and enhancing an old community instead of tearing everything down and replacing it with the new, the shiny, the sterile.
Real people, in a real community, making and selling real food. How does “urban renewal” improve on that?
ANSWER: It usually doesn’t.
AFTER-CHRISTMAS (TRAVEL) SALES
One nice way to beat the post-holiday blues would be to score yourself some after-Christmas travel bargains, and the period between the day after NEw Year’s and Martin Luther King Jr. days is one of the best ties of year to do it.
The folks at The Motley Fool call this period “dead time” for the travel industry. I prefer to think of it as hunting season for the smart travel consumer.
LUGGAGE TAGS? TRY LUGGAGE APPS
Believe it or not — and I know some of you won’t — the airlines are getting better at not losing your checked bags. Statistics from the US Department of Transportation say so. Considering that they make you pay nowadays for the “privilege” of checking them, I’d say that’s only fair.
Still, air passengers do sometimes find themselves left waiting vainly at the luggage carousel, something we’d all love to avoid. And yes, there’s an app for that.
Delta Airlines started the ball rolling with its Fly Delta app that, among other things, allows you to track your checked baggage.
The makers of Bag-Claim say their iPhone app sends a signal to your phone and your Bluetooth headset to let you know when your bag is nearby, and it continues until your bag is literally in your hand.
Another possible option, depending on whether the Federal Aviation Administration decides to loosen up its rules on the use of personal electronic devices in flight, would be to toss your own GPS tracking device into your bag.
One example would be the Pocketfinder GPS Locator. Like Fly Delta, it works with iPhones, Android phones, Windows Mobile devices…and for us digital troglodytes out there, even Blackberrys.
And now, here’s The Digest:
from Business Week
Eastern Europe’s state-owned airlines are struggling in the post-Cold War era, with some cutting services and one, Malev of Hungary, shutting down altogether. Hopes that their Western European counterparts might buy them — and thus save them — so far seem in vain.
from Associated Pressvia Yahoo
Can you put your smile on strike? Flight attendants for Cathay Pacific sas they intend to do just that. And no, this is not a satirical piece from The Onion. The’re serious.
from USA Today
Is South Korea’s Incheon International Airport now the world’s greatest air terminal? The Airports Council International says yes. See why, and see how the world’s other major airports fared.
from the UN News Servicevia allAfrica.com
The number of tourists worldwide hit the 1 billion mark in 2012, a record. And as ominously huge as that number might sound, the UN World Tourist Organization thinks that could be a good thing. Maybe even a very good thing.
from Smarter Travel
Is duty-free shopping really the bargain it’s cracked up to be? ST’s Ed Perkins says don’t believe the hype.
from Independent Traveler
If you’re traveling in Britain, better keep it down in the hotel. The hotel noise police are looking — and listening — for you.
from Travel Weekly
Washington fires a warning shot at 22 hotel operators over their hidden fees.
from Travel Weekly Hertz competes its purchase of Dollar Thrifty rent-a-car. What was three car rental agencies not that long ago is now one. Hertz now controls 26 percent of the rental car market. The company that owns Enterprise, National and Alamo controls 50 percent. So much for competition.
from Travel Weekly OFFICIALLY COOL: Need some exercise? Need to charge your smartphone or your laptop? The Starwood Element Hotels chain is installing exercise cycles in its hotel gyms that simultaneously let you do both. Charge your devices by burning calories? Genius.
from Friends of the Earth
The cruise industry has sent the last decade or so trying to clean up its image as an environmentally unfriendly industry. If this report card from Friends of the Earth is any indication, it’s still a work in progress.
from The Star (Kenya)via allAfrica.com Kenya launches a campaign to promote cultural tourism abroad.
from East African Business Week (Uganda) via allAfrica.com Turkish Airlines begins flights between Istanbul and Mombasa, Kenya. Flight time, about six hours. Turkey could make a nice stopover enroute to East Africa. Hmmmm…
from The Herald (Zimbabwe)via allAfrica.com Poaching in Africa is taking a frightening turn. Park rangers in Zimbabwe kill two elephant poachers in a shootout. The rest flee, leaving behind…mortar bombs? If poachers are using mortars, against animals or people, this is no longer a police matter. This is war.
from the New York Times Manhattan is for lovers. Book lovers, that is.
from BBC Travel
Think of Idaho and a lot of words may come to mind. “Cultural mecca” probably won’t be among them. Think again, says the BBC.
from The Guardian(London UK)
In Japan, the best skiing is found at small-scale local spots. No crowds and lots of perfect powder. Are you packing yet?
from GrindTVvia Yahoo
This is how you get around China’s Mount Hua. When they say the view is to die for, they mean it. If you slip, you’ll be falling for awhile. Actually, you’ll be falling for a mile.
from Travel Weekly Myanmar, the country most of us grew up knowing as Burma, may or may not have fully abandoned its dictatorial government and fully embraced reform — but that’s not stopping US and other Western travelers from bum-rushing this country. Good idea, or bad idea?
from the New York Times
There’s more to anchovies than those super-salty strips of fish most people want “held” off their pizzas — and anchovy season on the Black Sea in Turkey may be just the time and place to find out why. Ask for the hamsi.
Well, this is not jolly good. A TripAdvisor survey of travelers finds London not only dirty and expensive, but the second most unfriendly city in the world. Only Moscow was worse. Bloody hell, eh what!
from the Los Angeles Times
An early peek at Sochi, Russia, the Black Sea venue for the 2014 Winter Olympics.