Tag Archives: JetBlue

US-CUBA: Sanity At Last?

The release of an American imprisoned in Cuba signals the opening of talks to normalize relations between Washington and Havana. This is both huge and long overdue.

Barack Obama was first elected president on a campaign based on hope and change. One of the changes I was hoping for was the lifting of the US trade embargo against Cuba, to let American travelers visit the island nation freely, as the rest of the world does.

Five years later, I’d pretty much given up on that hope. There seemed to be no real movement on either side to change the dynamic between the two countries.

All that changed today, when President Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro simultaneously announced plans to move toward normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba.

Big day. Historic day. Huge. And it should’ve happened decades ago.

The details are this official White House announcement.

The President said in part:

“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests. Neither the American nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that’s rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.

“Consider that for more than 35 years, we’ve had relations with China, a far larger country also governed by a communist party. Nearly two decades ago, we reestablished relations with Vietnam, where we fought a war that claimed more Americans than any Cold War confrontation.

“I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result.”

IBIT has said that for five years now.

The signal for this massive policy shift was the sight of Alan Gross being flown out of Havana and landing in Washington DC, where he’s from.

Mr. Gross (no relation to IBIT) had served five years of a 15-year prison sentence in Cuba, ostensibly for trying to bring Internet service to the island as a subcontractor for USAID.

President Obama had insisted that no change in US-Cuba relations could take place until he was freed. That has now happened, along with an exchange of imprisoned US and Cuban spies.

All this apparently has been in the works for a year and a half, with Canada hosting secret meetings and no less than Pope Francis acting as a go-between.

The simultaneous speeches by Obama and Cuban president Raul Castro do not mean that you can now head for the nearest US airport and freely board a flight to Havana. The trade embargo remains. And since it was passed by Congress 50 years ago, it will be up to Congress to lift it.

Given Republican determination to stonewall almost anything Obama suggests, I’m none too optimistic about that.

Still, it’s hard to see how normalized relations and the old isolation policy toward Cuba could peacefully coexist, when even conservatives are starting to view that policy as a Cold War relic that needs to be retired.

If that happens, the economic implications for both countries are immense. In terms of tourism alone, the transfusion of American cash into Cuba could transform the island and the lives of its people.

The world’s major hotel chains would descend on Havana and Cuba’s best beaches like locusts in hard hats. The building boom there would be unlike anything North America has seen…maybe ever.

The US cruise industry, desperate to draw new travelers, has long been quietly licking its corporate chops at the prospect of an open Cuba. The chance to see Cuba freely would prompt a lot of Americans to take their first cruise. Every US cruise port serving the Caribbean stands to pick up thousands more passengers, and millions of added tourist dollars.

I’m convinced this was part of Royal Caribbean’s motivation for building the world’s largest cruise ships, and don’t be surprised if Carnival soon matches them.

The airlines also stand to gain by adding Havana’s Jose Martí International Airport to their list of destinations. American, Delta, United, JetBlue, Southwest, AirTran, Allegiant, Spirit…let the jostling for landing rights begin.

The economic boom in Cuba would almost surely be replicated in Florida. The two-way flow of travel between Havana and Miami would be a torrent. The need to service those folks could create an explosion of new jobs and new businesses.

Today’s announcement doesn’t instantly remove all the barriers between US travelers and Cuba. It does mean that the day to seeing the last of those barriers fall just got a lot closer.

ALSO CHECK OUT:
CUBA: Endangered species?
LA Travel Show: Cuba in the house for 2014
RACISM: Cuba faces its demon
TRACY GROSS: To be black in Cuba “no es facil”

the IBIT Travel Digest 11.30.14

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel

The IBIT Digest is back, just in time for the holidays. Just the thing to recover from the shopping hangover of Black Friday.

TIS THE SEASON TO BE…STUCK AT AIRPORTS
The Christmas holidays may be “the season to be jolly,” but when it comes to Christmas weather, especially in the Northeast, there’s an awful lot of “Bah! Humbug!”

Our biggest travel holiday time of the year just happens to coincide with the worst weather of the year, snowstorms and freezing temperatures that can cause flight cancellations en masse back East. That can trigger widespread travel delays and generalized chaos across the whole of North America.

Unless sleeping in airports is your idea of a good time, you need to be ready for this before you go.

Airfarewatchdog has some great trips on how to minimize the personal expense and discomfort you inevitably will suffer when winter attacks.

By the way, if you haven’t already bookmarked Airfarewatchdog, you definitely should. One of the most useful air travel Web sites out there.

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A MARRIAGE OF AIRLINE CONVENIENCE…AND COMFORT
JetBlue, which has already extended its international outreach by partnering with South African Airways, is now looking toward Asia with its codeshare agreement with Singapore Airlines.

But the agreement doesn’t just give the New York-based carrier entreé into Asia. It also enables JetBlue to link its US-based route system to some of the European destinations that the Asian airline serves.

In return, Singapore Airlines gets access to JetBlue’s extensive US route network.

For passengers, that means one-stop ticketing, easier check-ins and seamless connections between US, Asian and European destinations.

Singapore Air is considered by many to have the best in-flight service in the world, regardless of where you sit on the airplane. Of the 118 categories in which the British airline rating site Skytrax grades airlines, there’s only one — “Dine-on-Demand Efficiency” — in which Singapore Air receives less than four or five stars out of five. It is one of only seven airlines in the world to win a 5-star rating from Skytrax.

JetBlue likewise has built a reputation as perhaps the most comfortable and passenger-friendly of the low-fare US air carrier. It is one of only two US-based airlines to win a 4-star rating from Skytrax (the other being Virgin America), the highest rating received by any US airline.

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GIVE ME YOUR TIRED, YOUR POOR…AND A LIFE JACKET
Think that climate change has nothing to do with you as a traveler? You might want to rethink that once you hear from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

According to Travel Weekly, the UCS has issued a report citing a direct threat to 30 different landmark site in the United States stemming from climate change. Among the sites under threat:

  • The Statue of Liberty
  • Ellis Island
  • The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland
  • The NASA Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral National Seashore in Florida
  • Multiple historic sites in Boston

Some US coastal landmarks and monuments will need new sea walls or other coastal protections built, in the view of one of the report’s authors. Others may need to be picked up and moved away from the shoreline to survive.

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CELEBRITY BAILS OUT OF BALI
According to multiple media reports, Celebrity Cruises abruptly crossed Bali off its list of port calls in late November, citing a dispute with local Indonesian authorities that could have led to passengers being barred from going ashore or the ship blocked from leaving port.

Celebrity Millennium, sailing out of Singapore on a 14-night cruise, had been scheduled to visit Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. She was redirected to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and improvised an extended stay in Phuket, Thailand, as well as a visit to Bangkok.

Passengers who has bought shore excursion in Bali and Komodo are being compensated with shipboard credits and a 30 percent discount on a future cruise.

Celebrity isn’t going into detail on the nature of the dispute, saying only that it put the company’s “legal and ethical standards at serious risk.” The Indonesians, for their part, aren’t saying anything.

This bit of ugliness comes at a time when, according to TravelPulse, Indonesian tourism seems to be booming.

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And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR

from The Daily Mail (London, UK)
When it comes to air travel and your health, jet lag isn’t your only concern.

from USA Today
Brazilian airline Azul, founded by the same guy who created JetBlue, now flying from Brazil to the United States.

from Travel Weekly
Merry Christmas, Seattle: starting Dec. 20, Delta begins flying directly from SEA to Maui. No more having to fly into Honolulu and then change planes. Wanna get away…from the rain?

LAND

from Travel Weekly
For families looking for a kid-friendly Hawaiian resort where they can spend next spring or summer, here’s a bit of good news: at least 11 resorts on five islands and ramping up their on-site activities designed to keep the little ones amused and engaged.

WATER

from Travel Weekly
The good news for cruise ship travelers: Cruise lines are increasingly embracing the idea of overnight port stays, going against the grain of the trend in the last decade to turn mega-sized cruise ships into destinations in their own right. The bad news: So far, it’s mainly the upscale cruise lines that are doing it.

from Travel Weekly
Princess Cruises sells one of its smaller ships, the Ocean Princess, to luxury cruise line Oceania, which will refurbish her in France next year and relaunch her as Sirena in 2016. This will be the vessel’s third owner in 15 years.

from Travel Weekly
When Holland America Line puts her new cruise ship Koningsdam into service in 2016, she won’t just be Holland America’s largest ship but also the company’s first vessel — and one of the few anywhere — to offer oceanview cabins expressly designed for single travelers.

from Travel Weekly
American Cruise Lines launches a 22-day cruise the entire length of the Mississippi River, from New Orleans to St. Paul, MN, aboard its new replica paddlewheel steamer American Eagle. Ten states, 17 stops, 150 passengers. A mere $12550 per person.

FOOD & DRINK

from the Toronto Sun
In some quarters, at least, it seems that mezcal is now more a more hip drink among the bar set than tequila. Didn’t see that one coming.

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AFRICA

from the New York Times
Addis Ababa is a) the capital of Ethiopia b) the seat of an ancient and vibrant East African culture c) Ground Zero for a burgeoning new jazz scene d) all the above. The correct answer is…d.

from The Guardian (London UK)
Good news from Tanzania: International outcry prompts the nation’s president to promise the Maasai they will not be evicted from their lands for a private hunting reserve. The Maasai are delighted. IBIT is skeptical, because we’ve heard that promise before. But for now, it’s all good.

AMERICAS

from the New York Times
A road trip along the border that separates Haiti and the Dominican Republic lays bare a tense and sometimes turbulent relationship between the two nations that share the island of Hispaniola, as well as hope for a better future.

from The Guardian (London UK)
Montevideo is unspoiled, un-touristy and probably unlike any other national capital you’ve ever seen. When folks here say they move to the beat of their own drum, they have the beat — and the drums — to prove it.

ASIA/PACIFIC

from the New York Times
New Zealand — it’s not just for hikers and backpackers anymore. A bike tour through the NZ wine country.

EUROPE

from The Guardian (London UK)
Christmas in Europe. Tips for enjoying the holidays in four great European capitals.

from BuzzFeed
A Christmas list for your bucket list — 39 European Christmas markets worth a visit.

from the New York Times
How to enjoy Italy’s compact, historic and lovely Cinque Terre coastal mountain towns on a molehill budget.

from the New York Times
Stalking bargains in a Paris flea market.

from The Guardian (London UK)
File this one under Go Figure: One of Spain’s soccer superstars lists his family vineyard on…wait for it…Airbnb.

Spotted something you’d like to see in the next IBIT Travel Digest? Send me a message using the handy form below:

AIRLINES: Go international

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If you’re considering your first real international trip, don’t be afraid to choose a non-US airline to start your journey. It could be your best flight ever.

More than a few Americans, when planning a vacation or business trip beyond North American shores, wouldn’t think of traveling on anything other than an airline based in the United States.

The idea of entrusting their trip to a foreign-flag carrier has them envisioning sharing a cabin with ducks and chickens while being fed strange, inedible substances by stern-looking stewardesses speaking some indecipherable tongue.

Or maybe it just scares them to death.

Such folks usually have one thing on common: They’re utterly new to international air travel. Believe me, the veterans know better.

That includes the writers over at Smarter Travel, who recently posted a list of seven airlines “that will make you love flying again.”

Of the seven airlines listed, only two — Virgin America and JetBlue — were US-based. AnD Virgin America is actually a US subsidiary of a British airline, Virgin Atlantic.

The other five chosen by Smarter Travel were:

  • Turkish Airlines
  • Emirates
  • Porter Airlines (Canada)
  • Open Skies
  • Asiana

Americans may have invented the airline, but when it comes to creating comfortable cabins and warm, efficient service with lots of amenities, America’s airlines find themselves in the jetwash of more than a few of their non-US counterparts.

The first two non-american carriers I ever few on were in Asia. Japan Air Lines took me from LAX to Tokyo, while Cathay Pacific shuttled me between Tokyo, Hong Kong and Bangkok.

The JAL flight was aboard what was then a still relatively new Boeing 747, so the airline was going all-out to make a good impression, and it did. The flight attendants made you feel you were being cared for and the in-flight entertainment was state-of-the-art for its time.

That flight also served as my introduction to Japanese food, which was surprisingly good. One stewardess even patiently showed me how to deal with chopsticks (although I’m sure she had a great laugh about it later).

Good as that experience was, however, the legs flown by Cathay Pacific, aboard already tired Boeing 707s stuffed with Economy Class seats for charter flights, were unforgettable.

Multilingual flight attendants who were so attentive, they almost seemed to be mind readers. Incredible meals and drinks, served with real silverware. Great in-flight music and movies.

It was the first time I could ever recall feeling sad to leave an airplane.

JAL has since slipped a bit in the eyes of air travelers, but Cathay Pacific maintains its place as one of the world’s most respected airlines for the caliber of its in-flight service.

So says Skytrax, which ranks airlines and airports based on reviews by passengers.

Since then, I’ve flown national flag carrier lines from Europe, Latin America and Africa. Nearly all of them could go wingtip-to-wingtip with any airline in the United States in terms of their reliability, comfort and their treatment of passengers.

And more than a few of them, frankly but sad to say, leave their US counterparts behind. Sometimes, in the case of outfits like Emirates or Cathay Pacific, far behind.

Often, these foreign airlines actually represent their countries abroad — hence the term “national flag carriers” — so their crews and staff are highly motivated.

None of this means that all foreign airlines automatically are created equal, or are equally great. You need to do your due diligence when selecting any airline, domestic or not.

So talk to your friends or family members who have flown overseas. Check out the reviews on some of the many Web sites that feature airline reviews. Here are a few:

Indeed, flying to a foreign country on that country’s official national airline can be one way of starting your international adventure the moment you leave the ground.

DID YOU KNOW?
The United States used to have a national flag carrier of its own. It was known as Pan American World Airways — Pan Am for short — and for 64 years, its blue globe logo was synonymous with worldwide air travel.

Indeed, it was one of the pioneers of the international airline industry, flying between the continents on propeller-driven flying boats known as Clippers that took off from and landed on water.

It was among the first to computerize airline reservations and ticketing, use jets for transoceanic flights. It built terminals at New York’s JFK international airport that were architectural wonders.

It’s no exaggeration to say that, when you thought (or dreaming) of traveling the world, you envisioned doing it aboard a Pan Am flight.

Eventually, time and international competition caught up with Pan Am and it faded away in 1991. Today, other US airlines fly the skies of the world, but none of them captures the imagination, or symbolizes American air travel, way Pan Am did.

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.

FAA: Use your cell phone on the plane! Kinda. Sorta. Maybe.

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.

© Leestat | Dreamstime.com
© Leestat | Dreamstime.com

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.

You can read the entire FAA announcement here.

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.

The day after the FAA made its announcement, both Delta and JetBlue got Washington’s official blessing to allow PED use in flight. JetBlue claims it was the first.

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.

We can only hope.

The IBIT Travel Digest 7.7.13

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel

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THE PERFECT AIRPORT
As travelers, we complain a lot about airports, usually for good reason.

Too big. Too small. Too crowded. Too much distance between gates. Not enough seats in the departure halls. Not enough electric outlets to charge all our personal electronics.

what you ever thought about what you’d really like to see in an airport — other than the dissolution of the TSA, perhaps — that would make your travels easier and more comfortable?

And if you have thought about that question, what would your answer be?

The folks at Skyscanner, which devotes most of its efforts to letting travelers look up cheap flights online, decided to find out. So they surveyed 10,000 travelers and asked them what amenity they most wanted in an airport.

Of their top three answers, a library was third, sleeping pods were second — and the one most often suggested was…a movie theater.

Did you see that one coming? I sure didn’t.

You can see the rest of the results in this ABC News item here.

What would be the top three amenities in YOUR dream airport? Tell us in a comment!

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BUY A BIKE, SAVE A LIFE
The Japanese know a thing or two about strength, versatility and all-around usefulness of bamboo. So do Africans, who are building bicycle frames with it.

So it only makes sense for Zambia’s bamboo bike makers to sell their bikes in Japan — and with the encouragement of the Japanese, they’re doing it.

The Japanese are getting the newest idea in modern bike construction, using a natural, ancient material with which they’re well familiar. The employees at Zambikes are making enough money to feed themselves and their families.

You can read about it in this story from the Japan Daily Press here.

As regular IBIT readers already know, Africa is getting serious about cycling, and has its own small cottage industry going with the production of bamboo bikes. IBIT would love to see this catch on in the United States.

Bamboo just might be the ideal material for bicycle frames — light, very strong, with the stiffness you need to generate power but able to soak up road shocks. And bamboo is a natural, sustainable material.

What’s not to like?

For more of this topic, see “Africa gets her roll on:”
Part 1
Part 2

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CUTTING IN LINE
There are several reasons I tend to avoid major travel in summer, and one of the biggest is having to queue up in long lines.

You know the drill. At the airport to check in. At the major attractions to get in. At your hotel to check out. Here a line, there a line, everywhere a line stretching out the door or halfway to the horizon.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t take vacations to exercise my patience. And neither, apparently, do the folks at Smarter Travel.

They’ve come up with a handy list of suggestions for how to jump ahead of the lines — ethically.

In some instances, it’s simply a matter of due diligence,i.e., printing out your boarding passes early or signing up for an airline or rental car loyalty program. In most other cases, you literally will have to pay for the privilege.

Either way, it figures to save you a lot of time, and when you travel, saving time is as important as saving money.

Put it another way: You didn’t spend all that money to fly to Paris to stand in line to see the Louvre, did you?

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LUXURY PARIS HOTEL GOES DARK
Travel Weekly is reporting than the Hotel de Crillon in Paris has closed for a two-year renovation.

If you’ve ever seen the inside of this place in the last ten years or so, you may well wonder what on Earth they need to renovate. The Crillon, sitting on the Place de la Concorde across the street from the US Embassy, has been a 5-star hotel virtually from the day it opened its doors.

Still, when you’re hosting people in a building that first went up in 1758, you need to do a few upgrades now and again.

Fear not, however. The Crillon is due to reopen in 2015. If you happen to be in Paris then, stop by and check it out.

And prepare to be impressed.

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AND FINALLY…
If you’re feeling a fear of flying surging (or resurging) within you following yesterday’s crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in San Francisco, a little perspective.

I took my first commercial airline flight in 1964. Had this crash occurred back then, we’d be talking about two survivors, not two deaths.

Commercial airliners are vastly better designed and built now than they were “back in the day.” Airports are far better prepared to handle major emergencies. The first responders have much better equipment and training. And mutual aid in a major incident is not a bureaucratic wrangle, but a foregone conclusion.

All of those elements came into play on behalf of Flight 214.

Okay? Now, smoke this over: Yesterday’s crash was the first fatal incident involving an airliner in the United States in 12 years. We can’t go 12 hours in this country without a fatal car crash. You going to give up driving?

Didn’t think so.

And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR
from the Associated Press via Yahoo!
Good news for frequent JetBlue fliers: Your loyalty points will no longer expire.

from Travel Weekly
American Airlines is experimenting with a new boarding procedure: Passengers with no carry-on bags get to board first.

from the Washington Post
Airlines are looking to create custom airfares specifically for you as an individual traveler, based on what the airline knows about you. A good thing or a way to keep you from searching out the best price yourself? Travel consumer advocate Christopher Elliott weighs in. Pay attention.

LAND
from BBC Travel
Five cities around the world where you can live large while spending small. Side-by-side comparisons to similar but pricier cities.

from Budget Travel
How to save money when using your cellphone abroad.

from Budget Travel
The world’s ten most visited cities.

SEA
from Travel Weekly
Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, one of the two largest cruise ships afloat, will take a month’s leave of the Caribbean next year for a month of cruises in European and Mediterranean waters, including two Atlantic crossings, one in each direction.

FOOD & DRINK
from the Los Angeles Times
All aboard the Jose Cuervo Express. Next stop: Tequila.

from the Los Angeles Times
If you don’t have to rush back to work or school right after Labor Day, consider dropping in on a serious food and wine festival in Hawaii.

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AFRICA
from Travel Weekly
When it comes to natural wonders, there’s more to Rwanda than its famed mountain gorillas.

from The Star (Kenya) via allAfrica.com
Kenya sets out to lure tourists from Morocco.

from the Tanzania Daily News via allAfrica.com
In the wake of President Barack Obama’s visit, Tanzanian business figures conclude the country needs more high-end hotels.

AMERICAS
from the New York Times
A once-seedy Philadephia street gets a hipster makeover. Out with the check-cashing joints and adult bookstores. In with the restaurants and gelato shops. SLIDESHOW

from The Guardian (London UK)
San Francisco’s best bets for budget lodging. Heavy on hostels, B&B’s and small European-style hotels.

from the Los Angeles Times
Mexico’s beach resort city of Cancun boasts one of the world’s more unusual museums. To visit it, you’ll need a swimsuit and a snorkel.

ASIA/PACIFIC
from the New York Times
It happens every summer of the coast of northern China. A massive bloom of algae turns a stretch of beach the size of Connecticut into something that looks like a floating soccer pitch. Floating…and stinking.

from Travel Weekly
A new generation of cruise ships is taking to the Yangtze River — more spacious and with more amenities. But old-timers who remember the river’s towering cliffs before the building of the controversial Three Gorges Dam will tell you it’s just not the same.

from the Washington Post
The resurgence of tourism in Cambodia could hardly have a more symbolic example than this: A tract of land once sown with landmines by the Khmer Rouge is now the site of new luxury resort.

EUROPE
from the New York Times
These days, there are more reasons to visit Northern Ireland than to satisfy your fan-lust for HBO’s Game of Thrones.

from the Toronto Sun
The good news: A medieval tower offering stunning views of Paris opens to the public for the first time. The bad news: The climb up the stairs may take your breath away before the view does.

Spotted something you’d like to see in the next IBIT Travel Digest? Send me a message using the handy form below:

The IBIT TRAVEL DIGEST 6.2.13

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel

© Mtoumbev | Dreamstime.com
© Mtoumbev | Dreamstime.com

FLY THE CROWDED SKIES
You’re fastening your seat belt when the flight attendant announces, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a full flight.” If you think you’re hearing those words more often nowadays when you fly, it’s not your imagination.

According to the US Department of Transportation, nearly 737 million of us flew on regularly scheduled airline flights last year, and airliners flew at or close to capacity last year more than they have at any time since 1945.

It’s true that, for all the griping we do about its cost and discomfort, lots of us are flying these days. But it’s also true that that airlines have spent the last couple of years taking planes out of service.

They do that partly to retire older jets with less-efficient gas-guzzling engines, but also to make fewer seats available to the flying public. Fewer seats means greater demand — and less need to lower airfares.

And speaking of flying…

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THE DREAMLINERS ARE BACK
Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, its battery troubles apparently behind it, is returning to the world skies.

Several airlines have already put the 787 back on their established routes, and Ethiopian Airlines is going a big step further, recently committing to opening service next month between Addis Ababa and Brazil’s two biggest cities, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

Now, Thomson Air has become the first British airline to accept delivery of a Dreamliner. And the Chinese government has cleared the aircraft for use by airlines in China, giving Boeing a crack at a fast-growing Chinese airline market.

So it looks as if Boeing has its new ultra-light, hi-tech jet back on track — and probably not a moment too soon.

That’s because Airbus Industrie is on the verge of debuting its 787 competitor, the A350.

Both these jets are designed to fly farther on a single load of fuel. That means less money spent on gas for the airlines, and more hours spent in the air by you.

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JETBLUE STEPPING UP
Sticking with the air theme, the word from Travel Weekly is that JetBlue is planning to create some kind of premium air service offering on its transcontinental flights, as well as free basic wi-fi and in-flight streaming of Netflix movies.

JetBlue already is one of only two US-based airlines given a 4-star rating by the British airline review site Skytrax (the other being Virgin America), but felt it was being edged out by its 3-star American competitors on transcontinental flights.

So the airline is looking to step up its game on its long-haul flights. Given th airline’s strong reputation among travelers for good customer service, it’ll be interesting to see what the JetBlue folks come up with…and whether it will be worth the price.

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And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR
from the Washington Post
Contrary to popular opinion (mine included), the merger between US Airways and American Airlines is not quite yet a done deal — and there are those who don’t believe it should be.

from USA Today
Flying itself may still be a largely miserable experience, but the airlines are starting to put some effort (and money) into making you more comfortable on the ground.

from The Guardian (London)
Looking for the best exchange rates when buying/selling foreign currency? Don’t do it in the airport. Any airport.

LAND
from USA Today
When you rent a car, do you prepay the rental company’s fuel charge? Better yet, should you?

from USA Today
Vital information for summer travelers: Where to find the world’s best ice cream parlors. If you can’t get Berthillon in Paris, these may be good alternatives.

from USA Today
European travel guru Rick Steves talks about how to do Europe by train.

SEA
from USA Today
On Jan. 23, 2015, the Pacific Princess will push back from the dock in Los Angeles harbor. She will return May 15. In the 109 days in between, she literally will have sailed around the world.

FOOD & DRINK
from the NY Times
California already produces some of the world’s best wines. So it’s only fitting that it now is producing the cheese to match.

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AFRICA
from the Washington Post
Say hello to Burkina Faso, a West African country relatively few Americans have heard of.

from Tanzania Daily News (Tanzania)
Can the country generate some “bounce” in its tourism from President Barack Obama’s visit to Dar es Salaam?

from the Washington Post
A look at the joys and struggles of a multi-ethnic neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa.

from IOL Travel (South Africa)
Pardon me, would you like some whale with your salad? Whale watching, that is. You can do that in Cape Town.

from CNNgo
Somalia…tourist hotspot? Apparently, yes.

AMERICAS
from USA Today
Several North American cities are turning their waterfronts into great places to visit. Here are some of the best.

from The Guardian (London)
If you’re fascinated by wildlife, you can hardly find a better place for viewing it than Brazil’s Pantanal said to be the world’s largest swamp. But in a land that literally is constantly shifting, getting there is NOT half the fun.

from the NY Times
How to kill a weekend in Jackson, MS.

from The Guardian (London)
Bar-hopping Austin TX-style.

ASIA/PACIFIC
from CNN Travel
In Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji Fish Market, you truly have to be an “early bird” to catch this sushi.

from CNN Travel
Forget “the ugly American” — now it’s the ugly Chinese. Obnoxious behavior by newly well-off Chinese tourists has the Beijing government issuing instructions to its citizens on how to act abroad.

EUROPE
from the NY Times
How to enjoy the outdoors in Berlin.

from The Guardian (Europe)
Want to live the real “dolce vita” this summer in Italy? Live it like a local. That means skip the hotel scene.

from The Guardian (London)
Looking to save your food budget this month in the very pricey United Kingdom? These two-for-one lunch deals at some English and Welsh pubs might help.

from CNN
Are you a Game of Thrones fan? You can visit the castles in Northern Ireland and Croatia where the HBO series is shot.

the IBIT Travel Digest 2.3.13

The good, the bad and the bizarre in the world of travel

cropped-hburghof.jpg

When you’ve finished overdosing on Super Bowl hype, chips and dip, come refresh your mind with a peek at what’s happening in the world of travel

PRICELINE+KAYAK=?
We are soon to find out, because according to Travel Weekly, the Federal Trade Commission has signed off on Priceline’s bid to buy the popular travel search engine for $1.8 billion.

That pretty much makes the sale a done deal, which could go down as soon as next month.

Snapping up Kayak gives Priceline a powerful search tool to tie in with its existing travel sales service. Less clear is how this marriage will benefit the traveling consumer.

On the other hand, Priceline has said that Kayak will to function as an independent entity, so we’ll see what happens.

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CAR SHARING: THE BIG BOYS TAKE NOTICE
You know that a new way of doing things really works when the big, old-line corporations start diving into it. That’s what has happened with car sharing.

Car sharing is kind of the automotive version of couchsurfing. It got its start in Switzerland in 1948 and took hold in the rest of Europe in the 1970s.

Once you become a member of a car-sharing service, you can rent a car for an entire day, a few hours or even a few minutes, if that’s all you need. You pick up the car in town, use it around town, drop it off in town. Cheaper and often more convenient than conventional car rentals, more flexibility and independence than taxis.

The concept doesn’t appeal only to travelers. Some people who don’t need a car full-time every day are actually getting rid of their own wheels (and the costs that go with them) and resorting to car sharing instead.

It’s also a good way to get a real-world feel for operating an unfamiliar vehicle type, whether it’s a pick-up truck or an electric car — without having to put up with a car salesman.

One of the pioneers in this field has been Zipcar, available in 34 states and the District of Columbia, as well as Ontario and Vancouver in Canada, as well as Barcelona, Spain and five cities in the United Kingdom.

How well does this concept work? Well enough for some of the rental car industry’s biggest players to take notice.

Hertz is answering its challenge by creating a car-sharing service of its own which it calls Hertz On-Demand. Enterprise followed suit with what they call WeCar. Even U-Haul has jumped into this game with U Car Share.

Avis, too, is buying the Zipcar concept. It’s also buying Zipcar…for $500 million.

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MORE (CRUISE) SHIPS AHOY
At this point, I’m not sure if the cruise industry’s shipbuilding binge is entering its second decade or its third. The one thing I do know: It’s not stopping.

Royal Caribbean, locked in mortal combat with Carnival for the dominant share of the market, is showing every sign of both expanding and updating its fleet super-sized cruisers.

They’re already moving to trademark the names of six new Oasis-class vessels that haven’t even been built yet.

The Oasis-class — led by its namesake, the Oasis of the Seas — is currently the largest cruise ship afloat, maxing out at 5,400 passengers.

But Royal Caribbean isn’t stopping there. The line also is working on a new, slightly downsized cruise ship, the Sunshine-class, designed to transport and entertain a mere 4,100 passengers at a time.

This ship is so new, the first one hasn’t been named yet, much less built. But according to Travel Weekly, Royal Caribbean has already committed to building a second one.

I have no idea how the folks at Carnival will respond to this, but you know that they will be respond. It’s like an arms race, only with oceanview suites, water slides and Bahama Mamas.

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AND FINALLY…
If you were (or perhaps still are) a regular viewer of the 1970s TV series M*A*S*H, you might vaguely recall lots of occasional references to some mythical town or village whose name sounded like “Wee-John-Boo.”

Well, it turns out that Uijeongbu is no myth. It’s a real place, where the real Mobile Army Surgical Hospital operated during the Korean War. And in South Korea, its legacy extends far beyond film and television.

The people of Uijeongbu, desperately hungry during the war, made meals of whatever they could get their hands on. The result was a dish the locals called budaejjigae, Korean for “army base stew.”

Basically, it combined traditional Korean ingredients with whatever leftovers the locals could scrounge or smuggle from U.S. Army mess tents.

The shooting eventually stopped (the Korean War has never formally ended), but “army base stew” remained a staple of Uijeongbu — and Julie Wan of the Washington Post took advantage of a visit to her family in Seoul to seek out this most unconventional dish in its birthplace.

And as you’ll see when you read her story, she found it.

If you know the origins of things like gumbo, barbecue or fried chicken, you can relate to budaejjigae. Cookbooks today are full of dishes devised by poor, hungry people who tossed anything and everything into a stew pot and used a slow fire, a lot of spices and their imaginations to create something unforgettable.

If I ever find myself in South Korea, I may need to make a small side trip to Uijeongbu.

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And now, here’s The Digest:

AIR
from Travel Weekly
JetBlue experimenting with an expedited security service that could — maybe — speed you past regular airport security lines. For a fee, of course.

from Smarter Travel
Visual advice on how to dress for air travel. Aimed mainly at women, but the fellas can learn a few things from this, too. SLIDESHOW

from Smarter Travel
The TSA shuts down an airport terminal in Atlanta because of an unattended…toothbrush? You can’t make this stuff up. I mean, those Colgate bombs can be deadly…

from Smarter Travel
Did you know that fresh oranges, in addition to being healthy for you on the ground, can help keep you hydrated in the air? These and other healthy food tips for air travelers.

LAND
from Travel Weekly
Hertz now letting its Gold Plus Rewards members upgrade their rental cars via their smartphone app.

SEA
from Travel Weekly
Carnival cancels Belize port calls for two of its biggest ships through 2013. The cruise line says the port is overcrowded with ships.

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AFRICA
from Tanzania Daily News (Tanzania) via allAfrica.com
Serengeti National Park, already a UN World Heritage Site, wins a prestigious international tourism award.

from The Star (Kenya) via allAfrica.com
The German cruise ship MV Astor makes a historic port call at Lamu, setting aside fears of kidnappings by Somali bandits.

from The Star (Kenya) via allAfrica.com
Are British Army units training in East Africa arming and equipping poachers?

AMERICAS
from CNN Travel
Today’s Super Bowl is more than just a battle between two pro football teams. It’s also a tale of two cities, Baltimore and San Francisco, and how they play. SLIDESHOW

from NBC News
New York City’s Grand Central Terminal celebrated its centennial last Friday. The Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty may be great monuments, but if you want to locate New York’s beating heart, you’ll find it here.

from the New York Times
Yes, you can send an email to the Bahamas, but a mail boat can send you there.

from Travel Weekly
Haiti officially protests the latest U.S. State Department travel advisory on visiting the island nation, which reads in art: “No one is safe from kidnapping, regardless of occupation, nationality, race, gender or age.” State denies trying to discourage Haitian tourism.

ASIA/PACIFIC
from Yomiuri Shimbun
Deep in a forest, well away from the mad urban bustle of Tokyo, a village of Japanese craftsmen hand-builds elegant wood furniture with skills honed over 15 centuries.

from France 24
Missed out on the New Year’s Day festivities Jan. 1? Well, there’s still Chinese New Year coming up on Feb. 10, and the place to party is Hong Kong.

from CNTV
A small lake fishing village in China’s Yunnan province becomes a hidden tourist gem.

EUROPE
from the New York Times
Feel yourself choking on mobs of tourists in Venice? Find a way to go eat with some of the locals.

from Lonely Planet
Is this the world’s most beautiful train ride? It’s in Norway.

from Travel Weekly
The Waldorf-Astoria hotel chain is making a serious move on Europe. With hotels already in London, Rome and Versailles, the luxury brand is now opening a Waldorf-Astoria in Berlin. And they’re not done. SLIDESHOW

AIRLINES: Same as it ever was

Boeing 747 | Photo courtesy of Singapore Airlines

Travel+Leisure magazine readers make their annual choice of the world’s top 20 airlines. Asian, Pacific and Middle Eastern airlines dominate the top spots. European carriers fill out the rest. US airlines? Barely there.

There are certain things in life you can always count on. Water will be wet. The sun will rise in the East. And Asian airlines will be deemed the best in the world by those who fly.

I know Singapore Airlines only by its reputation, but that reputation is solid enough to make Caesar’s wife look like Paris Hilton.

The latest evidence comes courtesy of Travel+Leisure magazine, which annually asks its readers to name their favorite 20 airlines worldwide, based on cabin comfort, food, in-flight service, customer service, and value.

This year’s winner, for the 17th year in a row: Singapore Airlines.

The nation and people of Singapore are teased and mocked somewhat as allegedly being rigid, emotionless and anal-retentive to the max. But when some of the world’s most experienced and discerning travelers name your airline the best in the world for 17 years running, you clearly are doing something right.

And that’s not the only consistency revealed in this latest T+L airline survey. Of the top ten spots, six are held by airlines from Asia or the Pacific region:

  • Singapore Airlines
  • Air New Zealand
  • Korean Air (South Korea)
  • Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong)
  • Asiana (South Korea)
  • Thai International Airways (Thailand)

Two of the remaining four spots go to Middle Eastern airlines — Emirates and Qatar. The last two positions are held by a European airline, Virgin Atlantic, and its US spinoff, Virgin America.

(NOTE: T+L counts Virgin America as a US airline. IBIT does not.)

The rest of the list looks like this — Taiwan, Japan, Australia, Japan, Tahiti, Switzerland, Israel and Finland.

The one and only true US carrier (for my money, anyway) to crack this list — JetBlue, in 16th place.

I’ve flown a handful of these airlines myself — Cathay Pacific, Japan Air Lines, Air Tahiti Nui — and I can tell you they have their spots in T+L’s top 20 on merit. Likewise, I know a lot of folks who have flown JetBlue and swear by it, so I suspect their place in the top 20 is legit.

The question that always comes to my mind is, why is the rest of the US airline industry utterly unable to join the company of the world’s elite airlines?

Because the most surprising thing about the T+L list is that it’s no surprise at all. Virtually every credible survey taken of the world’s air travelers for the last two decades yields pretty much the same results, year after year after year.

The Asian, Pacific and Middle Eastern airlines dominate. The European airlines represent. US-based airlines will show up somewhere toward the middle of the pack at best, depending on the survey’s format.

When it comes to naming the world’s best, America’s airlines barely show up at all.

This is not an aberration. This is not a fluke. Flukes don’t last 20 years. The question is, why?

The clue lies in the categories on which T+L readers based their ratings — cabin comfort, food, in-flight service, customer service, and value.

In all these areas, there is a common thread among the top airlines. They go above and beyond the call for their passengers, both in the air and on the ground. They may not always be the cheapest seats in the sky, but you know you’re always getting your money’s worth, and then some.

I stil have vivid memories of trying to get out of a hopelessly overcrowded Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris one cloudy fall morning.

Six different jumbo jets from six different airlines, including Air Tahiti Nui, had been scheduled to take off from the same terminal at more or less the same time. That meant funneling close to 2,000 passengers simultaneously through exactly three security gates.

The lines of people checking in and then trying to get through security barely moved, backed up so badly that they merged into one another. Some people spent a half-hour or more before realizing they were in the wrong line. Airlines were announcing imminent departures. French airport security was totally indifferent.

The businessman in from of me was trying to get back to Toronto. Air Canada literally had left him at the gate the day before under these same circumstances. Now, he was back for Round Two, fearing he was about to be left again.

All the while this nightmare was in progress, a check-in clerk from Air Tahiti Nui was running — and I do mean running — up and down the different lines, shouting at the top of her lungs:

“If you are flying on Air Tahiti Nui, do not worry! We will not leave without you!”

By now, Im wondering if I can get back to my hotel in time to reclaim my old room.

That Air Tahiti Nui flight pushed back from the gate an hour late, but it left Paris with every one of its passengers. I was among the last six to board.

How many US-based airlines do you think would have gone that far for its last six passengers — and Coach passengers, at that?

Yeah, right.

By and large, US airlines are not horrible. They’re just not great, either. Worse, they seem to be okay with their middling status, as long as they can show a profit.

Being mediocre is not a crime. Being content with it is, or it should be.

Maybe it wouldn’t be so galling were it not for the fact that this is the country that not only invented the airplane, but invented the airline business itself.

What would it take for America’s airlines to raise their game in the eyes of the world’s travelers? Any ideas?

the IBIT TRAVEL DIGEST 11.4.12

The good, the bad and the bizarre from the world’s best travel media

Liverpool | ©IBIT/G. Gross

DANCING WITH HURRICANES
For most of the last week, travelers have been coping with the chaos created by Hurricane Sandy. Clem Bason, president of the Hotwire Group, offered some really helpful tips for travelers to get through it.

But it doesn’t require a “storm of the century” to unleash havoc on the US aviation grid. All it takes is a strong storm lasting a day or more that hammers an airlines’ hub airport city like Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta or New York.

If nothing else, Sandy’s swamping of East Coast airports may get travelers thinking about how to deal with such crises in the future, and that’s a good thing. Because the realities of climate change mean we probably haven’t seen our last superstorm around here.

Bason recommends keeping your airline’s phone number in your smartphone. In addition to that, make sure you have one or more good travel apps in your phone that give you fast access to airlines, hotels, rental car agencies, whatever you need to get through the crisis.

But really, the best thing you can do for yourself during a travel emergency is to have a previously established relationship with a travel agent and keep that person on speed dial. A good, experienced travel agent not only can find alternative flights and lodging for you, but can book them…and probably a lot faster than you can.

Just a little something to think about, especially if you travel a lot — and before one of Sandy’s meteorological siblings shows up.

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“F” IS FOR FEES
As in airline add-on fees, those extra charges for checking your bags and even the “privilege” of sitting in an exit-row seat. The airlines drained an extra $22 bilion out of your collective pockets last year on fees alone.

We all know and loathe them, but we don’t know all of them.

Until now.

The crew at SmarterTravel, one of the best travel Web sites going, has produced a guide listing every single add-on fee charged by every domestic airline in the United States. Fourteen different fees — and their varying amounts — from 14 different US airlines.

It’s a PDF entitled “Ultimate Guide to Airline Fees.” To download it, click here.

Bookmark that link on your computer. Keep it on your smartphone. Print it out. If you fly a lot, this is one list you definitely want to keep handy.

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JAL SELLING COMFORT
For many years now, Japan Air Lines, that nation’s original national flag carrier, has been flying in the jetwash of rival All Nippon Airways. It looks now as if JAL is trying to take the fight to ANA with a promise of more comfort in the sky.

It’s giving their extended-range Boeing 777s a major interior makeover. When done, its cabins will be divided into four classes — Economy, Premium Economy, Business and First.

The latter two classes will be lie-flat seats in their own self-contained shells, but JAL is promising that all the seats will be more comfortable, even in sardine class.

They’re calling these reconfigured 777s “Sky Suites,” and the first of them will go into service next Janunary between Tokyo Narita and London Heathrow. Eventually, however, they will be coming to America.

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ALL ABOARD FOR BEER
You may have heard of the Napa Valley Wine Train up in the Northern California wine country. It’s a great experience, and IBIT will have more on that in a future blog post.

Meanwhile, have you heard about the Beer Train in San Diego? It may sound like the punchline to a bad joke, but it’s anything but.

Unlike the Napa Valley Wine Train, the Beer Train doesn’t have its own rolling stock. Instead, it turns a Coaster commuter train into a rolling pub. Pub grub and short walks are part of the package.

Sounds like a sweet ride, does it not?

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CARIBBEAN SPRUCE-UP
Travel Weekly reports that both Barbados and Martinique have plans in the works for new cruise terminals capable of handling the largest cruise ships out there. Which means that, in a year or so from now, passengers will be able to step off the ship directly onto the dock and head straight into town.

Caribbean ports need to do this, for the same reason that the world’s major airports have to build larger terminals to accommodate the Airbus A380 super-jumbo jet.

Some struggle to handle the larger new super-cruisers. Others can’t dock cruise ships at all. They have to use small, cramped tenders to ferry cruise ship passengers to and from shore, a time-consuming and somewhat risky process disliked equally by the ports, the cruise lines and their passengers.

Meanwhile, Caribbean cruise ships have been growing almost exponentially in size since the 1990s. Royal Caribbean International and Carnival, the two largest lines going head-to-head for the Caribbean cruise market are both building seagoing behemoths that would make the Titanic look like the SS Minnow.

It’s hardly a coincidence, then, that one of the principal partners in the new Barbados cruise terminal is Royal Caribbean. One look at their Oasis of the Seas will explain everything.

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AND FINALLY—
Travel media just love making lists — best this, cheapest that, coolest whatever. If you look long enough, you’ll probably find someone making a list of the best travel lists.

But the prize for the most counter-intuitive travel list goes to Budget Travel. Its “winning” entry: the world’s 25 must-see tourist traps.

Normally, when travel writers say anything about tourist traps, it’s to advise you — usually with great disdain — to avoid them. This slideshow does just the opposite. It lists the top 25 destinations that invariably are crawling with tourists, but worth a visit, anyway.

To look at it another way: These places are all teeming with visitors for a reason.

So if a certain sight or destination really piques your interest, don’t automatically let the travelerati put you off from it.

And now, here’s the Digest:

AIR
from SmarterTravel
from CNN Travel
Window or aisle: What does your choice of airplane seat say about you?

from SmarterTravel
Eight airline perks that are — are you sitting down? — still free. SLIDESHOW

from the Los Angeles Times
First, airlines started tapping into celebrity chefs. Now, American Airlines will let passengers in First and Business Class reserve their choice of in-flight meals. The biggest shock? There’s no fee attached.

from Travel Weekly
JetBlue plans to offer satellite-based wifi beginning early in 2013, which it says will be better than the ground-based airborne wifi being offered by their competitors. It also plans to offer at least a basic version of it…wait for it…at no charge.

from Travel Weekly
Lufthansa launches a new low-fare carrier in Europe, Germanwings.

LAND
from SmarterTravel via USA Today
Five tips to make the most of that carry-on bag.

from Budget Travel
When it comes to unexpected travel costs that can ambush your wallet, we all know about the airlines and their hated baggage fees. But there are at least a half-dozen more that BT wants you to know about.

from Reuters
The streetcar, thought to be obsolete a half-century ago, is making a comeback in New Orleans. One more reason to visit the Crescent City.

from Associated Press via Yahoo
From bike-sharing programs to building bicycle “superhighways, European cities are embracing cycling like never before.

SEA
from Travel Weekly
Norwegian Cruise Line doing away with its discounts for children under age 2. A money-making idea, or a way to force parents to leave their babies at home with grandma?

from Travel Weekly
The Love Boat in unfamiliar waters. Princess Cruise Line’s Pacific Princess will offer a 10-day Caribbean cruise next January.

from Travel Weekly
New cruise industry safety rules now require cruise ship crewmembers to do lifeboat drills that involve actually putting the boats in the water and maneuvering them while being filled to capacity. If you’re guessing this is a consequence of the Costa Concordia disaster, you’re right.

AFRICA
from The Guardian (London UK)
A few days in the bush in Zimbabwe.

from Le Monde (France)
African migrants are increasingly abandoning dreams of reaching Europe or America. These days, the “promised land” is increasingly becoming South Africa. But while the dream destination may be different, the hardships and sorrows of the journey are the same.

from Monkeys and Mountains
Shark diving in South Africa — with camera and without a cage.

from Capetown Festival of Beer
When the world thinks of alcoholic beverages and South Africa, it automatically and for good reason thinks of South African wines. These guys would like to change that.

AMERICAS
from the New York Times
Like some sort of post-apocalyptic epiphany on wheels, New Yorkers living in the wake of Hurricane Sandy are rediscovering their bikes…and liking them.

from Travel Weekly
Government bureaucracy plus consumer confusion is making a muddle of new rules governing legal U.S. travel to Cuba.

from Travel Weekly
The Imperial Palace hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip is undergoing both a year-long makeover and a name change. When it’s all done, some time around the end of 2013, it will be known as The Quad.

from the Associated Press via SFGate
The San Ysidro border crossing between San Diego and Tijuana is often touted as the world’s busiest world crossing, and often cursed as the world’s most congested. It’s now getting a makeover intended to streamline the traffic flow going south. Northbound travelers…*shrug.*

ASIA/PACIFIC
from CNNgo
Vietnam puts its own spin on fast-food dining. It usually involves two motorized wheels and some seriously fresh and tasty eats.

from Travel Weekly
What it’s like to tour quake-shattered Christchurch, New Zealand. Just one example of “dark tourism.”

from Travel Weekly
Get ready to rock out in in the Middle Kingdom. Hard Rock International is bringing its rock ‘n’ roll-themed hotels to China starting in 2015, including one on the island of Hainan.

from Travel Weekly
China’s on-again, off-again issuance of permits for foreign tourists to visit Tibet is off again.

EUROPE
from The Guardian (London UK)
Missed Halloween last week? No worries. You can always catch up at the Witches Night festival next spring in Prague. Parades, witch burnings (in effigy only, mind you) and some of the world’s best beer.

from Travel Weekly
The British travel company Trafalgar is planning a 13-day tour of European battlefields from both world wars. Included is a visit to the Belgian cemetery that inspired the famous World War 1 poem, “In Flanders Fields.”

from Typically Spanish
Spain has long been a traditional warm-weather refuge for British tourists. These days, they’ve increasingly got company, from an even chillier Mother Russia.

from the BBC
Paris for lovers…of chocolate.

Edited by P.A.Rice

AIRFARE ALERT: Southwest jumps in big

The day after JetBlue discounts 20 US and Caribbean routes for summer, Southwest fires back bigtime — 1,200 routes with one-way fares as low as $60. But it’s only a two-day sale, so don’t dawdle.

In the spring, a traveler’s fancy turns to summer airfare sales — and it’s not just the weather that’s heating up.

Yesterday, the folks at Smarter Travel alerted us to a modest summer sale by JetBlue on 20 of its routes. Five of its competitors, including Southwest, matched JetBlue’s move. I thought that was the end of it for now.

Not even close. The ST crew is back with word of a huge summer sale.

A day after JetBlue dipped its toe in the summer fare sale waters,Southwest is going all-in: 1,200 of its routes discounted for summer travel, with some fares down to $60 one-way.

You know Southwest’s rivals weren’t going to let that go unchallenged. Seven of them are matching, including JetBlue. The other six offering up their own reduced summer fares are American, AirTran, US Airways, Delta, United, and Frontier.

This sale basically covers the first half of summer, for travel starting May 8 and concluding on the Fourth of July. That’s the good news.

The bad news: As usual, the better the sale, the tighter and more numerous the fare restrictions. Also, the shorter it lasts: You only have until Thursday, April 26, to pull the trigger.

Further, Southwest’s competitors are not exactly matching date for date and route for route. Check carefully.

And as usual, the super-cheap one-way fares will be based on a round-trip ticket purchase and all flights will be scheduled for mid-week only.

Still, when an airline serves up discounts on 1,200 routes, one of them’s bound to have your luggage tag on it. But with this sale lasting only two days, you can’t afford to dither and dawdle about.

He who hesitates pays full fare.

AIRFARE ALERT: JetBlue summer sale

JetBlue tosses out a small summer fare sale, and five competitors follow suit. Who wins? Maybe you.

The folks at Smarter Travel have spotted a summer airfare sale by JetBlue on 20 of its routes to U.S. and Caribbean destinations.

Twenty discounted routes is hardly a blockbuster offering, but if it’s taking you where you want to go this summer, one may be enough. Especially when those fares could be as low as $47 each way.

The really good news about this sale is that, as they often do, several of JetBlue’s rivals are matching it — Southwest on the shorter routes and American, United, US Airways and AirTran on the longer ones.

You have until midnight Monday, April 30, to pull the trigger on any of these deals. No weekend travel on any of these fares, and they have to be purchased 21 days in advance instead of the 14-day advance purchase typical of many sales.

More the rest of the details and restrictions, go to the Smarter Travel page here.

And beware of all those nasty little add-on fees the airlines have lurking in their fare structures these days. What looks like a great deal could turn out to be something quite different once all the airlines tack on all their extra charges.

Still, with fuel costs already kicking the airline industry’s butt, and political tensions with Iran having the potential to raise those prices even further, non-sale summer airfares could cause heart palpitations this summer.

So any sale offering you a chance at lower rates is something worth investigating.

Good luck, and happy travels!