Wednesday, November 30, 2011

American Airlines' Bankruptcy

First things first: no planes are going to fall out of the sky.

Weren't worried about that? Well, then let me address the number one traveler fear about American Airline's announcement yesterday of its Chapter 11 filing: AA frequent flyer miles didn't go up in smoke either. The airline announced those will remain unchanged for now. And even if American Airlines does go out of business completely (which wouldn't happen anytime soon, by the by), frequent flyer miles would likely be transferred to another airline, if history is any guide. In the article above, Miles Maven Tim Winship talks about what's happened to loyalty programs in the past when these types of situations arise.

I was speaking with George Hobica of AirfareWatchdog yesterday and his best guess on how the bankruptcy filing will affect travelers I'll call "sticky tray table syndrome". Superficial maintenance issues on the planes may suffer. Bluntly put: the planes are going to get grungier. And flight attendants are less likely to be smiling as they try to sell you your dinner. The filing was made, after all, to control labor costs. That means everyone you encounter at American for the next several months is going to be fretting over pay cuts and even possible job losses. So it won't be the happiest of work environments.

American has also said that its going to use the filing to get out of some of its leasing arrangements. Currently the Airline leases 29% of its fleet, which means that we'll be seeing significant changes in flights schedules, with a flights to less profitable gateways more likely to be dropped. At least in the near future. American has ordered a lot of more fuel efficient planes and it plans to accept delivery of those.

One final outcome of this situation? A possible marriage proposal. Industry watchers expect to see a merger between American and US Airways, to make it--like the other recent airline mergers--a super airline that's possibly "too big to fail".  Or at least too big to discount. Because whenever airline's merge redundant routes are eliminated and (often) prices rise.

So don't believe anybody who tells you this latest bit of bad travel news will have no affect on passengers. It will, but the changes will creep up on us, like a receding hairline. Always good to have something to look forward to.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Flying Down to Rio? LAN Has a Sale You'll Want to Catch

Ipanema (Mike Vondran photo)
Thanks to the tweeps at LAN Airlines for sending me a direct message (through Twitter) alerting me to their latest sale. Its being called--without hyperbole, I'll add-- "The Big Deal of the Year" and the prices are truly spectacular. Feast your eyes on  $149 round-trip between Miami and Punta Cana!

Since we're living in an upside down world, the taxes on that ticket are nearly as high as the fare itself ($139), but even with that additional expense, $288 for a round-trip to the Dominican Republic is a darn good offer.

LAN is also advertising round-trips between the US and Colombia, Venezuela or Ecuador for just $299 (again, pre-tax); and $699, before taxes, for Argentina, Brazil or Chile.

You can't travel right away with this sale (the prices are for flights beginning March 1) but you must book before Dec 12 to get in on the deals.

For complete information, click here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Give a Little, Get a Lot: Free IPads At Sea

Last week, Royal Caribbean announced that it would be equipping its 1800-passenger Splendour of the Seas with IPads in every stateroom. They would be available to passengers in the cabin or to carry around the ship and were to be used to access daily schedules, order rooms service, view restaurant menus, book shore excursions, watch movies and oh yes, access the internet.

Schooner Lounge (A Dombrowski photo)
So, in one savvy swoop, Royal Caribbean has gotten rid of the considerable expense of printing daily itinerary sheets (one would assume), and put into place what will undoubtedly be a huge income generator. I'm speaking of the internet access on these handy tablets. Unlike the shipboard functions for the I-Pads (preloaded ship maps, the ability to book restaurant reservations, etc.) Wifi will not be free. Far from it. As anybody who's ever had the unpleasant obligation of having to work remotely while at sea, the internet fees will remain killer. On its site, RCL lists internet access fees as being $35 for 60 minutes and $55 for 100 minutes (here's the complete list).

Xince the majority of passengers don't travel with their laptops and don't end up using the on-board computers that much, these outrageous fees haven't been as much of an issue as they could be. With the temptation of an I-Pod in every cabin, well, sticker shock on this front is going to explode.

And Wifi is likely just the tip of the iceberg. Think of all the videos and photos people will take on those IPads. Fees haven't been announced for the download of those, but my guess is they'll be substantial.

Royal Caribbean will be equipping its five other "Vision Class" ships with IPads within the next two years. So alongside your bikini, pack your willpower folks. Cause cruising's extra costs are about to get exponentially higher.

Friday, November 25, 2011

One Final Black Friday Sale (Just in Time)

Viking River Cruises has joined the Black Friday party! It will be offering two-for-the-price-of-one sailings on three vessels in the coming month. But that's just the beginning of the offer: those who book Friday will also receive discounted airfare ($500 off) and a shipboard credit of $100 per couple.

The sailings are:
  • The Passage to Eastern Europe: Budapest to Bucharest, 11 days, November 2012 sailings 
  • Danube Waltz: Passau to Budapest, 8 days, 1 November sailing
  • Cities of Light: Paris to Prague, 12 days, 1 November sailing
For complete pricing details, click here

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Another Nice Promo from Intrepid Travel

Let's not discount serendipity. Instead, let's use it to find discounts!

A cryptic start to today's blog, I know, but I'm feeling a bit giggly because, after reading another serious (and seriously depressing) New York Times editorial, I happened to look up to the top of the page and serendipitously, there was a voucher for $150 off an Intrepid Travel vacation! Bingo!

Considering that Intrepid Travel's prices are usually among the most reasonable in the business, I thought this was an excellent promotion. The rules are pretty easy: travelers must book their trip through this page before the end of 2011, and the trip booked must commence before the end of June, 2012. That's about it.

For those who've never heard of Intrepid, its and Australian company that runs "small group adventure tours" to all corners of the globe. Groups are never more than 12 in number, and, being a socially-conscious company, Intrepid places travelers in locally-owned guesthouses, takes them on public transportation (rather than gas guzzling private busses) and includes lots of free time in their itineraries for personal exploration. The idea is to keep as much money in the communities visited as possible.

As for the word "adventure", well, some tours are quite adventurous, including opportunities for rafting, climbing, camping out and the like. The companies other tours are adventurous in that they take people to some of the less-visited parts of the globe (such as a number of countries in Africa and South America), but nobody's going to make you bungee jump if you don't want to. Intrepid also offers programs for families traveling with children.

The company also has a contest going, giving away free trips. Learn more about that, and about Intrepid itself, by clicking here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

More Black Friday and Cyber Monday Deals

The glowing mirrors at Affinia Hotels are quite popular
I KNEW there'd be more. Some additional reasons to fire up your computer this Friday and Monday:
  •  Shell Vacations Hospitality: Not an off-shoot of the gas stations, this classy resort conglomerate (I've been to the Shell property in Las Vegas and its quite nice) will be offering discounts of up to 50% off per night at resorts in the Napa Valley, Anaheim, Hawaii, Las Vegas and others. The sale begins Thursday at midnight and goes through the end of day on Friday. Click here for full details.
  • IHG: Parent brand to Intercontinental, Crowne Plaza, Staybridge Suites, Holiday Inn, Candlewood Suites and Hotel Indigo, wants to give you $100...if you're willing to jump through a heckuva lot of hoops. First, you must follow @IHG_Deals on Twitter. Then, you have to find the "Gotta Get 100" link and register there by Nov 28. But you're not done yet! After registering, you must book two consecutive weekend night stays at one of the company's hotels before the end of April. Do all of that and the hotel group will pay $100 of your airfare to any destination.
  • Affinia Hotels: I like these hotels a lot. They tend to have excellent gyms and comfortable beds--a winning combo. That's the only reason I'm including a 10% off deal (which I usually consider to paltry a percentage to mention). In this case, the 10% is off best available rates, so price drops to as low as $109/night for some of the properties, a good rate for hotels of this caliber. The deal's taking place in Washington, DC, New York and Chicago; Cyber Monday is when the savings will go live. Click here for more details and use code "Cyber 1".
  • Jetsetter: A group buying discount site (like Groupon or Yuupon--which I mentioned last week), its promising hourly sales from 9am to 9pm on Monday, featuring discounts of 40%-50% off hotels and air/hotel packages. And one lucky shopper will get their trip gratis, compliments of Jetsetter.
To read the deals I featured last week, please scroll backwards on this blog.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Guns at the Airport

Raise your hand if you didn't know guns were forbidden on planes.

Anyone? Anyone?

So why are more and more passengers getting caught at airport security check-points with firearms in their carry-ons?

That's the alarming question posed by Joe Sharkey in his New York Times column last week, which he aptly titled "Knuckleheads or Worse, Bringing Guns in Carry Ons". 

Apparently, the number of passengers making this "mistake" is on the rise and the TSA is snagging 4 to 5 passengers each day who are trying to pack pistols. Some claim they forgot they had the gun in their bag, others have clearly tried to hide their guns from detection.

Both types of gunslingers are idiots.

The first because, as Sharkey rightly points out, not knowing where your guns are goes against basic gun safety protocol. And a good number of the guns confiscated are fully loaded!

The second type of passenger, the one who's trying to hide the gun, is more worrisome. Most probably aren't terrorists. Just the kind of jerks who feel they are above the law; or that the law governing guns on planes is wrong and should be flouted. After all, in the past decade, laws have changed in many communities allowing concealed weapons to be carried in restaurants, theaters and a number of other formerly off-limit places. Why should planes be any different?

I'm not going to get into the issue of gun control here. This is a travel column, after all. But I'd love for those who are on the NRA's side of this argument to take up the cause of public safety and remind their members that carrying guns on planes is not a safe or smart idea. Just the loss of cabin pressure, if one or more bullets were to pierce the plane's fuselage, could be very, very dangerous for passengers (read more on that here). The gun owners will listen to you, more than to me. Do this for all of our safety.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Freebie Friday: Free Wifi All Over London

(Photo by Jim Trodel)
Its only a trial run, but this November Nokia, in partnership with the city of London, rolled out 26 hot spots around the city. Free to use, they're located primarily on Oxford Street and in train stations. If the program is successful, it will be expanded in 2012.

Now, you won't be able to hang out next to a hotspot and stream movies on your I-Pad. The hot spots will work for all wifi accepting devices, but each user will be limited to 1mbps. But that's more than enough to tweet "Hey, I just got free WiFi in London" to your friends back home.

You'll find more information in this article from The Telegraph (click here).

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Black Friday & Cyber Monday Travel Deals

The countdown has begun!

No, not to Thanksgiving. I'm talking about Black Friday and Cyber Monday. And, as in years past, these dates should offer as many travel deals as two-for-the-price-of-one Pashmina shawls sales. So get ready to surf the web, and shine up those credit cards.

Here are the deals I've spotted so far:
  • Gate 1 Travel What I like about this one is that Gate 1's air-hotel packages are always good values, whether they be to Asia, Europe or Latin America. With this deal, folks who book on November 25 will get additional money back, depending on how much they spend. Spend $500 or more and receive $50 off with the promo code BLKFR50; spend $1000 or more for $100 off (promor code BLKFR100); at $2000 the giveback is $250 (BLKFR250); and those who pony up $4000 or more get $500 off (BLKFR500). More details at the Gate 1 site (link above). And unlike last year's sale, these deals will also apply to cruise purchases.
  • Viceroy Hotels: This deals a bit more complicated. Would be travelers will have to "like" the hotel chain first on Facebook. Then on Nov 27 and 28, "friends" of the hotel group will receive discount codes good for half off the best rate or more. (They're advertising that discounted rooms could go for as little as $75 a night; darn good for rooms that normally sell in the $200's. Viceroy has hotels all over the world from Turkey to the Caribbean to California and Florida. 
  • Yuupon: A group-buying discount site, but with a twist: if you realize you won't be able to use your travel purchase, you can get your money back! Its putting out that its Black Friday sale will include savings of up to 90% on Las Vegas shows, air tickets and gas cards and $17 hotel rooms. Click here to read my father's complete blog on the sale.
  • Kula Hulanda Resorts, Curacao: Want to look tan in the Xmas photos? Head first to the Caribbean then. This resort is offering a third-night free deal (basically a 33% discount) for stays through mid-December (alas, the Christmas holidays are blacked out on this offer). Request the "Black Friday Special".
  • St Kitts Marriott Resort and Royal Beach Casino: Another "fun in the sun" offer, this one available through December 21. Book 7 nights and get the 5th, 6th and 7th free, an upgrade and free breakfasts for up to two adults and two children. The promo code is ZJL.
Consider these few sales just an amuse bouche. I'll serve up some more "Black and Cyber" travel savings next week! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Travel Scams Circulating This Holiday Season

Part of the speech I give at travel shows around the country involves all of the legitimate travel freebies one can scoop up nowadays. So I may be one of the people to blame for folks out there thinking they can get something for nothing.

Alas, in the case of free flights with Southwest Airlines, there's no such thing as a free ride.

But hackers would have us think otherwise.

I was alerted to the scam when a Facebook friend posted a cheery "I love Southwest!" with a link below it to a site one had to click on for the free coupons, good for flights anywhere. The giveaway that this was a fraud: the claim that Southwest would be giving away 3000 coupons for free flights. In this economy, with the cost of fuel as it is? Fuggedabout it.

I then scanned the internet and found this useful blog about what to do if you do fall for this scam, and have your information "phished".

Apparently, recent scams have claimed that JetBlue and Delta are also giving away free tickets.

Sigh. If only....

Fraudulent Check-In Scam
And that ain't the end of it, folks. Apparently devious scammers have been sending out confirmations for a flight Thanksgiving week between New York and Los Angeles. When unsuspecting victims click on any part of the email, a harmful virus gets unleashed.

Unfortunately, a number of Delta customers have gotten the email. Here's a complete article on the ruse, and what one should do if you click first and think second.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Getting Into the "Spirit" of Nickle-And-Diming Travelers

Is this woman protecting herself from the stink of high fees? (Photo by B. Brown)
Several years ago, my esteemed colleague Jason Cochran wrote a piece on the fact that, even with their awesomely low fares, the extra fees at Spirit Airlines usually wiped out any difference in price between them and their competitors. It took a lot of math, but that was the researched conclusion. (Sorry, I've looked, but I can't seem to find the article online; I remember it because I edited it.)

My guess is that, with the fee upticks announced yesterday, travelers will likely now pay MORE to fly Spirit than its competition. Because except for those few time-rich souls willing to go to the airport and purchase a ticket at the counter there, all passengers will be charged $34 per round-trip flight for the "privilege" of booking online. That's no typo: $34 (!!) to book online.

That come to double the old fee. The Huffington Post points out that this new fee, in a number of cases, will work out to a additional 40% of the ticket price.

And, taking a page from Ryanair, those who don't print their own tickets at home will have to cough up $5 at the airport to get them.

Wonder if they'll be next announcing the sale of porn on their flights, like Ryanair? Wouldn't put it past 'em.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Blockbuster Museum Show a Potent Reason to Get to Dallas Soon

Last spring, the hottest ticket in New York City wasn't to the Broadway hit "The Book of Mormon" (though that remains super popular). Instead, lines several blocks long formed outside the Metropolitan Museum of people eager to see the Costume Institute's Alexander McQueen show. People waited for upwards of seven hours to get in....and left happy.

After the preview I saw on Friday of the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit I have no doubt that kind of lightening is about to strike Dallas.

"The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk" is the boffo new show at the Dallas Museum of Art, and it is, without hyperbole, one of the top five museum shows I've ever seen. Part of me wished I could extend my stay in Texas just so I could walk through it again.

And as anyone knows who's ever seen me in person, I'm the farthest thing from a fashionista (I'm typing this blog in a velour "Mesa Verde" souvenir sweatshirt, for heavens sake!).

But the technical bravura of the show, the beauty of the clothes, the interplay of history with culture and creativity--it truly bowls the viewer over.

Let's start with the gee whiz factor. In a brilliant move, meant to make the clothes seem more part of the living world, many of the mannequins have faces that move and speak in the most eerie fashion. These are not Disney-World-esque puppets. Instead, Gaultier and his favorite models were filmed talking. Those images are projected onto the face of the mannequins.

And boy do they have a lot to say. I stood mesmerized before one haughty lady who spit out one witticism after another. My favorite was a comment on the show itself: "Its all too French," she purred. "So many ideas! Too, too many ideas."

Yes, its an overflow of ideas, but that's why it deserves to be in a museum. Some of the clothes are, without hyperbole, great works of art. In one room, ex votos beautiful in and of themselves formed a spectacular, breast-plated evening gown. In another the viewer sees male mannequins dressed in skirts and even elaborate feathers, yet the effect is testosterone charged and makes the viewer rethink their ideas about what's appropriate for each gender.

For pop culture fans there's Madonna's iconic pointy bra bustier, oxidized with her sweat. There are also clothes inspired by the Red Light district in Amsterdam, by world cultures (I'm craving that Eskimo coat), by famous films. Often the mannequins revolve, so one can see the clothes from all angles.

A final savvy move: the show plays up the effort and artistry that goes into creating these sorts of objects. On the wall panels next to each article of clothing is a small note stating how long it took to create. 50 to 70 hours seemed to be the norm.

Even if you think you have no interest in fashion: go. It may well be the most fun you'll ever have in an art museum.

(Note: The show is in Dallas through February 10 and then moves to the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco.)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Whistler a Happy Tune: Primo Early Booking Ski Discounts

In two weeks, ski season begins at the resort Ski Magazine has annually named best in North America. Don't wait until ski bunnies are racing down the mountain. The folks at Whistler recently announced that those who book before Nov 15, will score a 36% discount off both lodgings and lift ticket. This discount will hold for the entire season.That means that even when holiday rates are in effect, those who book soon will be able to shave a full third off the overall cost.

In terms of numbers, a low season five night lodgings/four day ski pass package will start at $443 per person. The deal is bonzanza for families the discount goest to 100% for the wee ones.  Kids stay, eat, ski and ride the shuttle for free with this early booking offer! To see all the variables and fine print, click here.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the "Great Lebowski-esque" contest the resort is currently running.  One lucky winner will win a "winter sabbatical" at Whistler. That means, airfare,  a full month's lodging, lift tickets, and adventure passes a number of adrenaline pumping activities. If that sounds appealing Dude (sorry, I have to call you "Dude" if it does), just click here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

I'll Be Speaking in Dallas This Saturday and Would Love to Meet You!

Dallas Skyline (Photo by Steve Johnson)
Yes, its another travel show for me! Very excited to be back in Texas, as last year's appearance there was attended by a group of avid travelers. It was delightful to meet them.

This year, I'll be speaking at 10:45 am and 1:45pm. The first chat is "When to Splurge and When to Scrimp on Travel". My second speech is more of a slide show on exciting destinations one should consider.

The Dallas Travel and Adventure Show will be held at the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau (650 South Griffin Street). Also on the bill is the delightful Samantha Brown.

Hope to see you all there!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ouch! Holiday Airfares Up Again

I've spent much of the last week trying to convince you, dear reader, not to head home to see the family this Thanksgiving.

Well, it seems the airlines have joined my "cause", though their methods are likely more persuasive than the simple keyboard I weild. In short, the airlines are going to stick it to those who try to fly over both the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years holiday period, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Reporter Hugo Martin, backed up by a number of industry muckymucks, has found that fares for these periods will be 6% to 12% higher than last year.

If you can get them, that is. Because of decreased capacity, many flights are sold out or near sold out.

In fairness to the airlines, they're raising prices because they have to, having had losses 7 out of the last 10 quarters. The surging price of fuel, up 40% in the last year according to Martin, doesn't help either.

So are the prices horrific? I actually have some first-hand experience in this topic, because last night I helped my mother book a round-trip from New York to Chicago. As I've complained here before, she's a last-minute decider, and mistakes me for a travel agent, so I spend a fair amount of time trying to fix the messes her lack of planning cause.

In this case, she decided to attend a family gathering the weekend before Thanksgiving, flying out that Saturday and back on the Tuesday before Turkey day. We huddled around my computer and finally found a flight on Delta into O'Hare (she didn't want to go to Midway because it was too far from her cousin's house) for $243. It would have been less had she been willing to accept an early morning flight, but she's not only a late-decider, she's a late-sleeper, so that was out of the question.

Frankly, I didn't think $243 for that week was too bad. But when I went to pick her seat, I saw how lucky we'd been that she hadn't procrastinated any longer. On the first flight, there were only 5 middle seats left. On Tuesday's return she had a choice of 7 middle seats.

This is all a long way of saying: don't emulate Mom! If you're thinking of traveling this holiday season, make your bookings now. Its only going to get uglier.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Spend Thanksgiving in New Orleans and Then Sail The Caribbean

Jazz in Crescent City (photo by Linda Duchain)
So yesterday, I counseled how to escape one's family on Turkey Day by running off to the United Kingdom. Today, I've got a land/cruise deal that may make it even more enticing to ditch the once-a-year cousin fest.

And boy is it a whopper! A 7-night cruise for $529 would be impressive on its own. Add to that 3 nights in a New Orleans' hotel and hotel-to-port transfers, and you have a real steal.

The offer is the brainchild of tour operator Gate 1 Travel and must be booked by Nov 14, for a vacation starting on Nov 23 in NOLA. The sailing is aboard Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas and it ports in Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Jamaica.

Believe it or not, the offer will be revived for slightly more later in the year, so contact Gate 1 if you can't travel this month.

And in case you're wondering, I won't be off to exotic locales for Thanksgiving (sigh). I've been roped into making the potatoes au gratin. So take the trip for me. Oh, and does anyone have a mandolin they can lend?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Free UK Hotel Rooms for the Taking

Skip Turkey Day This Year!
Its as much of an autumn tradition as roasting pumpkin seeds and getting lost in corn mazes (call 911!). Yes, British Airway's annual room give away is back, and this year its expanded. Instead of just tacking on two free hotel nights in London, with a round-trip airfare from the US, BA is also including stays in Edinburgh and Manchester this year.

As always, the deal is based on double occupancy and the taxes involved can come close to the cost of one of the flight legs. Still, the hotels are decent as are the fares, so why the heck not?

For complete information, head to the British Airways website. Reservations must be made before November 15 for travel between tomorrow and December 16.

Hey, this could inspire a new tradition: Thanksgiving across the pond, away from all your pesky relatives.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Freebie Friday: More Free Wifi on Trains

Three cheers for Amtrak! It announced this week that it will be expanding its free Wifi program, previously only available on Acela trains and the Pacific-Cascades lines. With this move, some 60% of the rail lines passengers will be able to connect.
The routes that will now have Wifi are:
  • The Empire Service (New York-Albany-Buffalo)
  • Northeast Regional (Boston to Virginia)
  • Keystone Service (New York-Philadelphia-Harrisburg)
  • Carolinian (New York-Raleigh/Cary, NC)
  • Downeaster (Boston-Portland, ME)
  • Ethan Allen Express (New York-Rutland, VT)
  • Vermonter (Washington-St. Albans)
  • The New Haven-Springfield shuttle
  • Adirondack (New York-Montreal)
  • Maple Leaf (New York-Toronto)
  • Palmetto (New York-Savannah, GA)
  • Pennsylvanian (New York-Philadelphia-Pittsburgh)
On those last four routes, the Wifi will only be available in certain cars (due to technical constraints) so get to the station early to get into the right car. They'll be marked by stickers on the windows.

Photo by Gene Bowker
In addition to Wifi, Amtrak is hoping to offer faster 4G speeds in the near future.

Amtrak further announced that it will be expanding Wifi In California by the end of the year. That will increase the percentage of passengers able to update their Facebook pages on the train to 75%.

Just a few more reasons to ditch the car and plane in favor of the train in the coming months. Green, pleasant and now connected--let's all take ride the rails!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A New Budget Airline Debuts in Asia

This is a blog as birth announcement.

I am thrilled to announce that a bouncing baby airline has just entered the world. Proud single parent Singapore Airlines has named the tot Scoot. Like all doting Moms, Singapore Airlines hopes her kid will be loved. To ensure that, Scoot's going to be a budget carrier, reportedly lopping 40% off the usual prices for its initial flights to China and Australia. Scoot will start flying when she becomes a toddler, some time in mid-2012.

The move is a startling one from an airline known for its luxury amenities. Sinapore Air has been named, in survey after survey, as one of the best airlines in the world, prized for its high quality service (particularly in First and Business Class). Let's hope this Singapore off-shoot is able to keep its standards high and its prices low.

By the way, Scoot will have some buddies to pal around with: four upstart, budget airlines are being planned for launch in Asia in 2012.

Cigars for everyone!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Carnival Raises Its Per Day Tipping Minimum

Towel animals don't appear by magic!
Its my knee-jerk reaction to rail against and and all price increases. I want us all to be able to travel more, after all, and for that the affordability of travel is key.

But Carnival Cruise Lines recent per-day, per person tip increase from $10 to $11.50 seems like a justifiable one to me. Cruise passengers get remarkable value for their money, what with the cost of all meals, lodgings and transportation coming, in many cases, to as little as $50 per person per day (especially on Carnival, which is known for its affordable pricing). With the exception of camping, there's no other type of vacation as cheap.

Part of the reason the cruise lines can charge this little is their relatively low staffing costs. A cleaner or a busboy could be making as little as $900 per month. Considering that most of these men and women work 12-hour days, often with no days off for weeks at a time, the hourly rate works out to a pittance.

And if you've ever cruised, you know that the people who work aboard these ships are gems. Tireless, friendly and efficient, these men and women from the Philipines, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and elsewhere, work harder than most in the travel industry. Many are supporting extended families back home with their wages. If anyone deserves good tips, its cruise workers.

Which is why I personally always tip above the required amount when I cruise. And I'm glad, very glad, that that required minimum is going up. The move is the first tip increase for Carnival since 2001. It will bring the fleet in line with what rivals such as Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Lines. Beyond that, it will improve the lives for many, many good people.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

European Airfares Dip--Briefly! Here's How You Can Take Advantage

Its been a long time since I've seen airfares to Europe for less than $500 dollars. Wait, scratch that: I have seen sale fares advertised at  that price. But when taxes and fuel surcharges have been added in, the end amount has nearly doubled.

Lufthansa is taking a non-opaque tack with its current sale (applaud them for that!). Its leading price of just $438 for round-trips between New York and Dublin includes everything but the proverbial kitchen sink (and a few times today, I've seen that price drop even lower).

Other excellent Lufthansa fares (again, round-trip and including all taxes, surcharges and fees):
  • New York-Krakow: $610
  • Boston-Barcelona: $648
  • Dallas/Fort Worth-Zagreb: $757
  • Washington, DC-Budapest: $736
  • Los Angeles-Istanbul: $744
Now, there are no additional taxes on these fares, but there are some restrictions associated with them. First and foremost, they must be booked by end of day tomorrow (Nov 2) for departures between Nov 8 and Mar 26 (returns can occur well into May). A Saturday-night stay-over is required, and if you fly on the weekend a $60 surcharge will be added. As you might expect, holiday fares are NOT included in this sale (sorry!).

One more perk of flying Lufthansa: its new thinner seats. That might sound like a downside, but travelers are reporting they're quite comfortable. And because they take up less room, there's more seat pitch (ie room between the end of your knees and the seat in front of you).

For more information, click here.

Alas, I missed posting a one-day sale that Aer Lingus ran yesterday, also dropping fares to this level. Its current sale is nearly as good as Lufthansa's (click here) though the German carrier seems to beat Aer Lingus in a number of key markets. My guess: we'll see another one day super sale soon (the economic crisis in Ireland has put a big dent in business travel there, meaning the national carrier has a lot of seats to fill). To catch it, consider following Aer Lingus on Twitter or signing up for its fare alerts.