Jul 28

Rocket Miles: 10,000 Miles Plus A Potential Bonus

I’ve talked about Rocketmiles before, a site that gives you miles instead of hotel points to book through them. You may or may not get your hotel points, but you’ll get a ton of airline points instead by booking through them. Their rates for hotel rooms are usually similar to, if not the same as, the rates on the hotels’ own sites and is one of the few third-party sites where I’d book a hotel.

Up To 10,000 Miles Per Night (And A Potential Bonus)

rocketmiles

 

I’ve seen offers of several thousand miles per night before, but up to 10,000 per night is the most that I’ve seen. Obviously, the more expensive hotels are going to be offering higher amounts, but that’s a huge number. It’s certainly enough to make me consider looking at alternatives for booking my hotel stays.

It gets better. If you credit your miles to Copa Airlines, you’ll get an additional 2,000 miles the first time you book. Who is Copa? They’re a Latin American carrier that used to be owned by Continental and is a part of the Star Alliance. They just established their own program, so they’re offering a number of bonuses to get people interested in the program.

The Bottom Line

I rarely book hotels anywhere other than the hotel’s own website but, for up to 10,000 miles per night, I could be convinced otherwise.

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Jul 26

Bits And Pieces from around The Industry

Double Starwood Points at Tribute Hotels

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So the cool new thing for hotel chains to do these days is to pretend that they aren’t chains. Of course, given the nature of the product, that’s not always an easy thing to do. So many of the major chains are creating “sub-brands,” or boutique hotels within a hotel (Kind of like Hamlet, without the regicide). You won’t find much branding, since each hotel is supposed to be unique, but you can still earn points.

Or, in this case, double points. Register by October 16 and you’ll earn double base points for your stay at any of the half dozen or so Tribute Hotels, Starwood’s collection of a half dozen or so boutique hotels. You may or may not ever stay at one, but you might as well register.

United: Buy Or Win Miles

I’m not normally a fan of buying miles directly from the airline. In the case of United’s current offer, conventional wisdom holds. At best, you’ll be buying miles for 2c per mile (okay, 1.9c), which is a somewhat lousy rate when you are purchasing them.

On the other hand, you could win a cool contest starting on August 1 at the United Billion site. Win up to a million miles just by using your United Chase card (one entry per purchase) or simply enter for free by filling out the form on the site. You can enter as many times as you like, but each entry has to be filled out separately. That’s a heck of a lot of keystrokes to have a chance at winning anything.

If you want to read a bit more about each of these programs, feel free to visit my article at Inside Flyer.

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Jul 25

Southwest: Breakdown Leads to Fare Sale Extension

Hope you all enjoyed your weekend of pidgey-grinding. Back to the show:

southwest airlines

Oops, they did it again

Last week, Southwest Airlines suffered a massive technical breakdown, delaying passengers, causing cancelled flights and a meltdown of their website. It was bad for the passengers, made even more so by the fact that Southwest planes normally spend very little time on the ground. The airline has a “connect the dots” type route network, where passengers use them to fly from their origin to their destination non-stop. Not a lot of passengers on Southwest actually change planes, as you would at the hub of a network carrier. Thus, that plane needed to be somewhere and it was more difficult to reroute those who were stuck. Southwest has already announced a technology overhaul for this year, but much of that was related to revenue management.

Airlines don’t have a warm and fuzzy reputation, but Southwest is one of the good guys. The people who work there, from the CEO to the gate agent, have bought into the culture and genuinely care, so I’m sorry to see this happen to them. Still, it’s a wake-up call around operations.

It’s not much comfort to most, but they have extended the sale that was going on last week, given the amount of downtime on their websites. The usual restrictions apply around destinations and days of the week, but it sounds like airfares will start rising again in 2017, so take advantage of cheap travel while you can.

Update on An American Airlines Promotion

If you participated in this promotion for up to 700 miles, check your account. The miles should be there.

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Jul 22

Are Bank Credit Card Points The Way To Go?

I’m normally not a big fan of having points just for the sake of having them (unless you got those points for free). There’s no need, for instance, to apply for a United Airlines credit card if you are never going to fly them. Thus, do you need Chase Ultimate Rewards points or Citibank ThankYou in your account? This is a question that I’ve thought a bit about, and I think the answer is yes.

What Are “Bank Points?”

Bank points are loyalty points issued by the bank that delivers your credit card, not its partner. For instance, if you have an American Airlines Citibank card, you are earning American miles. But if you have a Citi Prestige card, you are earning points created by Citibank, not one of its partners. That latter group is what I will be discussing.

Why Do I Need Points from A Bank?

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Citi ThankYou Points (TYP), Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR) and American Express Membership Rewards (MR) are the rewards unique to the individual banks. So why would you need points that have no assigned value? The biggest reasons are for transfer opportunities and redemption for travel.

Transfer to Miles Or Points

Since bank cards aren’t tied to a particular partner, you can usually transfer points to one of any number of different programs. For example, I needed points to upgrade a Cathay Pacific flight. I didn’t have any Cathay points, so I exchanged Citi ThankYou points for what I needed. Having the Citi points gave me the flexibility to do so. Here are your transfer options:

Chase Ultimate Rewards: Transfer into British Airways, Air France, Korean, Singapore, Southwest, United and Virgin Atlantic. Hotel partners are Hyatt, Intercontinental, Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Rewards.

Citi ThankYou Points: Transfer into Cathay, EVA, Etihad, Air France, Garuda, Malyasia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar, Singapore, Thai Airways, Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic.

American Express Membership Rewards: Air Canada, Alitalia, Cathay Pacific, British Airways, Delta, Etihad, Hilton, Starwood.

One point worth noting: There are some awfully good airlines there, including Singapore, Cathay, the Middle East carriers, etc. And while you can often use points to fly on a partner (e.g., You can use United points to fly on Singapore Airlines.), airlines are generally more flexible about opening seats for their own miles versus a partner’s. In other words, using Singapore Airlines miles will get you a better shot at a premium seat than using United miles.

Pay For Travel

Most banks also have partnerships with major travel agencies to use their points to purchase travel directly. Book through Chase’s website and its points are worth 1.25c each. Citi ThankYou points are worth up to 1.6c each, depending on what type of card you have. Those numbers aren’t great in and of themselves, but many spending categories give bonus miles. For instance, a Citi Premier card gives you triple points for all spending on travel, while Prestige gives you triple points on hotels and airfare.. So if you get triple points that are worth 1.6c each, that’s almost a 5% rebate on all travel spend when you also use your rewards to travel. 5% is a hard number to beat.

What Points Should I Get?

The best way, and sometimes the only way, to get a bank’s points are through its credit card. American Express is easy: Their points are worth very little no matter what you redeem them for. I’d stick to the partner cards (Starwood, Delta, etc.) rather than ones that give you MR points if your main goal is to accumulate for future transfers.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the Chase Ultimate Rewards card but, as its benefits remain stable and others shrink, it looks comparatively better. It gives you one point per dollar spent, with double points on travel and restaurants. If you want to use the points to pay for travel, they’re worth 1.25c each. The card comes with a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points.

Citibank recently announced that it would eliminate American Airlines lounge access from its Prestige card, but that one still remains your best option. It offers 1.6c per point and up to triple points on certain categories. It still has plenty of other benefits, including a $250 annual fee credit and a fourth night free on any hotel stay of four nights or more.

Both cards can be found through the Credit Cards for Charity banner here (although Citi may be on a hiatus):


The Bottom Line

Bank cards can be an easy and effective way to accumulate points for a trip to be taken later. After all, you never know when you’ll want to fly Singapore Air in first class.

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Jul 20

Lufthansa Surprise: Guess Where You’re Going?

This feature from Lufthansa may be something that I never get to use, but I have to admit, it looks pretty cool.

Surprise!

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If you’ve got a lot of time, flexibility and live near Frankfurt or Munich, Lufty has something for you. It’s not an opportunity that many of my readers will be able to take advantage of, due to geography, but it’s such a cool idea that I wanted to write about it anyway.

Lufthansa Surprise (LS) is a feature on the airline that allows you to fly to…somewhere. You put in the dates you are available and the type of destination that you want, and they’ll send you there. The catch, of course, is that they have ultimate control over where you end up (although you can eliminate potential destinations) as well as your flight times. The more flexibility you have, the better your price will be.

Start by choosing the type of destination that you want. Note that clicking on the category will show you a list of potential cities, so you will at least have some idea of where you are going, as I did with “Cities:”

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After you’ve clicked on your category, you’ll have a choice of cities. If there’s a destination that you don’t want, you can unclick it, but you must leave at least two alternatives checked. Then, enter your dates and other pertinent information and you’re off!

One note: Be sure that you are really available and willing to go. Tickets are non-changeable and non-refundable.

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The Bottom Line

This program is a great way for Lufthansa to fill in unsold inventory as well as letting you get a cheap seat to an interesting destination. US and British carriers, are you listening?

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Jul 19

Is Citi Prestige Eliminating Admirals Club Access in 2017?

Well, this is ugly.

Citibank seems to have prematurely leaked information that it will be eliminating Admirals Club access in June, 2017, as one of the benefits of the card. If true, that would significantly impact the value of what has been my favorite travel credit card.

Lounge Benefits

You'll have to dig deep into your cards benefits page to find this one

You’ll have to dig deep into your cards benefits page to find this one

This card has been my favorite simply due to the fact that the travel benefits are worth significantly more than the annual fee, with lounge access at American Airlines and Priority Pass clubs, as well as a fourth night free hotel benefit and a $250 credit every year. The card is still a good deal, but the loss of the Admirals Club is a big deal, especially since American just announced a new credit card agreement and raised the price of entry to the clubs. I’m assuming that none of these changes are coincidental.

Neither of the two representatives that I spoke with were aware of the change, so be prepared if you call them (You’ll have to access the Travel Benefits on your Card Benefits page to find the notification.). Furthermore, the application for the card does not include the disclaimer, which seems somewhat irresponsible.

The Bottom Line

I’ve always felt that this card was worth way more than Citi was charging for it. Unfortunately, the proved me right.

While this story has made its way around the internet quickly, I first saw it at VFTW.

 

 

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Jul 17

Just A Couple Of Weekend Tidbits

Normally, I’m happy if I get one good bit of info from a single source in a week. But two? Hey, twice as good.

Why Do We Need A Seatbelt Demonstration?

Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons

Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons

It’s a plane ritual. No matter what class of service, destination or amount of luggage you carry, you’re going to get the seatbelt demonstration.

But why do we even need it? We’ve all traveled before and, even if we haven’t, it’s not exactly rocket science (airplane science?). Turns out that you’re the problem. No, seriously. It’s you.

Well, more precisely, your muscle memory is. You’ve spent so much time in your car that your natural inclination is to unbuckle by pressing a button. As you know, though, there’s no button on the belt. So that’s it. Not terribly exciting. Just one more opportunity to save you from yourself. You can read about it here.

Truthfully, though, I always listen to the safety demonstration. I figure it’ll be that one time that I forget to do so that the plane will land in the Atlantic, and it’s nice to know where the exits are, even if I’ve never been able to find the life preserver under the seat.

American Raises Price Of Admirals Club

Old And New

Old And New

To be fair, they’re really nice spots to wait for your flight, but eventually, you wonder how high the price can go. USA Today pointed out that American raised the price again, another $50, to anywhere from $450 on the low end to $925 on the high end. At this point, there’s simply no reason to get the membership outright. If you really want to get the membership, get one of the high end credit cards, either the American version or the Citi Prestige, that includes it.

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Jul 15

Shocker: The Airlines Lose A Round in Washington

I had a few other topics I wanted to talk about today, but they are going to have to wait a day so that I can discuss the new FAA reauthorization bill. And, before your eyes roll, I’ll tell you that there are a few pieces in it that might interest you.

The most important thing to know is that, in the constant battle between “consumers” and “airlines,” the consumers won this round. That’s stunning. Normally, proposals to regulate anything in regard to the airlines are shot down. But Wednesday’s bill contained a number of provisions that can be viewed as consumer-friendly. I’m going to pull a few pieces from the above Washington Post article and explain what they will mean to you.

What Was The Bill, Anyway?

Simply put, the Federal Aviation Aviation needed its programs funded and legal authority to be renewed. It was set to expire today. Congress-critters attached a number of provisions to the bill, which is common. Normally, though, the extras are dumped before the bill gets passed by the House and the Senate. This time, though, they made it through.

What Will You Get

Here’s a peek at some of what passed. Some of it is minor, but even “minor” is a loss for airlines.

Families Get to Sit Together

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It seems like common sense: If you’re traveling with your young kids, you want to be near them and strangers likely want to be away from them. Why would the airlines even question this one? Actually, their reasons make sense:

  • The airlines get fees for seat assignments. If you don’t have elite status or a premium ticket with an airline, there is a good chance that they are going to charge you for an advanced seat assignment. Otherwise, you are stuck with whatever you get 24-hours in advance, even if that means your family is sprinkled throughout the plane. It seems like an issue of simple fairness that you should be able to sit with your family. But for the airlines, it also seems like a question of fairness: Why shouldn’t they be allowed to determine which services they will and won’t charge for? It’s not as if they don’t give consumers the option to pick seats. Rather, it’s that many consumers don’t want to pay for them. If I’m going to be completely objective, I have to say that the airlines have a point.* There is something to be said for the Spirit model, where consumers can choose exactly what they want, no more, no less.
  • How does the airline implement such a policy? There may be an exception for extra legroom seats or class of service, but what happens when a passenger is forced to surrender an aisle seat for a middle seat? What about if that passenger paid for their aisle seat? The law of unintended consequences will be in full force.

The TSA Has To Do…Something. We’re Not Quite Sure What, Though.

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One of the big complaints about PreCheck is that its lines are frequently closed. While PreCheck passengers are supposed to get front of the line privileges when it’s not open, theory does not always translate to practice. So a law requiring screening lines to be open more is probably good. The problem is, who gets to decide the definition of “peak,” “high-volume travel times” and “appropriate airports (not to mention “every practicable effort”)? If it’s the TSA, don’t expect to see any changes.

As for the expansion of PreCheck, the issue is only partially the inconvenience of getting there. Subjecting people to an $85 fee and an “interview” also create a hassle factor. There is, of course, a simple solution to the problem: Let every passenger have PreCheck standards and sort out the ones who need more attention. The TSA failed 95% of its tests last summer, a number that rose from the previous year. We need security, but we need intelligent security. Seizing toothpaste is not the answer.

They Can’t Charge You If Your Luggage Doesn’t Get to You

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Seriously? This was even an issue? The airlines don’t understand why everyone hates them. Well, their asinine policies regarding luggage are one reason. How does “Well, your bags arrived two days late, but we’re gonna charge you for them, anyway.” sound to you? Yeah, me too. If the airlines don’t provide the service, which means not only getting your bags to your destination but also getting them there the same time as they get you there, they shouldn’t get paid for it.

What Didn’t Pass

 

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You’re just going to have to believe me that the above not passing is a really, really good thing. It doesn’t sound that way. We all want to be comfortable. We don’t want to feel like we are being overcharged. But again, the law of unintended consequences would kick into effect.

Make seats bigger? Perfect. I want to fly in comfort. I want to get their fast. And I want it to be cheap. But, as the old saying goes, you can have any two of the above, not all three (and, occasionally, only one). Why are seats small and cramped? Because consumers have demanded it. No, nobody marched on Washington with signs saying “We want smaller seats!” Rather, their purchasing patterns have indicated their preferences. The fastest growing airline in the country, as well as the one with the highest load factors, is Spirit, the deep-discount carrier that charges for everything you could think of. On the other hand, no “premium” airline, such as some of the attempts at all-business-class seating, has ever succeeded in the US. Not one. Heck, most people don’t even pay for the premium classes on their flights that are already available, and that premium economy class may only cost $10 or $20 more than a regular coach seat.

If the airlines were forced to give everyone a big, comfortable seat, the first thing that they would do is raise prices by 20-30%. There’s a reason that airlines were deregulated. Coach seating is less comfortable, but more people are able to travel than ever, thanks to the growth of discount carriers. It’s also not a safety issue, no matter how many times some expert says that cramped seats will cause Deep Vein Thrombosis. Just how many cases of DVT have their been over the past ten years, anyway?

But the bigger issue is the one that, on its surface, makes the most sense: preventing them from imposing fees that were not reasonable and proportional to the costs incurred. It doesn’t cost an airline $50 to carry your first bag or $100 to carry your second, so why should they be able to charge that? Well, because that’s the way the world works. Movie theaters charge $7 for popcorn that costs them pennies. Ballparks charge $10 for beer. For most people, I can’t imagine that they would want the government determining their profit margins. Whether we like it or not, airlines are publicly traded companies that have as much right as any other to try and maximize their profits. In fact, if you own a mutual fund, there’s a good chance that you are an owner of an airline stock.

It’s painful, but sometimes consumers are best off when they’re treated like  adults.

 


*And then there are those times when you choose your seats ahead of time to sit with your family and the airline changes the type of plane, throwing seat assignments into chaos.

 

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Jul 14

Priority Pass: A Must for International Travelers

While I often write about lounges, it’s usually domestic ones that I address. Today, I’m going to talk about international lounges and how to access them (for free).

What Are Airline Lounges?

It even looks like an oasis. Well, without the water, anyway.

It even looks like an oasis. Well, without the water, anyway.

Airport lounges are areas sponsored by (usually) individual airlines for their best passengers. They are a quiet place to relax, get food or drink and wait in more comfort than you would get in a hard plastic chair. They range from small rooms with a few snacks to massive accommodations with showers, spas and sit-down restaurant-style meal service (The meals and occasionally drinks are free, of course.).

Airlines give lounge access to their best customers, including those with high-level elite status and/or passengers flying business or first class. In the United States, you can also buy access to domestic lounges, although you often won’t have access to the most premium lounges without status or an expensive ticket.

When traveling internationally, lounges take on an even greater importance. Passengers often have layovers that are several hours and there is only so much time that you can spend at duty-free. The lounge gives you (and your electronics) a place to recharge. In addition, food and drink at the lounge means that you don’t have to change money to make purchases in the airport.

What Is Priority Pass?

priority pass

Priority Pass is a private lounge service that sells memberships (You may not have to pay for it; more on this point later). They have over 900 lounges, the vast majority of which are international (although most major US city airports have at least one). If you purchase a membership, there are several options that range from paid access to free entry everywhere. The sweet spot for all but the most frequent international travelers is the $249 membership that gets you ten free entries and lets you purchase additional ones at $27.

Lounge Quality

A view of the Priority Pass lounge at Gatwick. Lots of seating available.

A view of the Priority Pass lounge at Gatwick. Lots of seating available.

The lounges range from “high quality” to “extremely high quality,” but even the worst of the Priority Pass lounges that I have seen are better than the best. They all have food, internet service and plenty of room to stretch out (although they do get busy at times). Service has always been excellent. As a couple of examples, on our recent trip, we visited lounges in both London Gatwick and Dublin.

The bar at the London Gatwick Priority pass lounge

The bar at the London Gatwick Priority pass lounge

The Gatwick lounge was one of the best (non-Asian) that I’ve been in anywhere, regardless of whether it was a Priority Pass or airline lounge. There was meal service delivered to your seat, good internet access, free drinks (except for the highest-end stuff) and overall customer service was excellent. Since they know that people are catching flights, they get food delivered quickly.

They won't win any Michelin stars, but it gets the job done.

They won’t win any Michelin stars, but it gets the job done.

The Dublin lounge was comfortable but not as extravagant as London’s, which makes sense, given London’s status as a major international hub. There were light snacks (including sandwiches and soup at mealtime), drinks and a shower. It was more than enough for the three hours that we spent there.

Crowded, but the couches were comfortable

Crowded, but the couches were comfortable

Get Priority Pass for Free

You may already have Priority Pass and not know it, particularly if you have a high-end credit card. A number of American Express cards, such as Platinum or Hilton Surpass get you a membership. The Platinum card allows you in for free and charges for guests. The Surpass card is membership only; you have to pay for each visit.

The card you really want for this benefit is the Citibank Prestige Card, a card that I’ve discussed several times before. With a $250 annual travel credit, free TSA Pre-Check/Global Entry, fourth night free at almost any hotel and lounge access at both American Airlines lounges and Priority Pass, the benefits each year significantly exceed the cost. What’s nice about this card is that it gets you and either two guests or your immediate family unlimited, complimentary access to Priority Pass clubs. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in an airport for hours at a time. This benefit helps you avoid that issue.

Getting The Card

You can get the Prestige card (or any of these cards) through the Credit Cards for Charity banner below (You may need to scroll a bit when you reach the landing page.). The card comes with a 50,000 point sign-up bonus, although I’m told that might be changing next week.

Since all credit cards commissions go to a children’s charity, you’ll be benefiting not only yourself but a needy child. Here’s that banner:

 

The Bottom Line

Priority Pass is an easy way for frequent travelers to access high-quality lounges, regardless of where they are sitting on the airplane. If you find yourself on the road constantly, particularly internationally, it’s a must-have product.

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Jul 13

A Rental Car Bonus (And Discussion)

A United Deal

hertz

So we’ll get the deal out of the way first. “Up to 40% off” a rental with Hertz, 500 United miles per rental and 1,500 bonus miles when you book a mid-size or larger. Ho-hum. It’s not a bad one if you want United miles; otherwise, there’s not much to get excited about. My go-to for cash back from rental cars is Mr. Rebates*, but deals are a dime a dozen.

So why bother? First, any deal is better than nothing. You might as well save a few bucks on a car rental. Also, they don’t give away a lot of points, but I’m not picky; getting any points is good.

But the biggest issue with rental cars is that we just don’t spend enough time booking them. Unlike airlines, where most of the majors have very similar products and about the same level of service, rental car companies are a different beast. It is usually worth paying a premium to get a car at an upscale company, such as National, versus the run-of-the-mill Stinky Car Rental, or whichever one I used on my last trip. In fact, National is really the one company that I will use, since I’ve grown so tired of dealing with lousy service (And yes, I’m looking at you Hertz.).

The better car rentals do actually offer better service. The cars are nicer, they’re less likely to beat you over the head with extras and the lines are a lot shorter**. Having something go wrong with a rental car, or even being stuck in an hour-long line, is a quick way to ruin a vacation. True, price is a factor, but how much of one should it be? If you’re paying thousands of dollars for your vacation (or even if you aren’t), you don’t want to skimp on the rental car, given how little the difference is between the best and the worst of the lot.

Two Other Suggestions

Many credit cards, particularly those that have an annual fee, offer some sort of rental car program status. The bank probably has an agreement with a partner company to give you elite status in the program for free. Take it. Please. It’s free and, instead of waiting in line, you’ll just glance at the electronic board that tells you where to go to get your car.

Know what insurance your credit card (or personal car insurance) offers and what it doesn’t. You don’t want to double-pay. I’m not a huge fan of the Chase Sapphire, but rental insurance is one area where it is the best card on the market.

 


*That is a referral link. I really appreciate it if you use it. Mr. Rebates is good for all cash-back shopping, not just travel.

**The first thing I always do when I get a rental car is take a walk around the car and look for bumps, bruises, scratches, etc. If there is even a small scratch, I have them note it. The last thing I want to deal with is getting blamed for the last renter’s accident.

 

 

 

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