May 24

Airport Security Is About To Get Suckier

And it doesn’t even involve a laptop ban.

In its infinite wisdom, the TSA is testing even more measures to make your travel experience miserable. Here are the details:

Get Ready to Unpack…Everything

 

Because separating your liquids, gels, electronics, etc. just isn’t enough. The Wall Street Journal today that the TSA has been testing other time wasters security measures and may roll them out after the summer rush (The article is behind a paywall, but the video above, from the article, tells you everything you need to know.). Soon, you’ll be taking pretty much everything out of your bag, ranging from books to food. According to the TSA, this process will make screening more efficient by separating items and making them easier to identify. Sadly, you don’t have to be a genius to know that “efficiency” and “TSA” are rarely used in the same sentence and, if the policy is enforced, lines will get longer than ever. Good luck getting passengers to understand what does and what doesn’t need to come out of bags, primarily because no two airports enforce the policies the same way.* Can’t wait until they have to go through my kids’ snack bag.

The TSA claims that the unpacking will be optional but, if you don’t respect their authority, they’ll reserve the right to search your bag and make you miserable. Don’t worry, that won’t be an issue for long. Soon, they’ll revoke the “it’s an option” policy and simply force everyone to pack their belongings into 19 separate bins.

Also being considered: machines that will read your ID, taking the human out of the process and avoiding the need for a TSO to write a short novel on your boarding pass. One of these days, somebody will have to explain to me how checking everyone’s ID makes us safer. If the TSA has done its job preventing weapons, explosives and shampoo from getting onboard, it shouldn’t matter if Carlos The Jackal is sitting next to me.

The lone bit of good news: Those who paid the $85 extortion fee to get precheck, or get it free from their credit card, will avoid the new inconveniences.

 


*Beginner’s Hint: The TSA will tell you that the inconsistencies among airports is intentional, keeping terrorists on their toes so that they don’t know what to expect from airport to airport. The inconsistency is actually there because TSOs generally don’t know their own rules, so claiming that a particular rule is a local twist is their way of not having to acknowledge that they messed up.

 

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May 23

Are People On Planes Behaving Badly (Or Is It More Fake Media)?

Not a day goes by that we don’t read about an passenger, airline employee or airport cop behaving badly. So here’s the question: Are things really that bad?

The Man in The Red Hat

So this is what I don’t understand: Every news report I’ve seen has spent as much time talking about the passenger’s “Make America Great Again” hat as they do actually talking about the incident. I’m not sure what his political leanings have to do with the incident, although I did get a laugh out of the passengers’ chanting “Lock him up.”. Apparently, our friend decided that he was entitled to an upgrade and, when one wasn’t granted, he attempted to take an entire row to himself. Interesting theory, poor execution. The gentlemen was escorted from the plane in San Francisco.

My Two Dads (Can’t Board)

southwest

Photo Source: Creative Commons

This one isn’t as clear-cut, but a family is claiming discrimination after not being allowed to board a Southwest flight in the family zone. The dads believe that the airline wouldn’t allow them to board with their kids because they were a same-sex couple, while Southwest insists that it was happy to allow the dads and the kids to board, but grandma would have to wait. To me, it sounds more like miscommunication than anything else and I have a feeling that this is the last we’ll hear of this case. And there must be a mother-in-law joke in here somewhere.

So Are People Really Behaving Worse

We’re getting one of these types of stories almost every day, which would lead one to question just how bad things are in the air. Truthfully, though, they’re no better or worse than usual. The airlines haven’t helped themselves but, after the United Airlines incident that ended with a bloodied doctor being dragged off a plane, the stories have simply become excellent clickbait.

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May 22

Earn Delta Miles With Lyft

There will come a time when ride-sharing services are offering so many partner points that it becomes profitable to take one. Heck, they have the money to throw around. Uber lost almost $3 billion last year (but made it all up on volume).

Delta Miles for Lyft

lyft

Your ride awaits – the Fiat 500L                                                   Photo Credit: Creative Commons

Uber has traditionally had more partnerships that Lyft*, but the latter is getting into the game now. Sign up through the Delta and Lyft link and they’ll give you a $20 credit if you are a new rider. Already have a Lyft account? That’s okay, if you link your Delta SkyMiles account, you’ll get one mile for every dollar that you spend. Through August 31, you’ll get three miles per dollar spent on rides to or from the airport. That is, of course, in addition to any rewards you earn from your credit card. So if you get 2% back from your credit card and another one or three miles per dollar spent, your total reward value is somewhere in the range of 3–6%. Not a bad return for a Lyft to the airport.

 


*Beginner’s Hint: Lyft is a ride-sharing service, similar to Uber. The prices tend to be about the same. Lyft’s app isn’t quite as user-friendly as Uber’s, but they place more emphasis on the customer ride experience than other ride-sharing services do.

 

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May 19

Just For Fun: Here Is The Worst Idea That I’ve Ever Seen…

(Source: Flyertalk)

Plane passengers should pay each other for the right to recline their seat, a study has found.

A series of experiments from two top law professors in America found that plane passengers would demand on average $18 (£14) to stop the person in front reclining their seat.

They said the bargaining idea would ensure “no one gets punched in the face”.

People would also demand $41 (£31) from their fellow passengers not to decline their seat, according to the study.

I’m assuming that this concept is a joke, although that is discouraged on airlines these days. According to The Evening Standard, a couple of New York professors decided that the best way to that passengers have the recline preferences that they desire* is to have them pay each other for them.

Are there a lot of passengers punching each other in the face now (Insert United Airlines joke here.)? Because this policy would certainly lead to passenger-on-passenger violence.

I see no scenario under which the free market works at 30,000 feet, although it would result in a lot of amusing YouTube videos. Can you imagine two middle-seat passengers bargaining over whether the guy in front can recline? And if the “default option” is that he is not allowed to recline, won’t the person in back of him demand an exorbitant amount for the right to do so? What about if the person in the middle seat has to go to the lav? Are they allowed to ask the person in front of them to pull their seat up, even if they sold the right? How about if the person in the window seat has to get up, but the person in the middle sold the right to recline? Would there be any relationship between the two? Would an entire row need to bargain with the entire row in front (or in back) of them? The list goes on and on.

On the plus side, airlines would save a fortune on in-flight entertainment. The passengers could just watch each other.

 


*Beginner’s Hint: As far as I know, every airline gives the space behind your seat to the recliner (although there are airlines whose seats don’t recline at all). In other words, if I am sitting in front of you and feel like reclining, it is my right to do so. To the best of my knowledge, there is no official FAA seatback rule imposed by government fiat. Yet.

 

 

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May 18

Starwood Launches Take Three Promo (And It’s Good)

There’s a rule with promotion descriptions: the shorter the description, the better, and this one will be short. I’ve been disappointed in some of Starwood’s previous promotions, but the Take Three bonus* looks like a pretty good one. Here are the details:

Take Three — Up to Triple Base Points

take three

The St. Regis Maldives. I don’t care if that picture was staged. I need to stay there.

On a standalone basis, Starwood’s SPG points are the most valuable (although you earn fewer per dollar spent than you do at some other hotel companies). Thus, an opportunity to double or triple them is valuable. The deal is simple:

  • Double points on all nights May 27 – September 4, except…
  • Triple points on weekend nights during that period.

That’s it. Unlike other companies, which require a certain number of stays before you begin to earn bonus points, this promotion starts on Day 1. There is a list of participating properties, which means that some hotels are not participating, but I’m having a difficult time finding many that aren’t eligible.

Dear Starwood: This is the type of promotion that will get me to stay at more of your properties. I hope that there are more of them in the future.

 


Beginner’s Hint: Hotels force you to register for promotions to make you think about your future stay behavior. They don’t want to give you points for stays that you would have made, anyway. 

 

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May 17

American Airlines Changes Upgrade Prioritization (Again)

One of the better moments in travel is when you get that email (or the hand-off from a gate agent) that you’ve been upgraded. Each airline has its own method for determining who gets upgraded when, and those criteria change every few years, which is too bad, because it usually takes me that long to figure out the current system.

American Airlines Upgrade Changes

 

american airlines

The new schedule. Subject to change.

American Airlines has once again adjusted its upgrade criteria, giving me something new to memorize. The big changes revolve around dollars. Elite status will remain the main differentiator, followed by the type of upgrade.* Those will take precedent over the booking code and when you make the request.

Here’s what’s interesting: The top-two criteria in the tie-breaker scheme (Remember, elite status is still the most important factor.) now involve money, as opposed to who got in line first. The “type of upgrade” gives priority tto those using miles or systemwide upgrade certificates. Only after those customers are satisfied to the freebies come. The next most important factor is Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD), which can be thought of as how much money you spent on tickets in the past 12 months.

The Bottom Line: More than ever, airlines are focusing on your dollar value as a customer, rather than how many miles you flew. While that is a boon for business travelers or high-spenders, leisure travelers will find it increasingly difficult to sit up front.

 


*Beginner’s Hint: Even the most infrequent flyers can get upgraded, but you will usually have to use some sort of currency, although not necessarily the dollar. You can often use miles, sometimes with a copay, to move up a cabin. On American, the best way to get a domestic upgrade is to spend 15,000 miles and $75. That doesn’t make a lot of sense if you are flying from Chicago to Minneapolis, but it does make that Philadelphia to San Francisco flight a lot more comfortable. Note that the airline needs to have capacity open in the upgrade fare bucket, something that has become more difficult on American (That link goes into some depth on fare buckets and may not be entirely “beginner-friendly.”).

 

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May 16

Win One Million Hilton Honors Points From E-Rewards

For those of you who do E-Rewards, look out for a contest for a million Hilton Honors points.

Win A Million

e-rewards, hilton honors

It’s simple enough: Log in and complete two E-Rewards surveys by Friday night and you will be entered to win a million Hilton Honors points. They’ll email the winner within a week.

And if you’re not participating in E-Rewards, now’s the time to join. E-Rewards is a survey site that offers you proprietary currency for filling out surveys. The points can be traded in for anything from gift cards to miles to hotel points. They’re generally easy to complete and don’t take too long.

 


Beginner’s Hint: Online surveys don’t sound exciting, but they’re actually quite lucrative. Take a look at this post and learn a bit more about how to make a few miles the easy way.

 

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May 15

Cookies, Cruises and Curses

Last week was a somewhat frustrating week when it came to travel news, so here are a few fun and interesting items that I found over the weekend.

Cookies

A necessity for any flight

And then there were Biscoffs. When I first stumbled across the cookies in the late 90s, it was love at first bite. But I could never have told you back then just how popular the little treats would become. Of course, this was before you could buy anything on the internet, and the cookies weren’t for sale at local stores, so I had to make a pilgrimage up Green Street in San Francisco to find their headquarters. Turns out that they didn’t have a store, just an office building. It soon became clear that I wasn’t the first person to wander into their building in search of cookies, and they had a closet-full for sale. Here’s a hint: Even if you don’t like coffee, it serves as an excellent dip for Biscoffs. Read the above article to learn a bit more about the cookie cult.

Cruises: The World

Need a cozy little retirement home? How about one that never stops moving? If so, join the millionaires and billionaires on The World, who own residences on the ship. It’s a democratic community: They vote on everything, even Christmas decorations. It’s sort of living in a lifestyle center while being served by Gopher on the Lido deck. But you’ll have to pay up to enjoy it. Residents must have a minimum net worth of $10 million.

Curses

Seriously? Anybody who has ever watched The Brady Bunch knows that you never, ever take anything you find on a Hawaiian volcano.

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May 12

Umm, About That Laptop Ban From Europe…

Last month, somebody broke into my blogging account and wrote that the United States would never expand the laptop ban to Europe. Sad!

All Kidding Aside…

laptop ban

You may not be able to do that on the plane anymore                  Photo Credit: Creative Commons

Discussion of banning laptops on flights from Europe into the United States (which European countries would almost certain implement on flights to the US) has accelerated over the past few days, with the possibility that something will come into as early as effect this weekend. And truthfully, I still think a full-on laptop ban is unlikely. The consequences are simply too catastrophic to anything with ties to the travel industry. Having said that, it looks like something is coming, and airport security is about to get more burdensome.

What Are The Alternatives to a Laptop Ban from Europe?

In the link in the first paragraph, I discussed why I think a laptop ban in airplane cabins is unlikely and would seriously harm the economy. So now, let’s look at the potential regulations that could go into effect, regardless of their impact. The most benign alternative, at least in terms of passenger impact, would be no changes to the current regulations. We seem to be beyond the point where that’s a possibility; too much has been made of the potential threat to say, “Oops, my bad.” So what else could happen?

  • Every Device Gets Checked: I think that this is the most likely scenario. You’ll have to turn on your laptop/iPad and let somebody check it to verify that it is, in fact, a laptop. The impact would be minor, outside of the annoyance factor and the longer lines. Oh, and the one-way ticket to Gitmo (without your laptop) if your computer fails to boot up when you turn it on.
  • Laptop Bad, iPad Good: Here’s where the trouble starts. The next most likely scenario is that laptops are banned from the cabin but iPads are allowed. You’ll still lose business travelers, though, as well as leisure passengers who care about their electronics. You’ll recover, though, those passengers who don’t want to be stuck with their kids and nothing to do for eight hours. Maybe the airlines will start handing out decks of cards again?
  • Everything Banned, Airlines Buy A Bunch Of iPads for Customers: Again, it’s a plus for the entertainment factor. Everything else is a negative.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding The Laptop Ban

Laptop ban

Photo Credit: Creative Commons

Okay, there aren’t really any FAQs at this point, but here are a couple of thoughts that occurred to me:

  • Why would business travelers be so upset? Big deal, you can’t work for a few hours. Get some sleep: True, most business travelers can do what they need to do ahead of time. But not all. Some have last minute presentations. Some need to stay connected to email. Some are just lazy. But there’s another reason: Most large corporations won’t let employees check laptops in baggage. The concerns regarding theft or damage are simply too great.
  • What about “loaner laptops?”: That’s an idea. You can carry your laptop in the cabin but can’t turn it on. Instead, you get a loaner laptop at the airport and use a flash drive. Again, though, we run into security issues. Without being able to scan the computers for spyware or viruses, most employers won’t allow their employees to do work on an untested laptop.
  • Why do you care so much about business travelers? Because that’s where all the money is made. The seats up front are the entire source of profit for airlines.
  • What about traveling to the US through Canada or Mexico? I believe that if the US implemented this policy, it would ask Canada and Mexico to do the same. Otherwise, any passenger that had originated abroad and connected there would likely be checked. But, as far as I’m concerned, it’s all a moot point. Presumably, the terrorists’ intent is to destroy an aircraft, not sneak a laptop bomb in to the US.
  • Why does this policy only apply to airlines? What about Amtrak? Or large conference centers? Or carrying a laptop in (insert city name)? Wouldn’t those targets be easier and cause potentially more damage? Not a clue. Security theater is my guess. It’s the same reason that speed limits aren’t set at 25 MPH everywhere. It would minimize the risk of dying in an auto accident, but it would be such an imposition on people’s lifestyles that it would be impossible to maintain.
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May 11

Citi Double Cash Card: The Best Credit Card for Most People

A few days ago, I was asked for a credit card recommendation by a friend. I went into my diatribe about the various cards, benefits, etc. She listened patiently for a minute and then said, “I just want a card to use for everything. I don’t have the time to sort through my wallet and figure out things like which card gives me the best bonus at a supermarket on the Tuesday following a state holiday.” Or something to that effect. Fair enough. That’s a conversation that takes about two seconds.

Citi Double Cash: 2% on Everything

citibank double cash

No, not that kind of 2%.                                                                 Photo Credit: Creative Commons

There’s an easy solution to my friend’s question. If you want a no-muss, no-fuss credit card, get the Citi Double Cash Card. You’ll get 2% back on every purchase (a percent when you buy and a percent when you pay), regardless of what you are paying for. The card has no sign-up bonus, but it also has no annual fee. Problem solved.

There are some disadvantages to the card. As I mentioned above, this is the tl;dr version of credit cards, appropriate for most of the population. For example, you won’t get the premium bonuses, such as the 6% back at supermarkets that the Amex Blue Cash Preferred would give you, or any extra points for categories such as travel or dining. There are also fewer “soft” perks with the card, i.e., experience benefits, such as a high-end concierge service.

One other problem with this card: It carries a 3% foreign exchange fee if you use it abroad. Thus, I would pair it with a Discover card or no-annual fee Capital One product. That way, you’re covered if you’re traveling.

The Bottom Line

If you don’t feel like holding a packed wallet or always wondering which card to use where, get the Citi Double Cash. It will get you an excellent rebate on every purchase.

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