ExpertFlyer Hot Topics – Where the Rubber Meets the Runway
In a recent report by CNN.com, cities like Portland, Minneapolis-St.Paul and Miami and offering cinema experiences to bored, delayed or otherwise curious airport dwellers. In the case of Portland and Minneapolis, the cities are using mainly short films created by local artists to share the cities unique culture and artistic fingerprint.
While Asia has long pioneered the airport movie theater – even screening top box office hits for free – most aviation experts agree that it’s unlikely the US will see pervasive adoption of in-airport cinemas across the country. In an interview with the LA Times, Bob Hazel, an aviation partner at Oliver Wyman, a management consulting firm, says the economics of providing a movie theater in a U.S. airport are unfavorable. “Airport construction is just about the most expensive form of construction there is,” he said.
The good news is, with airports beefing up their power outlets, charging stations and wi-fi, as well as making DVD rentals available, travelers craving some video entertainment will be able to get their fix on their mobile devices pretty easily — who needs the big screen, right?
ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway
Joe Cortez, travel expert and contributing writer for FlyerTalk, the Frugal Travel Guy, About.com and others, took ExpertFlyer for a deep dive on hot topics and predictions that are generating buzz in the airline industry and among consumers.
It’s still early in the year and travel experts are still making predictions on where the airline industry is heading in 2016. One trend we’re seeing is airlines competing for customers in the front of the plane – business class, first and premium economy. What’s your take and will economy flyers have any perks to look forward to?
There is good news and bad news here. The truth is that airlines are focusing more attention on the front of the cabin – but even that is changing. Legacy carriers are moving from a three-cabin aircraft to a combined business first, and offering more rewards to those who are flying in the combined Business-First class and premium cabin.
The bad news is that economy travelers will see more divide in their experience. That is, those in economy class will get exactly what they pay for. You may recall in 2014 when Delta Air Lines changed their economy pricing model to run across five tiers, with the lowest tier being just the seat and nothing more. Those in economy class can expect to see more of that, along with encouragement to upgrade to premium economy for more perks.
The good news here is that for what the economy experience lacks, airlines are making up for in customer service and customer experience. For example, United Airlines is resuming free snacks and free drinks on certain flights. Airlines realize that the only way to retain customers is to improve the customer experience – even in the economy section.
Frequent flyer rewards programs from Delta and United have seen significant overhauls, now basing award points on dollars spent vs. miles flown. Last fall, AA announced that it too would be following suit much to the dismay of many AAdvantage fans. This seems another striking blow to consumers. Is there a work around for leisure travelers – can they still find ways to accrue miles without breaking the bank?
There are two different points to differentiate here: elite qualifying miles and award miles. Prior to the American Airlines changes, a mile flown was an award mile earned. With the announced changes, an award mile flown is no longer earned. Instead, award miles are earned based on the base price, as well as certain other purchases. Therefore, flying is no longer an efficient way to earn miles alone.
However, miles flown are still miles earned when it comes to Elite Qualifying Miles. Those who are looking for airline status can still accrue elite qualifying miles for the distance flown on their flight. Therefore, there is still some value to be had for flying with one airline across country – just not towards discounted flights.
Which credit cards are the best for building points? Any pros/cons?
It all depends on your traveling style. For those flyers who know they will be loyal to one airline, it may make sense to do all your spending on an airline branded credit card that offers miles for everyday spending. If you are focusing all your attention on one airline, then it may even make sense to consider an upgraded credit card. For example: while the Chase United Explorer card offers miles for spending, the Chase United Club card offers bonus points for spending with the airline, as well as membership to the United Club lounge.
Those travelers who are not married to one airline may want to consider a card that offers cash back or flexible points instead, such as those offered by American Express, Chase, and Citi. Cards with flexible points offer travelers the opportunity to book flights direct through their portals, or transfer their points to airlines or hotel partners. Through these opportunities, travelers can make the most of their regular credit card spending.
Now that Expedia and Priceline have a monopoly on airline bookings, are there any creative alternatives worth exploring?
There are still some very good opportunities to book flights outside of the Expedia-Priceline monopoly. Many people still don’t necessarily know that Google purchased ITA Software years ago, and uses their software to power Google Flights. I always recommend Google Flights as a great tool that offers a lot of flexibility for travelers to determine when and how they want to travel. For those advanced users who know they will be traveling a lot, it may be worthwhile to learn how to use ITA Matrix, for complete flexibility.
While travelers cannot book through ITA Matrix, they can build ideal itineraries through the matrix and then go back to a booking engine to complete their itinerary. Finally, if all else fails – it does not hurt to consider working with a travel agent. After building an itinerary, travelers can take their information and hand it over to a travel agent, who can then build out that flight in turn.
Up and coming budget airlines, like Norwegian, WOW and Viva Columbia seem to be offering to-good-to-be-true prices to Europe, South America, among other desirable destinations. Are there any catches or should we be jumping on these deals?
As with many things in life, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that yes – these fares are believable. Travelers can fly on the advertised fare. However, that’s where the good news ends. While not “hidden,” fees can increase the price of those flights very quickly. Want to carry on more than one bag, or select a seat prior to flying? There are fees for that – and the fees can add up. If you are a traveler that can get away with flying around the world with the clothes on your back and one small personal item? Then you can get away for free. Otherwise, consider budgeting more than the printed price if you plan on flying an international low-cost carrier.
This month’s One-on-One features an in-depth discussion about Air Travel trends with ExpertFlyer co-founder and president, Chris Lopinto. Shifting competition, oil and airline ticket prices, changing loyalty programs and the pitfalls of new basic fares are covered, as well as insight on business traveler behavior and plans in 2016 based on a recent poll conducted by ExpertFlyer and View from the Wing (VFW).
ExpertFlyer recently teamed up with View from the Wing to take an end of year pulse on business travel. From your perspective, what were the big surprises?
In general, we were really excited about the survey. With View from the Wing’s help, we polled 1,500 of our most loyal top-tier business travelers, as well as readers from VFW. We found some really interesting trends. One of which was the amount of people that actually take alternative transportation, such as Ride Share services, like Uber and Lyft. We’re finding that it’s more accepted nowadays by corporate travel agencies and corporate travel departments. It’s interesting to see that adoption on the business side has happened as fast as it has.
Conversely, businesses and corporate travel departments remain averse to alternative lodging, like Airbnb. I think that the reason is because when it comes to lodging, there’s a concept called duty of care, in which the employer is responsible for the well-being of the business traveler, and as such, they feel more comfortable having them lodge at a traditional hotel that they have more connectivity to or more experience with, as opposed to a rental on an Airbnb-type site.
That is interesting. One might conclude that it probably bodes well for traditional hotels. At least they are maintaining a strong market opportunity on the corporate side, despite losses to Airbnb on the consumer side.
Absolutely. It’s also a wake-up call to hotels that it’s time for them to innovate or they will hurt from lack of business. Eventually Airbnb and their competition will realize that business travel is the way of the future. They will participate in the GDSs and they will get their services up to the level that corporate travel managers expect from regular, traditional hotel chains. It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of time. The traditional hotel chains need to do something to compete, whether it’s a sub-brand or a new way of treating the booking or what have you. Over the next 5 years or so, we’re going to see a change.
Travel media, including USA Today, SKIFT and others, homed in on some key points of the survey data, particularly American Airlines overwhelming popularity among business travelers. What do you think most contributed to AA’s high ranking among this audience?
We’ve been running ExpertFlyer now for 11 years, and in that time, we have definitely seen that although travelers don’t necessarily always love their frequent flyer programs, American’s Advantage program was always the least disliked. We’ve seen that Advantage has always looked at their frequent flyers almost as partners, not a liability to be managed as some other airlines might. If you go onto the frequent flyer boards, like Mile Point, FlyerTalk or Traveling Better, you’ll always see that people will have a visceral reaction to other frequent flyer programs, but not so much to Advantage. I think the goodwill that Advantage has built over the last 25 or more years has led to that. Now, the flip side of that is, as I’ve said, it’s their game to lose. All they have to do is not screw up and they win by default, compared to what some of their competition might be doing.
AA recently announced changes that will happen later in the 2016 program year; they’re not as bad as people may have predicted, not as good as some might have hoped, somewhere in the middle, maybe, in terms of what the impact and changes will be. We’ll see what happens. As a point of comparison, I once spoke a few years ago to someone in the frequent flyer department of one of their competitors who point-blank said to me that they prefer that their elites not be able to use their elite benefits. When compared to something like that, I can understand why the elites of Advantage would be loyal to Advantage.
Assuming AA’s loyalty program was a major factor for business travelers choosing the airline, do you see competition shifting in 2016 when AA moves to a dollars spent vs. miles flown rewards model?
Not necessarily. In psychology, they say that the benefit of changing has to outweigh the cost of changing something. For someone who’s traditionally loyal to American Airlines to switch to, say, United or Delta, the benefit of doing so would have to greatly outweigh the cost of doing so. If you live in a hub city of American, say Dallas or Chicago or even New York, you’d be hard-pressed to change to begin with, especially considering, in the case of New York, that United pulled out of JFK entirely.
I think Advantage frequent flyers had it very good for a very long time, and the changes, although not necessarily desirable, aren’t the worst in the world. Again, it’s American’s game to lose. If they’re smart about it, if they make incremental changes that don’t show outright disrespect for their existing elite loyal customers, then they should be okay.
With oil prices at historic lows, one might conclude that ticket prices will decrease and hence the expectation from survey participants that they will be traveling more. What else do you see as a factor for greater business travel in 2016?
Just because the oil prices go down and airline profits go up, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to pass it along to the consumer. Mainly because, if you look at the entire history of the airline industry, it really hasn’t made much money, if at all. With every good year that the airline industry has had, there’s been a bad year. Think about all the bankruptcies of airlines that exist and all the bankruptcies of airlines that don’t exist anymore. It’s a feast or famine industry, especially in the last 10-15 years or so. If I was an airline executive, I would hoard as much cash as possible in expectation that oil prices are going to shoot through the roof again.
That being said, the reason why prices have gone down a little bit is because the airlines are now adding more capacity because they’re making a higher profit and oil prices are low. If you add capacity, it holds ticket prices so they don’t go up too high or stay flat. It depends on the markets. In terms of travel trends for 2016, as long as the US economy holds, travel, especially business travel, should hold as well and increase through 2016.
At the recent New York Times Travel Show, Pauline Frommer warned about new basic fares from a number of airlines in 2016, indicating that inflexibility and draconian restrictions, such as not being able to pick your seat or change your flight will make these deals, deal-breakers. Does ExpertFlyer offer a way around these impediments?
Well, this new concept of bargain basement fares, which offers just a physical seat on the plane, is geared towards the most price-conscious of consumer and it’s interesting how the airlines market lack of choice as a feature. For some travelers, that’s fine. That’s what they want. It works for them, they know exactly what they’re going to take and they just want the cheapest way to get in the seat and that’s fine.
Ultimately, if the airlines don’t position it properly or try to use it as a way to lure people in, saying “This is the cheapest fare. Oh, but by the way…” then there’s going to be backlash. They have to be careful to walk that line between offering this really bargain basement fare for those who may want it, but not pretending that that’s a normal fare when doing price comparison. The airlines really don’t like their product to be commoditized. In other words, they don’t want everyone to think it’s the same even though they all equally get you from point A to point B safely. In that respect, it is a commodity. Where they can differentiate is with what they call the “hard part.” The seat, the Internet, the on-board experience. How nice it is. Do they give you a snack? Do they give you a soda? Things like that.
That’s where this unbundling comes in where everything that used to be included, like snacks, blankets, a soda, being able to get the seat that you want at the time you’re booking is now separate because they’re making too much money with this unbundling now. With all that being said, that’s why a service like ExpertFlyer is very useful because it gives that transparency that some airlines want to take away from their customers. We show all the published fares, we show what their rules are, what their restrictions are, and what their prices are, very simply, in an unbiased manner. In this way, you are empowered to know what the story is before you go to the airline website and book a ticket. We’re not trying to take away the booking experience; we don’t want to do that. We don’t want to be a travel agent. We feel that, especially nowadays, having a source of unbiased information, especially with fares and seats, is so important to consumers.
In the event that there are one or two people out there that really don’t understand how ExpertFlyer works, walk through an example, a simple example, of how one would use ExpertFlyer.
One of our most popular services is called Seat Alerts, where basically, we’ll let you know when a more desirable seat becomes available versus the one that you may already have. So let’s say you’re stuck in the middle seat for whatever reason. We can keep an eye on the seat map for your flight and let you know when an aisle seat or a window seat becomes available. Say you’re with a traveling companion and you couldn’t get two seats together. We’ll let you know when two seats together become available. We can do that for you very easily, because you don’t have the time to do it yourself.
The other popular feature that we have is Award and Upgrade Searching and Alerting. As part of our pro service, we allow you to very easily search for award and upgrade inventory from 70 or so different airlines. It’s not meant to replace the pricing on airline websites. We don’t want to replace the fact that you have to go to an airline website to book your award ticket or process your upgrade. The idea is that we can quickly show you, “Okay, this flight has award inventory and this one doesn’t, and there’s three left on this flight, or one on this flight,” but more importantly, we have alerting. Such that, let’s say, as is common nowadays, there are no awards available, or there are no upgrades available. You can tell ExpertFlyer, using our Flight Alerts feature, to keep an eye on a particular flight or flights, and let you know when an award opens up, or an upgrade opens up.
Basically, it’s services and data in a more transparent way that you won’t find on any other website. It’s meant to go beyond just what the cheap ticket is made to be. It’s “how do I get there better?” How do I plan it better using transparency of data that traditionally only travel agents have been able to have access to in a way that empowers me, the frequent flyer?
Are Seat Alerts free?
Yes. We have a free version which allows you to have one active seat alert at a time, using the any seat, any window, or any aisle options. You can use our more advanced options or have multiple seat alerts active at one time for 99 cents per alert, which is nothing compared to the value that you get for it. If you want more features and more alerts, we have our Basic and Premium services. If you just wanted the simple case of getting out of the middle seat on your next flight, sign up for our free service and create a simple Seat Alert for free. The app is available for iOS and Android devices.
Any final comments on what to expect from air travel in 2016?
I think we’re going to see more airlines competing for the front of the cabin passengers. They put a lot of effort into making their business, first, and now business first, two separate things, and now premium economy products better. As a matter of fact, we heard an announcement from American Airlines not too long ago that they’re going to be introducing a separate premium economy cabin on some of their international flights, which is a relative first. Usually, it’s more of a section within economy. This is going to be interesting to watch. Hopefully, some of that trickles down to the back of the bus, where airlines realize that their economy passengers should be valued too and again, like I said before, compete on the hard product, not just make people feel like they’re in a cattle car on the train.
There used to be six major US airlines not too long ago. Now we’re down to four. There’s less competition. They’re making money; they’re making a profit even if they don’t try because the cost of oil is low. Like everything, it goes up and down. The party is not going to last forever. Those airlines that laid the groundwork now to treat their customers as partners and not as burdens, will reap benefits when things get tougher again and oil prices go up in the future. To the flying customers, I say, vote with your wallet. Send the message to the airlines that you want to be treated well no matter where you sit on the plane, and understand that the cheapest ticket doesn’t necessarily offer the most value. Don’t be afraid to vote with your wallet and to make your voices heard with the airlines.
ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway
Jet Set, a new talk show strictly focused on consumer travel, will premier on March 5, 2016, hosted by Jessica Reyes, Gailen David and Bobby Laurie. In a One-on-One interview, Jet Set co-host and “Savvy Stew,” Bobby Laurie, chews the fat with ExpertFlyer about his transition from flight attendant to talk show host and how Jet Set offers something unique for travel addicts.
As airlines continue to struggle with effective ways to remain profitable, their biggest challenge remains how to maintain customer satisfaction from millions of passengers, including the business traveler who is the backbone of the airline industry. In a recent survey conducted among 1,500 business travelers, ExpertFlyer.com and View from the Wing blog asked customers and readers to offer their thoughts about the state of the industry in 2015 and their travel plans for the New Year. Based on the survey’s results and anticipated travel plans for 2016, travelers in general could see a decrease in the number of available seats, which doesn’t signal relief from higher airfares.
(Click infographic to enlarge)
Among the key survey highlights
43% said they traveled at least 15 times in 2015 and 83% said they would travel as much or more in 2016
79% percent earned more than 100K frequent flyer miles over the past 12 months; 60% said they earned the majority of points by flying, while 39% earned more miles through credit card purchases. 15% of survey participants admitted to padding their expense reports at least once
15% said they participated in one or more activities they would not otherwise do at home, including: participated in an extramarital affair, experimented with recreational drugs, and even pretended to be someone else
25% said they now use ride share services, such as Uber or Lyft, rather than a traditional taxi (17%)
40% said their companies did not allow stays at non-traditional living accommodations, such as Airbnb
“Our survey among ExpertFlyer customers and View from the Wing readers really focused in on the true business traveler who is frequently on the road and has a firm opinion about the travel industry and its impact on them,” explains Chris Lopinto, president and co-founder of ExpertFlyer.com. “The survey offers some insight into the mindset of the business traveler, what they thought about their experiences in 2015 and more importantly, their thoughts for the year ahead.”
According to View from the Wing author Gary Leff, “Paying attention to the habits and trends among the people who travel the most gives us insight into what to expect industry-wide, and more importantly, we can follow their lead and make our own travel better too.”
Full Business Travel Survey results are available here. To read our Consumer Travel Survey, click here.
by expertflyer on December 21, 2015 inAirlines, One-on-OnewithComments Off on Air Travel in the Era of Terrorism — Still the Safest form of TransportationTweet
You’re still more likely to get struck by lightning a half dozen times than you are dying in a plane crash, but travelers are more anxious than ever – and it’s not because they believe the plane is unsafe, but rather some of its passengers. Terrorism, hijacking, kidnapping and all sorts of frightening and unspeakable acts have flooded our consciousness and fuel our fight or flight reflexes.
So, what do we do if air travel is not an option, but a requirement for business or a family emergency? We posed this and other issues of concern to respected aviation and security specialists, including Stephen Lloyd, former Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Air Traffic Organization (ATO) Director of Safety, Patrick Smith, an airline pilot, host of askthepilot.com and author of COCKPIT CONFIDENTIAL, and Phil Derner, President and Founder of NYC Aviation, a news resource for aviation enthusiasts.
According to Stephen Lloyd, more than 850 million passengers traveled on more than 9 million flights on both domestic and international airlines in the U.S. alone last year. More than 3 billion passengers traveled globally. Since 9/11,the U.S. and many other countries have dramatically increased aviation security measures to prevent or deter future attacks. Improved intelligence and physical security both inflight and on the ground have been very effective and will continue to improve. Statistically, air travel remains the safest mode of transportation on the planet.
Are home-grown radicals a new reason to fear air travel?
When we consider the growing trend in home-grown radicalization, a new set of variables – and threats – come into play. Smith says, at a certain point, there is only so much you can do. “That’s not being defeatist; it’s acknowledging the reality that commercial aviation will always be a high-profile target, and that a resourceful enough criminal will always find a way to skirt whatever safeguards we have in place. It’s also very important to recognize that the real nuts and bolts of keeping terrorists away from planes isn’t really the job of TSA screeners on the concourse. It’s the combined efforts of law enforcement, FBI, CIA, Interpol, and TSA too, working together behind the scenes, inspecting checked luggage and cargo, reviewing passenger data, and foiling plotters BEFORE they reach the airport.”
Phil Derner asserts, there are no current threats from crewmembers at this time, nor is there reason to believe that airline employees are more prone to radicalism versus any other industry. “The consensus, as supported by recent events, is that there is a larger terror threat in busy areas on the ground in cities due to their easy access and crowds. A person with ill-intent would be less likely to go through the obstacles of airport security and other layers of safety.”
When you don’t want to fly, but have to …
Folks who do not necessarily want to travel, but must for business or family obligations should not panic unnecessarily over terrorism. “When it comes to safety threats that are on an aircraft, terrorism is pretty low on the list in terms of likelihood,” says Derner. “For passengers, maintaining good situational awareness is something that should be exercised at all times, whether they are flying or not. While we can’t witch hunt, we need to ditch the “it can’t happen ‘here’ or ‘to me'” mentality and must speak up when something doesn’t feel right. Better safe than sorry.”
As for clothing, Derner advises that people should wear clothing that prepares them for the “most likely of the unlikely,” which would be a standard aircraft evacuation. Most of this pertains to footwear that allows one to walk or run in case they need to go down a slide and walk or run from the aircraft through rain, snow, mud, water or rocky terrain. High heels may not be a girl’s best friend in this instance. Otherwise, comfortable clothing like khakis or jeans can help protect from bumps and scrapes as opposed to wearing something that leaves the skin exposed.
Lockdown or fight back
When confronted with violent behavior or a terror threat, it’s difficult to foresee how one might react or should react. Is it better to remain quiet and calm or to retaliate and fight your captors? “In my opinion, it’s most important to remain as calm as possible and try to best understand the threat, says Lloyd. “Fighting back against hostage takers may have grave consequences for yourself and others. Unless you are trained for combat or law enforcement, you better know what you are doing before you act. However, keep in mind, there is always the chance that you may become a help to others who have taken action.”
“I am a firm believer in, if you see something, say something,” says Lloyd. “I don’t know of a situation when I wouldn’t speak up. This is not the time to worry that you might offend or bother someone. Your life and the lives of others depend on all of us as travelers reporting suspicious objects, packages or bags without an owner and suspicious activity by any person.”
Thoughts on the TSA from the cockpit
Smith agrees that the TSA does a lot of good things, but it tends to be the stuff that we don’t see, the behind-the-scenes work. The parts that we do see — the lines at the x-ray machines and body scanners — include a lot of tedium and, quite frankly, waste: wasted time and wasted resources.
“Confiscating toothpaste and hobby tools and tiny toy guns does nothing to make us safer, while using up large amounts of time and money that could be redeployed elsewhere. And one of the most frustrating ironies of all is that pretty much none of the carry-on restrictions put in place after 9/11 would have prevented those attacks in the first place. The success of the September 11th attacks had nothing to do with weapons or screening protocols. The hijackers could have used ANY form of hand-made weapon. What the men exploited wasn’t a weakness in security, but a weakness in our mindset, and our understanding of a hijacking, based on decades of precedent. The only weapon that really mattered was the simplest, lowest-tech weapon of all: the element of surprise. The 9/11 plot unfolded because of failures at the FBI and CIA levels. The hijackers were known to these agencies prior to the attacks.”
Smith suggests moving past our self-defeating fixation with the September 11th scheme and stop fussing over harmless pointy objects. “The focus should be on explosives. Or, perhaps more importantly, on people who might use explosives.”
Feeling the fear – Moving through it
Derner recommends taking a deep breath and grounding oneself in the reality that air travel is still the safest it’s ever been and terrorism is not as likely even on the high terror end of the spectrum in Western nations. “A drone is more likely (though unlikely overall) to create a safety threat to an airliner than a terrorist is.”
Prepare yourself before a trip by reading up on the destination and safety tips. “A great place to start is the U.S. State Department Website, travel.state.gov, says Lloyd. “There you’ll find information for travel abroad, including safety tips and information about your destination. They also host the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, (STEP) where you can automatically receive the most current information compiled about the country where you will be traveling or living. You will also receive updates, including travel warnings and alerts.
People should consult the State Department to look for warnings of places that they are traveling to, and undergo safety practices that should be exercised even when not traveling. Having a plan that can deal with things that might go wrong is 90% of survival. When a tragic event takes place and people say “I never thought it would happen HERE,” they are saying that because they had no plan and were unprepared.”
by expertflyer on December 9, 2015 inAirlines, Did you know?withComments Off on “Did you know…Planes of the Future May Fly from NYC to Tokyo in 30 mins?Tweet
Imagine getting lost in space before you jet to your destination at Mach 4+ or scooting from NYC to Tokyo for a lunch meeting — And why not? It will only take about 30 minutes. At least that’s what one engineer promises in a recent post from USA Today “Road Warrior Voices.”
Photo credit: easyJet
While you’re zooming around the globe in Jetson style, your crew needs to be fashioned accordingly. In a Factor report, easyJet, a leading European low cost carrier, is already planning a trip down the fashion runway. Working with wearable technology trendsetters, CuteCircuit, the airline is planning crew uniforms equipped with lighting and sensors, which promise to improve comfort, safety and communications among staff and between crew and passengers.
by expertflyer on December 1, 2015 inHot Topics, Travel TechwithComments Off on ExpertFlyer’s 2015 Holiday Gift Guide for Frequent FlyersTweet
Still stymied by what to put under the tree for your favorite road warrior? Don’t stress. We’ve done some curating to find the best in practical and cutting edge travel gifts for the business traveler and frequent flyer in your life.
007 Gadget Lovers
Tech nerds and early adopters have been dreaming about the prospect of a wristwatch-communications device since the early days of Dick Tracy. Even Tracy himself would be amazed at how far we’ve come! Not sure if you should go with an iOS or Droid platform? Get started with your research here and check out PC Magazine’s review of the best smartwatches to fit your style, technical specs and price point.
Bluesmart App-Enabled Carry-On Luggage
This smart luggage makes other cases look a bit dim. It enables travelers to control and track their suitcase from any smartphone. Includes app-enabled locking, built-in battery charger, location tracking, a built-in scale (for weighing itself, of course), and proximity alerts. It even collects and reports trip data – all for under $400 at Brookstone.com.
Slim Voice Recorder Pen with Voice Activation
You just never know when recording a conversation may come in handy. The Slim Voice Recorder Pen from Clearlight Security passes itself off as a regular black ink pen, but also features an inconspicuous voice recorder. The pen recorder comes in very handy at trade shows and meetings, when writing down lots of information can be inconvenient and distracting. Just whip out your pen recorder to keep detailed records of business discussions or make simple notes for yourself, without having to get out a notebook or computer. Price: $125
Presents with Purpose
Think Morpheus in the Matrix. ThinOPTICS are revolutionary reading glasses that fit on your nose without any stems and slide right into your smartphone case. The ThinOPTICS team tested over 200 prototypes on over 800 users to create innovative glasses perfect for everything from reading text messages and emails to perusing the newspaper. The glasses, which are made with optical-grade polycarbonate and bullet-proof glass, come in thin cases that fit both Apple and Samsung phones as well as a Universal Pod that can fit in any pocket or suitcase. Price: $24.95-$38.95
Many business travelers want to maintain their exercise regimen while on the road, but it can be challenging. A Fitbit tracker is a great reminder for frequent travelers to stay active and offers an easy way to log all of the exploring they’re doing. The new Fitbit Surge comes with a built-in GPS—allowing users to run and explore their destination without getting lost. Price: $249.95
Scrubba Wash Pack
What’s a Scrubba Wash Pack, you ask? According to its maker, Calibre8, it’s the lightest and most compact ‘washing machine’ in the world. Ideal for all travelers and campers who want to pack lighter and cleaner, wash clothes anywhere, and save money, the Scrubba is an ultra-functional daypack, which includes a flexible internal washboard with hundreds of ‘nobules’ that give you a machine quality wash in a matter of minutes – just add soap and water. Price: $99
For Fun & Comfort
NOON VR Headset
This virtual reality headset brings in quality, affordability, and a massive library of content to consumers. Compatible with the latest smartphones and virtual reality apps, the NOON VR headset is accompanied by more than 1,000 pieces of immersive content, including videos, 360 degree environments, games, and user generated content. Price: $89
Stuck in the middle seat again? No worries, CREATE-A-SPACE is a new travel accessory that helps people stay in their own seat space while keeping the person next to you out of your space when flying. A positive solution to the shrinking airplane seat, CREATE-A-SPACE helps to end the armrest battle. Its design enables business travelers to get more work done on the plane, or rest more comfortably. Compliant with FFA and TSA guidelines, the accessory is priced under $40 on amazon.com and independent luggage stores.
The Memory Makers
Canon PowerShot G9 X Camera
The Canon PowerShot G9 X camera features a 20.2 Megapixel, 1.0-inch High-Sensitivity CMOS sensor, Canon’s powerful DIGIC 6 Image Processor and a fast, f/2.0-4.9 lens that helps you capture inspiring images – even in low light – with detail and color to match. This stylish slim camera is perfect for the traveler wanting to get great pictures without getting weighed down by a full size DSLR. The camera features a 3x Optical Zoom lens (28-84mm equivalent), stunning Full HD video, and up to 6.0 frames per second to capture action. Should you find yourself gazing at the stars, switch into Star Mode and capture the view. Other features include a convenient control ring for quick adjustments, built-in Wi-Fi and NFC allowing for simple sharing and printing. The PowerShot G9 X retails for $479 and can be found on Amazon for $449. Visit Canon for more information.
Greetings from Red River!
Souvenir shop postcards rarely say what you want to say, and definitely don’t capture the moments that made that trip of a lifetime personal and special. So why not create your own postcards – as well as greeting cards, thank you cards, or special Save the Date notices, for that matter! Red River Paper has an entire selection of quality paper in a variety of sizes that work with virtually any home printer so you can truly share your feelings with friends and family. Use your favorite photos as cover art to celebrate honeymoon, anniversary or family trips, as well as unique holidays like National Dress Up Your Pet Day or Beer Can Appreciation Day. They also work really well for Christmas and birthdays too!
If you have thousands of photos from all those great destinations you visited but don’t know where they are or have access to them everywhere you go, then Mylio is for you. A unique imaging software, Mylio locates your photos on storage drives, mobile devices, computers, tablets and camera rolls and organizes them into one cohesive library organized by date, location, event, etc. The free iOS and Android apps sync all your photos directly to your mobile devices so you can access, edit, and share all your photos from anywhere in the world. Annual subscriptions start at $50. Visit Mylio.com.
Everyone has at least one amazing photo from a business trip or family vacation. Don’t just post to Facebook and Instagram. Immortalize it with amazing photo prints and framing from WhiteWall lab. Whether it’s a photo print under acrylic glass, photo on aluminum or wood, acrylic block, or traditional wood frames, all orders are produced by hand in their lab in Cologne, Germany and shipped all over the world in less than 10 days. Turn a great photo into an amazing work of art. Think of it as German engineering for your wall.
Products and services start at $9.00. Visit WhiteWall.
Wishing you and yours Safe & Happy Holiday Travels!
by expertflyer on November 17, 2015 inAirlines, One-on-OnewithComments Off on How Norwegian Air became the best long-haul low-cost airline in the worldTweet
This month’s One-on-One features nimble long-haul discount air carrier, Norwegian Air. We interviewed Director of US Communications, Anders Lindstrom, about the company’s recent acknowledgement by Skytrax as the best long-haul low-cost airline in the world. The company was also named Europe’s best low-cost airline for a third consecutive year.
According to news reports, Norwegian seems to be betting the farm on leading the market as a long-haul discount carrier – you’ve agreed to buy 19 Boeing 787s, which effectively doubles the size of your Dreamliner fleet. What’s Norwegian’s long-term plan, particularly in the US market?
We’re actually quadrupling our current size of eight Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners that we operate now. We have 30 787-9 Dreamliners on order that will enter our fleet between 2016 and 2020.
For the US, we have ambitious growth plans, just as we have for long-haul operations in general. For Norwegian, our long-haul routes are performing exceptionally well and are very profitable. We will add a lot more frequencies, routes and also new destinations for the US in the next few years. We still see so many opportunities here in the US for growth.
Additionally, in 2017, we will start taking delivery of the Boeing 737-MAX, and we have 100 on order, which will allow us to launch routes from the western coastline of Europe to the northeast U.S., thereby introducing routes that are currently unserved by any other airline.
Norwegian already offers more nonstop routes from the U.S. than any other European airline, but in a few years, we will most likely be the leading transatlantic airline. We will also continue to expand at London Gatwick, where we are currently the third largest airline. We are looking to launch routes to South America, South Africa and Asia.
Talk about the current routes that are available now from and to US cities?
Norwegian currently offers 34 routes from 9 U.S. airports (BOS, BWI, FLL, JFK, LAS, LAX, MCO, OAK and SJU). Of these, BOS and BWI will start with flights to the French Caribbean: Guadeloupe and Martinique, on December 3, whereas all other airports have nonstop to Europe, where we have flights to Copenhagen, London, Oslo and Stockholm, as well as seasonal routes to Bergen. At JFK and BOS, we actually have more routes than any other international airline. In May 2016, we will launch a number of European routes, as well from Boston Logan, and we will later also introduce European routes from BWI.
Is there really a $69 fare that exists from the US to Europe on your airline?
Not yet, but soon! When we launch routes with the Boeing 737-MAX in 2017, we will have introductory fares at $69. These will probably go on sale late 2016, or early 2017. But you can already buy $69 fares from BOS, BWI and JFK to Guadeloupe and Martinique this winter. Norwegian is the cheapest option to get to the Caribbean, and that’s on brand-new aircraft with comfortable leather seats. We’re also the first airline to offer free Wi-Fi all the way to the Caribbean.
With the European routes on the 737-MAX, average roundtrip fares will be somewhere around $300 – $350, so significantly less than anything you find in the market right now.
You’re currently in the 3rd position in Europe among discount carriers. Who are your chief competitors and do you see Norwegian’s position moving into a higher slot?
Ryanair and EasyJet are number one and two, respectively. In fact, Ryanair is the largest airline in Europe in terms of passenger numbers, which really shows the strength of the European low-cost airline industry. Both airlines have been operating longer than Norwegian has and we’re pleased about our rapid, yet stable and profitable growth. Norwegian started flying in 2000 as a small Norwegian domestic airline with just a few routes and has now grown to become the world’s fastest-growing airline. What really sets us apart from any other European low-cost airline is that we a have a long-haul network, and also the number of awards we’ve won for our service, so it’s low fares, but highly quality.
What makes Norwegian so successful? How are you winning in such a volatile and competitive marketplace?
I think it’s a combination of low fares and great service. People want cheap tickets, but they also want friendly service and a great product. And we don’t fly to small, distant airports, we take our customers to where they are actually travelling.
Talk about your frequent flyer rewards program. What types of perks do you offer customers?
Norwegian Rewards is a really simple loyalty program, because you never need to guess how much your points or miles are actually worth. With CashPoints, you know the exact value of your rewards and what you can use. It’s equally easy to figure out how many points you will earn: on LowFare tickets it’s 2% of the ticket price (excluding taxes and any potential additional charge) and on Flex tickets, it’s 20%. You can earn CashPoints on flights, hotel bookings and car rental.
You can use your CashPoints for flights, or to pay for extra luggage, insurance or to change your ticket.
Any new routes, deals or particularly interesting destinations that our viewers/readers should take advantage of in 2015 and 2016?
Right now, our fares to Guadeloupe and Martinique start at $69 one-way, including taxes, which are unbeatable fares to the Caribbean, and these are two hidden gems of the Caribbean. We also have fares for just over $150 to Europe available online. Even better deals exist though our Premium fares. For as low as $600 you get dedicated check-in, fast track security, lounge access, really comfortable recliner seats with 46-inch legroom, full meal services and drinks. That’s cheaper than our competitors charge for their premium economy, and this is quite a step up from that, so we highly recommend it.
It’s one thing to forget your car keys on a table in a local cafe, but quite another when you leave behind a smartphone on an airplane or a laptop in your hotel room. According to Brian Colodny, president and CFO of Chargerback, a software company specializing in reuniting lost items with their owners, only about one-third of lost items make it back to their owners.
Think about it. How many times have you left behind a pair of earrings on a nightstand, a bag of souvenirs on a tour bus or a cellphone charger plugged into the wall of your hotel room? Oftentimes, people don’t even bother trying to get the items back, particularly if they are lost at an international location. But why must the burden of retrieval land on the backs of guests, flyers, cruisers, etc.? Because what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas!
In our interview, Brian Colodny suggests that many hotels maintain a policy that prioritizes discretion and protecting the privacy of guests. Afterall, there is a small portion of hotel patrons who may wish to keep their visits on the “QT” for a number of reasons. That said, protecting guests’ privacy may trump returning lost items and potentially calling attention to a hotel visit that may or may not have been authorized by a spouse or significant other.
Cumulatively, somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 billion worth of items are lost every year by Americans. A sizeable portion of these incidents happen while traveling. So, what happens to the billions of dollars worth of unclaimed lost items? Colodny says, in the case of larger, established hotel properties, items are typically donated to charities or given to salvage companies.
Colodny formed his company back in 2010 after he left behind a cell phone charger in a hotel, which, at the time, cost about $60. Frustrated by the inefficiency and lack of coordination at the hotel in accommodating his efforts to locate and retrieve his lost property, he decided to do something about it, and formed Chargerback.
Chargerback works with airlines, hotel chains, sports venues and a host of other companies where people congregate, travel through or visit, enabling them to log found items via a software application, while providing owners of lost items an easy path to finding their property if it was left behind at a partnering company’s location.
Watch our interview with Brian and checkout their website — you never know what you might find.
by expertflyer on November 9, 2015 inHot Topics, Hotels, MotelswithComments Off on “Did you know…Expedia plans to buy HomeAway for $3.9B?”Tweet
BIG NEWS in the sharing economy for travelers: Expedia has agreed to buy HomeAway for $3.9 billion. According to the New York Times, HomeAway also plans to change its business model to charge travelers a fee, based on a sliding scale. Up until now, HomeAway generated revenue by charging property owners to list their rentals. HomeAway also plans to lower commission rates for these pay-per-booking customers.
No big surprise that travel booking giant, Expedia, is looking to get in on the soaring popularity of vacation and short-term rentals. In a 2015 Barclays report, it’s estimated that home rental platform Airbnb books around 37 million night stays, which could increase to as many as 129 million by 2016. But what are some caveats for home owners looking to cash in on the trend? We recently talked to Rob Stephens of Avalara MyLodge Tax, a financial and tax expert in the home rental space, to learn what property owners need to do to comply and minimize their tax risk with the IRS. Watch our interview here.
Do you think this acquisition bodes well for vacation rental owners and lodgers?
ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway
It’s difficult to put a number on how many people think about chucking caution to the wind and leaving the rat race for a life of untethered wandering and cultural enrichment — not to speak of the cost savings that come with living in far away destinations, like Southeast Asia. That said, dreaming and reality are two very different things — or so we thought until we interviewed Paul Kortman, co-founder of nomadtogether.com, a site for people who have decided to live a life of location independence.
Check out our interview with Paul and learn how he and his wife and four kids have learned to live as a “homeless” family over the past two years. Their experience has been life altering and the community they have congregated serves to give inspiration, support, feedback and camaraderie to others who dare to live outside the box.
by expertflyer on October 27, 2015 inHot TopicswithComments Off on “Shark Tank” alum, Sara Margulis, talks about Plumfund and making people’s vacation dreams come trueTweet
ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway
We recently had the pleasure of interviewing “Shark Tank” alum and co-founder of Plumfund, Sara Margulis. Her company has found a way to tap the trend in crowdfunding to make people’s dream vacation wishes come true.
How has crowdfunding penetrated the travel industry?
Travel crowdfunding really started in weddings about ten years ago, with our honeymoon gift registry site, Honeyfund. Over the years, many Honeyfund couples asked if they could use the platform for other life events, like anniversaries, retirement and graduations. We launched Plumfund in 2013 to make those travel dreams come true, and to allow anyone to raise money for anything!
What’s different about Plumfund?
Plumfund is built on the Honeyfund technology, so it’s really great at travel crowdfunding. And Plumfund works without a platform fee, so it’s the most affordable solution. We’re proud to have 10 years travel crowdfunding expertise through Honeyfund
Do people actually want to pay for someone else to take a vacation? Why?
Friends and family absolutely love to give the gift of travel! More and more, we crave experiences over things, and what a better gift than the experience of travel.
Give us some examples of how people are using Plumfund to take a trip of their dreams?
One plumfund was for a doctor who was retiring. His daughter setup a campaign to send him to Paris as a retirement gift. She wrote lovingly about all he had sacrificed for their family and how much it meant to her to be able to give him the trip.
What does this trend speak to in our current culture? Are we becoming a more benevolent society?
Giving feels good! It always has, and it always will. And what better gift for a close friend or loved one than a cherished experience?
Any tips on how to use Plumfund to supplement ones travel bucket list? Is there a right or wrong way to go about it?
The best way is think about a milestone event coming up in your life where friends and family would already want to send a gift. A 50th birthday, graduation, retirement or anniversary are great examples. Then ask someone close to you to setup the campaign and put the word out on your behalf.
by expertflyer on October 21, 2015 inOne-on-OnewithComments Off on Thanks to Oil Boom – North Dakota Enjoys Burgeoning Tourism MarketTweet
In this month’s One-on-One feature, we interviewed Sara Otte Coleman, director of Tourism for North Dakota. Over the past decade, North Dakota has experienced tremendous growth largely due to the recent oil boom. So much growth, in fact, that a 2013 census report showed the state’s population at an all-time high of more than 723,000, making it the fastest growing state in America. But the population isn’t the only statistic growing in record numbers. Tourism spending was up approximately 16 percent in 2014 and more than 115 new hotels have been built since 2010 to accommodate the state’s growing tourism industry.
Sara debunks some myths about the Peace Garden state and invites all the single ladies to North Dakota to fill the gender gap caused by the influx of males migrating to the state for work.
ND has landed on people’s radar over the past couple years due to the oil boom. How has this economic engine created new growth in the tourism sector?
North Dakota has grown in so many areas, including oil development, that it is leading the nation economically on many fronts. For tourism, it is most evident in the new hotel properties that have opened statewide. More than 115 new hotels have opened since 2010 with another seven to open yet this year. These properties are located in all areas of the state, in both cities and smaller communities. Every county in North Dakota has seen major growth in tourism spending the past several years. In 2014, the average increase was 16.4%
How is tourism changing in the state?
While many of our major draws like Theodore Roosevelt National Park continue to offer scenic and serene hiking and wildlife viewing, amenities offered statewide have increased. The small gateway community of Medora now offers fine dining, lodging and a spa and cities like Fargo and Bismarck offer a huge variety of shopping, food, drink, live entertainment and recreational activities. The eclectic mix of unique ethnic restaurants enhances new local foods and craft drink specialty providers.
Are there new attractions and events that people should know about?
A recently opened $58 million expansion to our State Museum at the North Dakota Heritage Center on the capitol grounds in Bismarck added three new galleries showcasing the state’s history beginning 600 million years ago. There are many other expanded museums like the Fargo Air Museum and the High Plains Cultural Center in Killdeer. Keplinfest, which received an “Event to Watch” designation from the American Bus Association, is held in the beautiful Turtle Mountains near the International Peace Garden along the Canadian border. This festival celebrates the fiddle music and jigging of the Metis culture. Three other major events received the ABA Top 100 Event award: Norsk Hostfest – North America’s largest Scandanavian event; the United Tribes International Powwow – one of the nation’s largest in terms of pageantry, dancing and drumming; and the nightly Medora Musical in the beautiful Burning Hills Amphitheatre in the Badlands.
What is ND most known for?
Unfortunately, it is not very well known and there are several myths:
It’s flat: It is not. Other than the Red River Valley, the state has varied topography statewide and rugged terrain in several areas, like the Pembina Gorge, the Turtle Mountains and the Badlands.
It’s cold: It does get below zero, but those days are limited. The average temperatures are higher than most believe. This fall has produced highs in the 80s and 90s. The past few winters have been mild and less intense than winters in the eastern US. What impresses people the most is our big skies, sunsets and friendly people.
What’s your top 10 list of things to see and do in ND for the tourists who have never visited the state before?
National Buffalo Museum and sacred albino buffalo – Jamestown
International Peace Garden: Step into Canada without a passport – Dunseith
According to CNN.com, a new breed of traveler is mixing business with leisure around the world. These ‘bleisure’ travelers are taking top cities by storm and spending big bucks along the way. The Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) has ranked the top 15 destinations for business travel spending — and the US leads the pack.
by expertflyer on October 5, 2015 inAirlines, Hot TopicswithComments Off on Frequent flyers’ rating of TSA airport security leaves much to be desiredTweet
ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway
Eighty-seven percent of frequent flyers think that the Transportation Security Administration is doing either a poor or fair job in performing security screenings at the nation’s airports, according to a new survey of frequent flyers conducted by Frequent Business Traveler magazine.
The survey finds that the typical American frequent flyer continues to hold the TSA in low regard with 71.9% of respondents indicating the TSA’s screening procedures are either not effective or not too effective at preventing acts of terrorism on an aircraft, an increase of 4.9 percentage points from 2014 and 6.4 from 2013.
In contrast, only 20.8% indicated the procedures are somewhat effective, 5.5% said very effective, and 1.9% said extremely effective.
A total of 2,129 respondents took part in the online survey conducted from August 21 through September 24 in partnership with FlyerTalk, the world’s largest online travel community, and ExpertFlyer, a provider of air travel information tools.
“This year’s survey results show that the TSA has a long way to go to build confidence in its mission,” said Jonathan Spira, editorial director, Frequent Business Traveler. “Our survey respondents traverse security checkpoints multiple times each month and are in an excellent position to render a verdict on this subject,” he added.
Other Key Findings
— Nearly 45% stated they were not satisfied with their last security experience;
— Over three quarters (76.7%) of survey respondents have used PreCheck, the TSA trusted traveler security lanes.
— Satisfaction for PreCheck continues to fall from a high of 80.3% in 2013 to 62.7% in 2015 and the drop may be partially attributed to the TSA’s policy of allowing infrequent travelers, whose unfamiliarity with procedures slows down the screening process, into PreCheck lanes.
by expertflyer on September 29, 2015 inDid you know?withComments Off on “Did you know…Oktoberfest Index?”Tweet
Real estate info resource, Trulia, analyzed metro areas across the US to determine which ranked highest on their Oktoberfest index. Looks like you’ll need to head north and west to find the best bier and a drinking buddy with German ancestry.
Atterbell Maplanka reunites with family – Photo via The Argus
In a recent USA Today story, it was reported that Atterbell Maplanka was arrested at Heathrow Airport after returning to London from his mother’s funeral in Zimbabwe because border officials refused to believe his passport was legitimately his own, since he appeared much heavier than his passport photo.
A resident of the UK for more than 15 years, Maplanka was prohibited from reentering the country. Instead, he was arrested and sent to an Immigration Removal Center after agents failed to recognize Maplanka as the markedly thinner man in his own passport photo. Maplanka did admit that he gained about 125 lbs. since the photo was taken.
In this month’s One-on-One feature, we interviewed Juan Lopez, North American Market Manager for the Chilean Tourism Board. Whether it’s skiing in the Andes Mountains, hiking and exploring in Patagonia and Easter Island, or dining in the beautiful, multicultural city of Santiago, Chile offers an unmatched variety of landscapes, activities and attractions for just about anyone.
If you’re not a freewheeling backpacker with limitless time to meander up and down Chile, what’s the best way to plan your first and maybe only trip to this uniquely diverse country?
First you should start in Santiago, to acclimatize to a new country, new language and new people. It shouldn’t be difficult since Santiago is quite a modern and cosmopolitan city. Actually it’s the place where you should relax after a flight from the U.S. Here you should experience the wonderful national and international cuisine that can be found in the city, accompanied with a nice glass of Chilean wine. Depending on what your interests are, you will fly either north to the Atacama, the driest desert in the world, or south down to Patagonia. If you really want to avoid flying within the country, you can always mingle around Santiago and Valparaiso (the former Pearl of the Pacific) enjoying the arts and culture atmosphere of these cities. Between Santiago and Valparaiso you can get lost within Casablanca Wine Valley. If the season allows it, you could go up to Andes and enjoy skiing in the Andes.
September is the start of spring in Chile. What does that mean for travelers? Is this a good time to visit and what are the best locations this time of year?
September through May is the best time of the year to visit Chile, mainly if you want to go south and visit Patagonia, Antarctica, the Lakes & Volcanoes Regions. You can still go to Patagonia during the North American summer months (Chile’s winter) but it will be colder. Central area and north of Chile are pretty much open all year round; remember in the northern part of Chile is the driest desert in world where in some area not a drop of rain it has been seen in years, hence this region can be visited year round, from January to December. Central area can be visited in any season, expecting rain in winter, yet getting amazed by the snow-capped Andes Mountain. In spring you will enjoy the beauty of a colorful city.
Skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts seem to hold Chile in high esteem. What’s special about skiing in Chile and where are the best snow sport areas?
Skiing in Chile is very particular since you will be skiing in between the highest peaks of the Andes Mountains. When coming from the USA you would be able to ski in the North American summer months (Chile’s winter). Skiing is available just 90 minutes away from downtown Santiago, with four ski resorts easily accessible from the city. The world class ski resorts we have, actually Valle Nevado belong to Mountain Collective Network as Aspen & Whistler do, does tell you the level of ski offerings available in the country. There are also ski resorts down south of Chile, Corralco, Termas de Chillan, Pucon, Huilo Huilo, Osorno Volcanoe.
Now it is quite difficult to pick an area as the best, since this is a personal preference. Yet I can personally say that I prefer to ski in Santiago since the ski resorts are quite close and they cater in an amazing way. Yet I have a Swiss friend that always argues with me that the best ski is in south of Chile – Corralco particularly. Once again it is a personal opinion.
The natural landscape and diversity of Chile is extraordinary, what are your top 5 favorite sites and why?
First the Atacama Desert, since I was born there…. People believe that there is nothing to do in the desert, yet in fact there plenty of activities and natural attractions to sight see. You can find penguins, geysers and lagoons in the Atacama Region. In addition to all this the culture experiences due to the native people that still live in this area is wonderful and unique.
Second, Santiago, place where I currently live, Santiago is such a livable city, super multicultural and modern that it feels good to be back after being wondering around the world for six six years. Santiago blends that old & modern architecture, cuisine from Peru, Spain, Italy, and Asian influence.
Third, Easter island, it is such a unique and mystical place, it is in fact an open air museum, that you can explore at you own peace, where the Rapa Nui culture (people for island) still preserve their traditions, language and food. In addition you will feel in the “belly bottom” of the world right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Fourth, Patagonia, with Torres del Paine National Park, the fjords and glaciers area. This remote area of the world will just connect you with pristine and pure nature, allowing you to forget the stress of living in a big city. Every time I want to disconnect, I escape to Patagonia. In addition the food here it is just amazing.
Last but not least, it is the Lake & Volcanoes region, I love this area since I am pretty very active and I love outdoors activities, so hiking up to a Volcano, trekking or cycling around one lake to another. What’s best is after a full on day… going and relax on one of the dozen hot spring pools is the best.
Chile is known to be one of the safest South American countries. Is that still the case?
Chile is super safe, and it is not just me saying this, but it has been said by the British Publication “The Economist” and its Safe Cities Index 2015 report.
Chile is that safe that Chilean people don’t need Visa anymore to travel to the U.S., this is due to a waiver program scheme that the Chilean and American government have signed up. This is actually a vote of confidence to Chile coming from the American Government.
What type of shopping should tourists plan for and what types of items offer the best value?
For American people, I would say Chile is not a shopping destination, mainly because we have the same brands and stores you can find in the USA, and similar prices. Yet handicrafts would be interesting to the North American traveler. A precious stone called lapizlazuli is interesting to the North American traveler. Another interesting purchase would be some of the native wools like the one from Alpaca. In lieu of shopping, we recommend Americans spend money on food and drink given the variety of sea food available (remember 3000 miles of coast) and the beautiful wines.
What about the cuisine of Chile – are there native dishes or specialties that visitors should seek out?
I always recommend people to try seafood, especially lobster from Robinson Crusoes Island. In south of Chile, I recommend to try Curanto – a very ancient and very local dish made of different meats, seafood’s and vegetables cooked in a hole dug from the ground and is covered with Nalca (a local plant) leaf. You can’t leave Chile without trying Patagonian lamb or Charquican.
Are there any special events or festivals happening in the fall (Sept – Nov) that visitors should check out?
During September we do celebrate our independence day, which some times last an entire week. Music, dances, parades, and traditional Chilean games came to play. Parades include huasos, the traditional Chilean cowboys, music, and displays of national pride. Much of the celebrations occur in ramadas, temporary open buildings with thatched roofs traditionally made from tree branches. Ramadas feature a dance floor, music, and tables to eat. Fondas, or refreshment stands, offer a wide variety of Chilean foods including empanadas, anticuchos (shish kabobs), chicha (alchoholic drink), and more. These Ramadas are held in every single little town or village of Chile. Additionally during September also occurs a religious festivity right in the Atacama desert, that is called Ayquina Festival. During this time pilgrims and visitors from around the world converge on the village, celebrating throughout the night until the skies flare with a blaze of fireworks as the clock strikes twelve. There are many different groups of dancers that you might see throughout the festival, with dances inspired by both indigenous and imported traditions. The International Film Festival, held in Valdivia (South of Chile) happens every October. Due to the German influence this city of Chile has, we also have our own OctoberFest, originally from Germany, yet our celebration is held in early January, when summer is in place. Yet, during October (15-18) we have the homemade beer festival.
ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway
The poster child of the travel sharing economy, Airbnb, has more than 20 million users; 640,000 hosts and facilitates more than half a million stays a night. But municipalities, like Paris, and Airbnb itself, are cracking down on tax collections from property owners who have been enjoying financial rewards. Watch our interview with Rob Stephens of Avalara MyLodge Tax, a financial and tax expert in the home rental space, and learn what you need to do to comply and minimize your risk with the IRS.
ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway
In part 1 of our Golf Getaway series, we offered a snapshot of some U.S. golfing resorts that may not be on your radar, but are worthy of a tee or two. Because golf is one of the easiest sports to take with you on vacation, in part 2 of our series we profile phenomenal international courses that attract millions of golfers from around the world in the hopes of winning a championship, improving their personal handicap, or just learning the rules of the game – surrounded by stunning landscapes.
St. Andrews, Scotland
A trip to St. Andrews, Scotland should be on every golfer’s bucket list. St. Andrews is considered the birthplace of golf, in part because the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, founded in 1754, exercises legislative authority over the game worldwide (except in the U.S. and Mexico). St. Andrews boasts challenging, but beautiful courses along with historic castles, botanical gardens, local festivals and relaxing spas.
If you’re looking for something a bit more temperate, there are a host of international golf getaway destinations. Here are some that may be new to you:
Home of the exclusive Laucala Resort, this private island also features a championship 18-hole golf course with volcanic mountains as its backdrop and a sheer cliff drop into the Pacific Ocean. Non-golfers will enjoy an array of watersports, rainforest walking tours, relaxing beaches, farm visits, game fishing and horseback riding.
This course was designed on site, not on paper, so the land would dictate the final layout with minimal impact on the surrounding area. Native grasses, natural sand dunes and deep canyons are integral to the layout and pose challenges at every hole. Family members will enjoy the private club lifestyle on this 1800 acre resort with beach, nature trail and farm to table restaurant.
Golf fans will clamor to play Teeth of the Dog, which is ranked the #1 course in the Caribbean. The stunning, waterfront scenery will surely distract from your game. Dye Fore is the second championship golf course on this property, with 7 cliff-side holes and breathtaking 360 degree views. Your kids will enjoy one of the 3 kids clubs that have age-appropriate activities scheduled. There are also tennis courts, polo fields, beaches, spa and a shooting facility.
Algarve is Portugal’s southernmost region, known for its sunny Mediterranean climate and its beach and golf resorts. Algarve is home to 80 golf courses, stunning scenery and for your non-golfers, there are plenty of historic sites along with walking trails, surfing, parasailing, hang gliding, clubs, restaurants and local festivals and events.
We’d love to hear where you played your favorite round of golf! Leave a comment below.
ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway
When you think of taking a golf getaway, avid golfers will usually think of the traditional go-to golf states: Hilton Head, SC; California, Arizona or Florida. While those locations boast a multitude of luxury resorts and championship golf courses, there are approximately 19,000 golf courses throughout the whole country which also offer pristine scenery and luxury accommodations, so there’s no need to limit your golf rounds to just a select few states.
Here is a sample of resorts from across the country that offer golf for all levels as well as non-golf activities for the spouses and children who have different interests. There is something for everyone and these resorts also offer summer packages.
Choose a room from The Cloister, The Lodge at Sea Island Golf Club or a Sea Island Cottage. The golfer in your family can play at three championship golf courses while the rest of the family keeps busy with private beaches, tennis, squash, Yacht Club, shooting school, horseback riding or spa treatments.
OK, so Michigan isn’t the first place you think of when you think ‘golf’ but The Inn at Bay Harbor is a classic Victorian resort which offers hotel rooms or suites as well as 2-3 bedroom cottages. Choose to play at the Bay Harbor Golf Club or the Crooked Tree Golf Club while your family enjoys the spa, beaches lakeside resort towns, microbreweries, adventure sports or Avalanche Bay Indoor Waterpark. Michigan also has sunlight from 6am – 10pm which gives you plenty of time for multiple rounds of golf!
Just a few miles from Charleston, SC, Kiawah Island Golf Resort offers luxurious hotel rooms, villas or private homes to suit families of any size. Golfers choose from 5 breathtaking courses while families choose from shopping in Charleston, lounging on the private beach, spa treatments, tennis lessons, nature walks or on-site dining.
Playing golf overlooking the mountains is just as stunning as playing holes that overlook the water. The course at the Woodstock Inn & Resort was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and is listed as one of the Top 100 golf resorts by Golf Magazine. Family members will enjoy spa treatments, mountain bike trails, cruiser bikes suitable for riding through town, gardening classes at Kelly Way Gardens, Kitchen Garden Collaborative classes with local chefs and falconry, which is new a new outdoor experience this year.
Finding a golf course to play while on vacation is not difficult at all. Be creative with choosing your location and always be prepared with your clubs! In the second part of this series, we’ll explore Best International Golf Getaways.
by expertflyer on August 8, 2015 inAirlines, Did you know?withComments Off on “Did you know…Free service helps consumers get what they deserve from businesses – including airlines?”Tweet
With overall airline complaints to the US Department of Transportation rising 30% over the past five years*, it’s high time consumer travelers get what’s coming to them. A new company called Service is aiming to turn the tables for consumers, putting them in a better position to receive fair compensation or refunds from a variety of businesses, including airlines.
“Service helps consumers get what they deserve from businesses. Basically, you tell us about a problem you had with a business, and we fix it for you,” says Michael Schneider, CEO, Service Technologies. “We’ve gotten non-refundable airline tickets refunded – when there’s a legitimate reason, delivery fees waived on late deliveries, appointment times prioritized, credits when bad service was provided at restaurants, and many more.”
For now, the service from Service is free, so now’s a good time to check them out.
*According to an analysis by US PIRG, a consumer advocacy group headquartered in Washington.
by admin on July 29, 2015 inOne-on-One, Travel TechwithComments Off on 2015 Travel Tech Update – One on One with Dave Dean, Travel Technology and Gear ExpertTweet
This month, ExpertFlyer talks with Dave Dean, a corporate refugee turned world wanderer who writes about travel and technology. Dave writes for popular sites, including About.com, NomadicMatt, as well as his own blog, toomanyadapters.com. He also authored a book on travel tech, Hammocks and Hard Drives.
Dave discusses the hot trends in travel technology now, including wearables, real-time video streaming, can’t-live-without apps, as well as gadgets that make life on the road a little more like home.
What’s the hottest trend in travel tech right now?
Everyone is getting excited about wearables, although I haven’t found any compelling examples for travelers yet. There’s also a seemingly-endless stream of startups with apps offering some kind of ‘social travel’ experience, but again, none have become must-have travel companions with a broad user base. Real-time video streaming (eg. Periscope) is starting to show up in the travel space — it’s obviously dependent on having good connectivity, but I’d expect to see this continue to grow. Other than that, though, it’s pretty much the same things it’s been for a while — easier and cheaper ways to stay connected overseas, extra battery life and more storage on mobile devices.
Are you seeing any interesting developments across hotel chains and airlines that involve technology as a way to make vacations or business travel more like home or just more convenient?
I tend to find the best developments coming from startups and third parties, rather than the hotel chains and airlines themselves. Apps like Lounge Buddy, for instance, let you know which lounges you already have access to in any given airport on your route, and which ones you can buy day passes for, along with reviews and tips. That said, some of the hotel chains are doing interesting things — you can use your phone or Apple watch as your room key in Starwood hotels, as well as choose your room in advance and speed up the check-in / check-out process with hotel apps. I’d expect to see much more of this type of convenience in the next few years.
What are some of the best gadgets and gizmos for making life on the road better?
I’m always trying out some new gadget or other while traveling, but tend to find it’s the simple things that are most useful. For instance, I have a portable battery with extra storage space built in, that lets me charge my phone during a long travel day and save photos or video to it if I’m running out of space. You can get the same things built into an iPhone case as well, for extra convenience. I always take a travel-sized power strip with me — there are never enough power sockets in hotel rooms, and it lets me charge up to four devices simultaneously with one socket (and one plug adapter!). I’ve also recently started using a little adapter with 4 USB ports in, that includes detachable plugs for most countries. That way, I can charge (for instance) a phone, tablet and e-reader at the same time, from one wall socket.
Any useful recommendations for making airline travel less stressful and more comfortable?
An eye mask and noise-cancelling earphones or at least decent earplugs. I bought myself a good pair of noise-isolating earphones a couple of years ago, and they’ve transformed my travel days. I found that noisy passengers and the drone of the engine caused extra stress and made it hard to rest on flights. Now I just put on some relaxing music, pull down the eye mask and chill out. It makes even long-haul in economy class somewhat bearable!
ExpertFlyer recently surveyed more than 1,000 family travelers. We asked them to name their top “can’t live without” travel apps, and TripAdvisor reigned supreme, followed by airline apps and Google maps. What’s your take? What are your top picks?
Google Maps is great — and with the addition of proper offline navigation later this year, it’ll get even better for international travelers without mobile data. I’m always dubious about the accuracy of the information on TripAdvisor, but do occasionally use it to get food recommendations in more obscure cities. The forums are the most useful part, for me — I’ll often use those for tracking down obscure transport routes and prices, for instance. As far as airline apps go, I tend to use Skyscanner to look up prices and times, but I’ll always make the booking on a computer — entering personal information and credit card details is too frustrating otherwise!
I have many travel apps on my phone, but those I use the most include Tripit (for compiling my itinerary, even offline), Google Translate (great for menus and street signs), XE Currency (to always know the exchange rate), Google Maps (if I’ve got data) and Here Maps (for offline use).
Looking forward, what are some of the cool travel tech advances we might find in the next 3-5 years?
I expect we’ll see the first wearables (probably smartwatches) that are genuinely valuable for travel. Cell companies are finally starting to get the message we all hate roaming charges, and the example set by T-Mobile in the US and Three in the UK will expand to other carriers. Speech translation in real-time is starting to show up now with Skype Translator, and will become more polished and usable in the next few years. Free public wi-fi will continue to get rolled out in cities all over the world, making it easier than ever to stay connected on the move.
As families embark on their annual summer vacations, a new travel survey conducted by ExpertFlyer.com uncovered surprising data about consumer trends and behaviors among families traveling together.
ExpertFlyer conducted the survey with more than 1,100* consumer travelers who currently subscribe to its free Seat Alerts app as a method to identify behaviors and discover what affects family travelers most. The results are illustrated in an infographic below.
(Click graphic to enlarge)
“Our family travel survey uncovered some interesting statistics and trends across a wide range of travel-related activities including air travel, living accommodations and purchasing habits,” explains Chris Lopinto, president and co-founder of ExpertFlyer.com. “The goal of this survey was to gain a better understanding of consumer trends to better service customers moving forward and hopefully provide the travel industry, in general, with some insight about how to service families planning their vacation.”
*A total of 1,140 ExpertFlyer Seat Alert app subscribers were surveyed.
by expertflyer on June 26, 2015 inDid you know?withComments Off on “Did you know…The best & worst places for July 4th celebrations?”Tweet
WalletHub recently compared the 100 largest U.S. cities based on how well they balance holiday cost and fun. Based on a number of criteria, including duration of fireworks shows, average gas prices, the number of festivals and performances, weather forecasts and more, the overall winning city is Minneapolis, MN — this year’s loser: North Las Vegas, NV.
With more than 100,000 flights taking off daily and nearly 3 billion passengers taking to the air annually, flying has become as commonplace as a train ride. But with more flights and flyers come more issues and annoyances – and oftentimes it’s fellow travelers who are stirring up a ruckus. Frequent Business Traveler (FBT), along with FlyerTalk, the world’s largest online travel community, and ExpertFlyer, a leading air travel information tool, asked readers and forum members to rank their most egregious pre-flight air travel pet peeves. FBT defined “pre-flight” as activities between booking a flight and entering the jet bridge for actual boarding. Here are the results:
The survey was conducted with a random sample of 2,530 adults (average age of 45.2) between April 13 and May 15, 2015. The survey was designed by Basex Research, a market research firm and division of Accura Media Group, the parent company of Frequent Business Traveler.
ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway
In the final installment of our cultural travel series, we’ve saved the best for last with an appraisal of Italy’s significant art and cultural attractions. Kit Burns, owner of Doorways, Ltd. and Italy travel expert, talks about the wonders we’ve all dreamed of seeing, as well as those you may have never heard of. Having visited Italy more than 100 times, Kit’s vast experience and perspective is comprehensive and hard to match.
Watch our video interview with Kit.
What is it about Italy that makes it one of the most culturally significant travel destinations in the world?
For starters, it has 50 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which makes it the most culturally rich country in the world. UNESCO stands for the United Nations Educations, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Click here to view the Heritage Site list for Italy followed by the date that the site was named to the UNESCO list. Basically no matter what area of Italy you travel to, you will inevitably be close to fabulous cultural treasures.
Your business has taken you to Italy more than 100 times. What are some of the most treasured regions and attractions from your standpoint and why?
Every area of Italy is full of wonders, its own cuisine, its own dialect and its own natural beauty. Just when I think I have seen it all, I make another discovery. Everyone has heard of Venice, Florence, Rome, Amalfi Coast (and Capri), Lake Como and Tuscany. But there are many other wonders to discover like Umbria, the Veneto, Lake Maggiore, Umbria, Puglia or Sicily.
Where do you recommend first-timers to Italy visit for authentic cultural richness?
First timers with two weeks would probably want to see Rome and north and south of Rome because there is so much in each area. A classic first trip to Italy could be to fly into Venice to spend three nights; rent a car and travel to Tuscany for a week in a villa to explore Florence, Pisa, Siena, Lucca, Cortona and the beautiful wine country, and then drive down to Rome, drop off your car and spend the balance of your trip there. Second timers might elect to fly into Rome and travel south to the Amalfi Coast for a week and then finish off with a week in Rome.
Are there any events, festivals, etc., happening this year that travelers may want to plan a trip around?
Expo15, the World’s Fair, is taking place outside of Milan this year. The befitting theme is, “Feeding the Planet: Energy for Life.” The fair started on May 1 and runs through October 31, 2015.
For more information about Kit Burns and vacation villa rentals in Italy, Spain and France, click here.
ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway
The Travel Technology Association (TTA) recently released a study, which continues to fuel a flame of discord between some key airlines and online travel resource sites, including ExpertFlyer, Hipmunk, Travelzoo, among many others.
After numerous mergers, only four major airline carriers currently control 80% of the domestic air travel market. The study concludes that by prohibiting display of price and scheduling information on certain travel websites, airlines are making it harder for consumers to find the right flight at the best price, resulting in long-term consequences:
223 million American leisure and unmanaged business travelers would pay an additional $6.7 billion in airfare annually – equivalent to $30 more per ticket or an 11 percent increase, which is about $120 for a family of four making a trip.
41 million travelers would choose not to fly because of the higher ticket prices, denying revenue to airlines.
The air travel market would suffer an annual $600 million loss.
To read the full study, click here and view the clickable infographic below.
Benefits of Preserving Consumers’ Ability to Compare Airline Fares – See more at: http://www.tnooz.com/article/delta-feuds-with-online-travel-sites-after-removing-fare-and-schedule-data/#sthash.Owwl9xFz.dpuf
by expertflyer on May 28, 2015 inOne-on-OnewithComments Off on Boomer Travel Trends: One on One with Liz Dahl, Boomer Travel PatrolTweet
This month, ExpertFlyer talks with Liz Dahl, founder and president of BoomerTravelPatrol.com, a new travel website that specifically caters to the interests of fun-seeking, travel-loving Baby Boomers (1946-1964). Liz talks about the many gaps Boomer Travel Patrol fills for the 50+ traveler set wanting to do a lot more than just bus trips and cruises! A key differentiator is the site’s cadre of top class contributors covering a unique variety of areas and backgrounds from the mindset of a Boomer.
“Because baby boomers are not in the coveted 18-49 demographic, we get left out of the “fun” activities when it comes to travel. Sure, bus trips and cruises are great and have their place, but there’s a lot more to see and do and we have the time and means to explore the world!” – Liz Dahl
When and why did you launch Boomer Travel Patrol and how has the site been received?
The site was launched in July of 2013. As a former owner of a travel agency and currently selling travel, I noticed that there was a lack of choices being offered to the Baby Boomer demographic. The “cruise and bus tour” mentality of the advertisers didn’t work for me or most of the people who contacted me about trips. I wanted Boomers to know the travel opportunities that exist. Continue reading →
ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway
Over the past ten years, India’s status as a place to do business has grown immensely. According to the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA), India is the 10th largest business travel market in the world. With more Westerners traveling for business and gaining appreciation for the vast and unique cultural attractions, history and landscape, more leisure travelers are keen on exploring India, but it’s a big country – 1.2 million sq. miles covered by more than 1.2 billion people!
Louise Nicholson, a trained art historian, India travel expert/guide and author of more than 25 books, including National Geographic Guides to India, says, “You can’t see all the major sites of India in one trip, unless you have a few years to spare. My mantra is ‘less is more’, meaning the fewer places and areas you travel to, the more you will undoubtedly get out of your journey.”
TripAdvisor’s 2015 Travelers’ Choice destination picks for India include the following geographies in their top five: 1. Jaipur 2. New Delhi 3. Mumbai 4. Jaisalmer 5. Bardez
We asked Louise to give us her version of the top 5 special choice destinations in India. Not surprisingly, her picks are quite unique. In fact, only Mumbai made her top five when compared to TripAdvisor’s choices.
“This is almost impossible to do, so much choice, as if you want the top five destinations in all of Europe! But here are five choices for five very different tastes; India is all about finding the right place for YOU, which is what I have been doing for 35 years.”
World Trade Centre, Mumbai
Mumbai – a great entry city for a first visit to India. Many people just transit through, but it merits stopping and exploring. Mumbai is a bustling buzzing port-city made great by the British in the 19th century, and now the financial, fashion, film and entertainment capital of India. Downtown (around the Taj Mahal hotel) is easy and safe to walk, and you can find bars, restaurants of all cuisines, the Prince of Wales museum, cool contemporary design and art galleries in beautiful old warehouses, and fantastic fashion. Other areas have their own neighbourhoods for eating and shopping; I really like Bandra.
Udaipur, Jodhpur, Nagaur – the best trio of cities in fairytale Rajasthan, and you just drive between them – so, no airport hanging about. These are some of the best Rajasthan cities at the moment, thriving, not too big, walkable, great hotels. Ideal for honeymooners and people wanting the full combo of dazzling colours, romantic forts, shopping direct from craftsmen, and outrageous playtime palaces, many of which you can stay in and partake of their amazing spoiling spas. At Nagaur you stay in the palaces the queens lived in!
Sacred temple water tank of Koviloor, Tamil Nadu (Photo: kulasekaran Seshadri)
Tamil Nadu – this is the state in South India where you see historic India, but living full pelt today, especially in the huge temple cities with their temple bazaars, festivals, their own in-temple elephants. You can start from Chennai and then do a tour through the villages and fields to visit Mahaballipuram, Thanjavur, Thiruchirappalli and Madurai. Good historic hotels along the way. Find delicious food, music, weavers, ladies in glistening saris. And watch all those rituals and festivals. You even have a drop of French sophistication at the former French colony of Pondicherry!
Ajanta and Ellora – two world class mind-blowing sites inland from Mumbai; you just take a 40 minute flight to Aurangabad, which is your base for visiting each site. Still in rural India, it is as if you are discovering each one. Dating from 2nd century BC up to the 8th century AD, or so, you see the birth of monumental sculpture and painting that spread eastwards across the Buddhist world, and Hindu and Jain sculptures that set the tone for the great medieval achievements. As if that were not enough, one of India’s most important Shiva pilgrimage temples is at Ellora (almost no foreigners know about it), and the high quality shimmering Paithan silk weaves on sale in Aurangabad.
Crow’s Lake is one of the hundreds of lakes in Northern Sikkim. (Photo: Carsten.nebel)
Sikkim – up in the lush and pristine Lower Himalaya hills located between Bhutan and Nepal, Sikkim was an independent kingdom until recently. Few tourists visit, yet it is tranquil, varied and very beautiful. Just the place for relaxing in the spring and fall. You start from Darjeeling, crossing into Sikkim to explore a very distinct culture. You can visit a tea plantation, go inside ancient monasteries to hear monks chanting, spot orchids hanging from trees and great big rhododendrons blossoming in their natural habitat. You can take walks through villages and farms to spot hill birds, see how people live close to the earth, and take hikes of varying challenge into the mountains. There is even a superb new hotel built in Sikkim style with excellent food and rooftop terraces where you can gaze – all day long if you wish – at a row of family snow-capped Himalayans peaks. I am taking a tour there next April – come with me!
ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway
Did you know that each year U.S. residents make more than 20 million trips to Mexico? Yet, most rarely venture off the comfort zones of their beach resort. ExpertFlyer is taking a deep dive with an art and cultural travel series where we interview experts from three global destinations, including Mexico, India and the United Kingdom. Our first interview features Stephanie Schneiderman, owner of Tia Stephanie Tours, specialists in Mexican and Columbian cultural vacation experiences.
You are a specialist in Mexican and Columbian cultural tours. Is there a growing demand for cultural/art experiences in Mexico?
I think travelers already know that Mexico is a popular beach destination, to places like the Riviera Maya, Puerto Vallarta/Nayarit, Los Cabos, but some of the traveler set are recognizing that Mexico has so much more to offer, more in the interior of the country and more related to Mexico’s history and people. This awareness has come through touch points such as: the new wave of chefs who are introducing more authentic flavors of Mexico in U.S. restaurants; Mexico Tourism’s messages that include Adventure and Culture (not just Sun & Beach); areas of Colonial Mexico have been popular for awhile, such as San Miguel de Allende, but some people are going further afield to have more authentic experiences with interactions with the people of Mexico. This segment is already traveling the world for cultural and human experiences, but they realize that they don’t have to go to Paris for Art, Italy for Cuisine, Bhutan for Culture, Egypt for Pyramids; they can see all of that, in their singular expression in Mexico, just a 3-4 hour flight from most U.S. cities!
If one is interested in this type of experience, which areas of Mexico do you recommend?
Monte Alban Ruins, Oaxaca, Mexico
I recommend that everyone go to Mexico City. They will be very grateful they did and will make it a return visit, assured. This is based on our experience introducing travelers to this cultural powerhouse and world class capital city. I call it the “I never knew” phenomenon: “I never knew Mexico City had so many museums (164 and counting), “I never knew Mexico City had such ancient history,” “I never knew Mexico City had world class contemporary art galleries and architecture,” “I never knew the cuisine in Mexico City ranges from delicious street tacos to high end contemporary Mexican cuisine, fine dining experiences,”and on and on.People also love exploring Oaxaca, which is about 4-1/2 hours to the east of Mexico City. Oaxaca has a singular regional artistic expression, dating to Rufino Tamayo and expressed today by many artists, such as Francisco Toledo and others who express with color, fantasy and “magical realism.” Going to Oaxaca City, one can explore numerous art galleries that work with established and emerging artists. Traveling to the communities that surround Oaxaca City, one can visit Zapotec weavers, wood carvers, potters and other artisans that Oaxaca is known for. And, the cuisine is world renowned, given its over seven variants of “mole,” including, black, red, almond, green, yellow, and many other flavors of this sacred sauce that combines dried chili peppers, seeds, nuts, sometimes cinnamon, chocolate, peanuts and other herbs for an indescribable flavor.
I also recommend, for travelers who might already be on the Yucatan Peninsula, that they go deeper and explore communities such as Valladolid and Merida, Yucatan, to visit ancient Maya sites, such as Uxmal and Ek Balam, and also venture into the less visited State on the Peninsula: Campeche. Campeche City is a UNESCO World Heritage City and is a walled city that fended off pirate attacks in the 17th and 18th Centuries. It sits on the Gulf of Mexico and is home to unique cuisine, based in sea food, combined with Mayan dishes using turkey and corn as ingredients. In Southern Campeche lie some of the most important and remote Maya sites that will make travelers feel like true explorers. Calakmul was once a great empire and surrounding sites of Ixpujil, Becan, Chicanna and others are marvels of Mayan architecture and art. We love Campeche and invite travelers to explore it!
Travelers yearning for a rich art experience travel far and wide to places like France, Italy, Spain, etc. How is Mexico emerging as a major player in the global art scene?
Mexico has always had a vibrant art scene. I think people are beginning to recognize this. In the 1920’s to 1950’s Mexico was the place to go to learn about, meet with and learn from the great Muralist artists, such as Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco. In the 1960’s and 1970’s Modern Art Galleries and many Museums in Mexico were established, such as the Modern Museum of Art (MAM) and the Galerias de Arte Moderno (GAM). Even the 1968 Olympics demonstrated the creative talent of the architects and graphic designers who came up with some of the most iconic images of any Olympics (remember the pop-art ’68 graphic?). Today, Mexico City is home to Zona Maco, the internationally renowned Contemporary Art Fair that takes place every February. Top Galleries, Collectors, Art Enthusiasts flock to Mexico City to attend this Fair and to view and collect cutting edge art. And some of the most important Contemporary Art Collections are in Mexico City, including the recently opened Museo Colleccion Jumex, and Kurimanzutto, art gallery.
You’ve got an interesting tour coming up in August that showcases the work and lives of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Tell us about that and the Botanical Gardens exhibit opening this month?
We are excited that simultaneously, several exhibits are taking place in the U.S. that feature the art and lives of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and the art of Mexico. In Detroit at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), “Diego and Frida in Detroit” opened in March, and exhibits never seen before, “cartoon” sketches of Diego’s work for the Detroit Industry Murals, commissioned by the Museum and funded by Edsel Ford in 1932. The exhibit covers the lives and art of Diego and Frida during their stay in Detroit. Diego was happy, painting and being admired by all; Frida was miserable, given the bitter cold of the Winter, the attitude of the local society towards her, and she sadly had a miscarriage. But it was here, that she began to experiment with art and techniques, including engraving, with her friend and accomplished artists, Lucienne Bloch.
The New York Botanical Garden exhibit is called, “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden and Life”, and will focus on the botanical elements used in many of Frida’s artwork. The exhibit opens on May 16.
“Man, Controller of the Universe” by Diego Rivera (photo: Tia Stephanie Tours)
Taking these two blockbuster exhibits, we coordinated and designed a tour to complement these exhibits and learning experiences. Our “Diego and Frida in Mexico City Tour” will lead travelers to important historic places that were pivotal in the lives and development of both artists and their lives as a couple. We will see where the first Murals were painted in the 1920’s, in the Antiguo Colegio San Idelfonso, which happens to be where Frida went to high school! Visiting the Murals at the Palace of Fine Arts, we will be able to compare and contrast the art, techniques and political messages of the “Big Three”, Rivera, Orozco and Siqueiros, as while they were part of the Mexican Muralist Movement, each had different ideas and artistic expressions. Travelers will enter the “Blue House,” Frida Kahlo Museum to see where Frida grew up and to imagine her in her Studio, in her Garden surrounded by her beloved animals, and sadly in her bed, where she was often in pain, due to a childhood trolley accident. And, visiting the Diego and Frida Studios in San Angel neighborhood, we will see the space that their friend and architect Juan O’Gorman designed for them to work and live separately and sometimes together! That was the life of Diego and Frida!
This tour takes place August 8-16, 2015 and will include wonderful dining experiences, including some of Frida’s favorite dishes! Visits to the archeology site of Teotihuacan and the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco are also places that Diego and Frida loved to visit.
You offer very niche experiences like your Mexican Textile tour. Talk about that and some of the other unique twists you offer to travelers who want to go deep into Mexican culture and history.
Zapotec Rugs (Photo: Tia Stephanie Tours)
A central aspect of Mexico’s history and present day landscape, is an understanding and appreciation of the country’s original people and ancient civilizations that emerged from hunter, gatherers to building grand cities, with great accomplishments in art, astronomy, math, writing, etc. These civilizations were the Maya, Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Toltec, Purepecha, Totonac, Huastec, Aztec and many other groups. While we visit these sites, we always remind our travelers, and it is apparent, that these original peoples of Mexico are still present and they represent the living cultures of Mexico today. About 10% of Mexico’s population is indigenous (original), and each ethnic group has different expressions in dress, language, food, customs, rituals, etc. On our Textile Tours we are particularly interested with the rich textile traditions, dress as cultural expression, weaving and dying as master techniques and art, iconography and symbols embedded in the weaving. We visit communities on the Coast of Oaxaca, for example, to see how the Mixtec dyers climb on the ocean rocks in search of the sea mollusk that emits a purple dye, for their women to weave the lovely purple wrap skirt they are known for. We visit Maya weavers in the Highlands of Chiapas near San Cristobal de Las Casas, followed by the Lowlands (Palenque, Yaxchilan and Bonampak) to see how weaving has not changed in over 3,000 years.
Our Textile Journeys attract textile enthusiasts, curious travelers, collectors, and all are very grateful to travel to locations they have never been to before. Even the most seasoned Mexico travelers have called some of our tours, “Off the Grid” and “Bold”. Mexico is a vast and diverse country and one could spend a lifetime exploring it. We aim to go broader and deeper into this extraordinary country, and to help facilitate these experiences for our travelers.