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2018 Travel Trends & Tips from Pauline Frommer, Frommer Guidebooks

Every January, die-hard travelers thirsty for the latest tips and tricks for traveling better, smarter and cheaper, rain down upon New York City’s Javits Center to meet and learn from travel industry experts and a host of destination and tour representatives. Pauline Frommer, consumer travel expert and editorial director of the world-renowned Frommer Guidebook Series, is a regular marquee presenter at the show.  ExpertFlyer caught up with Pauline to get a cheat sheet of tips and trends that will affect travelers in 2018.

LISTEN to our podcast with Pauline Frommer, editorial director, Frommer Guidebooks

 

ExpertFlyer:  So, you just came off your annual presentation and attendance at the New York Times travel show, and you shared a lot of fantastic information that our listeners will benefit from. Let’s start with what people in the travel industry are calling the “Trump Slump.” What’s the effect of the “Trump Slump” on consumer travel?

Pauline Frommer: Well, the “Trump Slump,” for those who haven’t heard about it, is the fact that fewer visitors are coming to the United States. Worldwide we’re seeing a 7% increase in travel, it’s been a boom year for travel, less so here in the United States, and so that’s had a couple of effects. On the hotel front what it means is that prices are dropping, and I’ve seen this quite directly. I write “Frommer’s Easy Guide to New York City” every year — It’s my great joy, I get to go out clubbing, I get to try all the new restaurants, and get to visit all the hotels and also track their pricing. Hotels always drop in the months of January and February in New York City, if you ever want to come and visit New York City cheaply, that’s the time to come.

But they’re dropping, even more, this year than they have in the past. In the past, hotels that I saw going for $149 a night, say two years ago or three years ago, are now going for $119 maybe, or $129. It’s really been quite a significant drop. And the more expensive hotels are also seeing a significant drop. In fact, sometimes even more so. A hotel that would have gone for $439, might be $359 this year. So on the hotel front, I think we’re going to see better deals, and that also has to do with the growing ubiquity of Airbnb, HomeAway, and of people using alternative accommodations. But you’ll find that drop in New York City, at the Nation Parks of the west, San Francisco, and all the places that foreign visitors flock to.

ExpertFlyer:  What about airfares? Are they being impacted by the “Trump Slump”?

Pauline Frommer: We’re also seeing the effect of the “Trump Slump” on airfares internationally because, partially, we’re getting fewer visitors flying inbound to the United States. The airlines are having to drop their prices to fill their seats. I talked with a bunch of tour operators, and they told me they lock in their prices in advance, so it’s a pretty good look at what 2018 holds.

They say Asia is seeing airfares down 10%, 2018 over 2017, and they were already down. So 15% less to Asia, 10% to Europe.

ExpertFlyer: You talk about a number of good travel destination options for 2018, but if one were to decide to take advantage of these low-cost airfares, how does that tie in with your best picks? Are there certain European destinations, or Asian destinations that you would recommend right now?

Pauline Frommer: Well, every year we choose the top places to go, in 2018 we chose 18 places, with the help of the Frommer authors, who are all around the world. For those who don’t know how we work, Frommer’s hires local journalists, and we ask them, what’s really special happening in your community that makes this a particularly good year to travel? One of the places is Ireland because there’s a big spotlight on Ireland this year, not only the best place to go in the world, it’s the best place to go in the galaxy, or so the folks from Star Wars think. If you see the latest Star Wars film, half of it is filmed in Ireland. The beauty there is so otherworldly.  So that’s also a wonderfully, inexpensive place to get to from the United States… especially the East Coast. There’s a lot of good, inexpensive direct flights to Ireland, partially because there’s a lot of competition there, that’s the other reason prices are dropping. There’s just more upstart, low-cost airlines going to Europe, with names like XL, that goes to Paris, and Norwegian is going to a bunch of European gateways.

It used to be you could only get to Europe inexpensively from maybe New York, sometimes Boston, maybe Philadelphia. Now, these upstart airlines are going into secondary cities, to mid-size cities, and doing some really great international flight deals from places like Kansas City or Nashville. So don’t assume that you have to fly to one of the major hubs anymore. It may soon be cheaper, this summer soon, from your hometown.

ExpertFlyer: Talk a little bit about tours.

Pauline Frommer: What’s happening right now with tours, to me is interesting, is it’s finally easier to find them. It’s no big secret that if you go to Expedia, if you go to Priceline, if you go to Travelocity, you’re not going to see multi-day tours listed. And when I say multi-day, I mean tours were you’re traveling with a group of five, four, six, 10 days, and all the hotels are included, maybe some meals, all the sightseeing.

Now there are marketplaces for that type of travel. The two best ones are Stride Travel and Tour Radar. The nice thing about them is, say you want to go to Italy, you put in Italy, you put in the month that you want to travel, and up pops 60 different tours, and they’re so different.

The nice thing about these sites is you not only see Globus, and Tauck, and Intrepid, and the really big multi-national companies. We’re also going to find tiny Italian companies, or if you’re going to Africa, tiny African companies that are doing say safaris. And their prices are usually extremely reasonable, much more reasonable than the folks who have more layers of bureaucracy between them and the destination. So this is the first time you’re able to see the vast array of different types of tours that are out there.

ExpertFlyer:  Talk about some real practical measures. Everybody wants to get the best deal and there’s been a little bit of talk, I think just recently, concerning airline fees, and fares, and the transparency or lack there of. How does a consumer really effectively compare apples to apples?

Pauline Frommer: It’s difficult. It’s very difficult. There are websites that now show the fees in their interface. So for example, you go to CheapOair, as of just I think two weeks ago, they added the fees to your first slide. So when you first go to the site, you can see, okay this flight is $40 less expensive, but I’m going to have to pay to choose a seat, I’m going to have to pay to bring along luggage in the cabin with me, I’m going to pay even more to book that luggage. So CheapOair is good for that, but it doesn’t cover Delta, and it doesn’t cover SouthWest, very few of the sites cover SouthWest, so that’s not unusual. So you do want to keep those extra fees in mind. And unfortunately, just in the last six months, it used to be this was a domestic fee only, now we’re seeing it for international travel, it’s called HBO fares, hand baggage only. So be careful because on a domestic flight, usually, the difference between a basic economy fare, and those are the fares you have all these extra fees on. Usually the difference between that and a regular ticket is $25. How much does it cost you to check a bag? $25 dollars. It’s a bit of a shell game. So you just have to be careful and search in the right place.

At Frommers.com we did a study, we hired a wonderful author named Reed Bramlett, he just spent weeks doing searches, poor guy. And he found that two websites were whopping the others, mundo.com and bystander.net. In the vast majority of cases, they found the lowest rates more often for direct flights, but they just seemed to work better than their more well-known compatriots.

ExpertFlyer: People always want to know the best day of the week to book, and it seems to change, what is it this year?

Pauline Frommer: This year it’s Sunday. I’m not looking into a crystal ball as I say that. There is an organization called The Airline Reporting Corporation, they act as the middleman between airlines and travel agencies, whether that be bricks-and-mortar travel agencies, or Expedia, or Travelocity or the like. And they, every year, do a study of all the fare transactions they do, and that numbers about 30 million fare transactions, it’s billions of dollars they’re looking at. And they look for patterns, and they found that when you book on a Sunday you save about 18% off booking during the week. And the worst day to travel is Friday, prices are highest on Friday. When I say book, I don’t mean fly, I mean this is the day you put down the money. It’s statistical, so it’s not always going to be that much, but yeah, it is a lot of the times. So I personally try and do it on Sunday’s. Why is it? They don’t give a reason, but I think it might have to do with the fact that corporate travel agents don’t work on the weekends, and they know that business travelers aren’t booking, but that’s just my guess.

ExpertFlyer:  Any last nuggets of advice or little gems you want to share with the audience before we let you go?

Pauline Frommer:  Sure. Well one last tricky thing you can do on airfares is, they’re really, really trying to get foreign travelers to fly into the US. And so, nowadays, if you go to the foreign version of the website for the airline you’re booking, and search on that, you often will get a lower price. So if you maybe found a really good airfare on say Norwegian Airlines, go to the Norwegian site. It’s gonna be hard to translate, you’re going to have to keep two screens open perhaps, looking at the US site and the Norwegian site. But you can save a lot of money by booking it as if you are a Norwegian. Now the savings will be wiped out if your credit card adds in a big fee, so do check what your credit card will do, but if they don’t, sometimes this is a simple, easy, legal way to do it.

 

Did you know…5 unexpected ways to earn bonus points?

frugal travel guy logoFrugal Travel Guy blogger, Anya Kartashova, recounts five unexpected methods she used to earn air and hotel travel bonus points in 2017.  Here are a few of her bonus building gems:

  • Enroll your American Express card in their Pay Over Time feature and earn an easy 10,000 Membership Rewards points.
  • Look for award point opportunities with Chase. This fall, they ran a promo for Sapphire-branded credit cards, like Chase Sapphire Preferred, where you could earn an extra point for every transaction paid via a digital-wallet app, such as Apple Pay, Android Pay, Chase Pay and Samsung Pay.
  • Marriott Rewards NFL Promo — Marriott Rewards has partnered with the National Football League and asks football fans trivia questions on Twitter almost every Sunday during the NFL season. Questions range from “How wide is an NFL football field?” to “How many players can each NFL team have on the field?” Every correct answer equals to 1,000 Marriott Rewards points!

    Read more at: 5 Unexpected Ways I’ve Earned Bonus Points This Year | Frugal Travel Guy

 

 

 

Year end tactics to earn points and maintain or increase your frequent flyer status

airline cabin

Since US legacy carriers have moved their loyalty programs to a dollars spent rather than miles flown model, it has become a more costly undertaking for frequent flyers to accrue points. Savvy flyers that travel around the world for less are losing ground – not because they are flying less, but because they are spending less per ticket purchase.

In the old days (think pre-2016), award-travel and status seekers would plan their year-end mileage runs as a way to increase their mile points and maintain or level-up their elite status ranking. In the new world of dollars spent, we need to come up with new tactics to build our points and preserve our perks and status.

In an interview with Jason Steele, an award travel and credit card expert, we explore the viability of and alternatives to the mileage run that won’t empty our pockets in exchange for diminishing returns.

WATCH our interview with Jason Steele, award travel, credit card, and personal finance expert

ExpertFlyer: Are mileage runs a waste of time now based on the airlines’ new points accrual criteria?

Jason Steele: Well, certainly the traditional mileage run is pretty much gone. This would be when let’s say there’s a discounted airfare of $100 round trip transcontinental from New York to LA. The airlines would get into an intense competition and maybe during a slow season, they’d offer a “just can’t say no” deal, so for the $100, you would get on the plane and you would maybe accumulate 5,000 miles round trip. If those 5,000 miles were worth that $100 to you, then that was a great mileage run. And often as much, runs would be made worth it if there was another promotion going on. Let’s say there’s double miles or a big bonus should you complete a certain number of miles within a certain time.

But as you referred to, within the last few years, the airlines have gone from awarding miles based on the miles you flew to the actual dollars you spent. And so, depending on the status level you hold with the airline, it would be five to maybe 11 miles per dollar spent. But of course, that removed any component of a traditional mileage run where you said, “Okay. Well, for this inexpensive airfare, I’m going to accumulate all these miles.” Well, the fact that it’s inexpensive means you will not accumulate all these miles.

But of course, there is an exception. The exception is the status. Airlines are still awarding elite star status largely based on the miles you fly with a couple caveats.

So it still makes sense, especially around this time of year when the demand is low and the airfares are often low. So certainly from New York to LA and back, you know, being maybe 5, 6,000 miles nonstop might not be worth it for $100, but if on your way from New York to LA you changed planes first in Atlanta and then Minneapolis – Now your 6,000 miles may be 8,000 miles. That infusion of miles might be enough to earn your re-qualification of elite status, which is actually quite valuable. That will potentially give you upgrades to the economy plus or premium economy or even less common now, but first class upgrades are certainly there for the highest status levels.
Also, all sorts of fee waivers. So priority treatment when you have bad weather or mechanical delays or cancellations, are all worth it to get to that elite status.

EF: What happens if you were able to score a relatively inexpensive business class seat? Does that change the formula in any way?

J.S.: Certainly. The airline will offer many bonuses for higher classes of service. So, a business class seat might give you a 50 or 100% bonus in those elite qualifying miles.

Those miles, especially those that are double or re-qualifying miles, might certainly be worth it if the premiere or business class is relatively low. So, maybe you find a $2,000 round-trip ticket to Europe in business class, which would be a great deal if you found it. If that’s compared to, say, $1,200 in coach, a lot of people might say, “Well, I’ll spend the $800. Obviously, I’ll enjoy business class. Maybe I wouldn’t have spent the $800 normally, but now I’m going to get double elite qualifying miles and that will propel me to the next level of status and then all through 2018 and the first couple months of 2019, I’ll have this increased chance of getting first-class upgrades and other upgrades and perks and that’ll partially offset that additional cost.”

EF: When it comes to credit cards, where are we at now in terms of offering the best types of travel rewards? What are your favorites?

J.S.: If you asked me this a couple of years ago, I would have told you that the best deals are with the travel rewards programs, your ultimate rewards, membership rewards and thank you points and the star preferred guest program. All four of those programs allow you to transfer points and miles or transfer your rewards to points and miles with airline and possibly hotel programs.

Over the last couple of years, I would say that has proven increasingly true as airlines continue to devalue their programs. They give you very, very little incentive to invest in accumulating miles with a single airline because they have demonstrated time and time again, some more than others, that you wake up one day and the bar has moved, so the award for 100,000 miles to Europe in business class, is now 120K or 140K miles. That might be okay, but what’s worse is that there are so few seats available at those lowest mileage levels that they might as well be selling unicorns. If the shelves on the store are empty, then what does it matter what the prices are?

On the other hand, I’m not one of those award travel enthusiasts who is all doom and gloom. I still recognize that even if the awards cost twice as much as they used to, I’m often getting three, four, five points per dollar on my spending on various credit cards. So, for example, with Chase Ultimate Rewards, they’re still a card that’ll give me five points per dollar on telecommunications, office supply store, etc.

When I spend money on travel or dining, I use the Sapphire Reserve. I get three points per dollar. So, the credit card industry being so competitive has outshone the airline industry, which frankly is not very competitive. And overall, I think the gains in credit card earnings are outweighing the loses in the value of the miles.

EF: If you were going to give one last tip for maintaining or increasing your status at the end of the year, what’s your best advice?

J.S.: I have never, personally, flown somewhere just to fly back to accumulate miles. I don’t feel like that’s worth my time or even my money, but you know, if you do have a cross-country trip and you are close to the next threshold, use a creative outing. Fly home and change planes in an unusual city. If you could accumulate those extra miles that’s great. Other ways you can accumulate miles is by using airline credit cards, especially with the Delta program, which will give you those elite qualifying miles. American has that as well. United no longer offers cards like that, so there’s no real shortcut with United.

I also tell people, of course, to be careful of chasing status. I don’t think status is worth as much as it once was. Airlines have been saying publicly that they don’t want to give away seats to people with status. They’d rather actually just sell them for $50.

So you might take some of that extra money that you might have spent if you were going to spend money to get status and you might just buy up to first class.

Boost Your Award-Booking and Upgrade Success With ExpertFlyer

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

ExpertFlyer was recently featured by The Points Guy as a resource to get the award seats you want on your next flight.

The Points Guy“If your plan for finding airline award space involves relying on airline phone agents, people who have a very tough job in my opinion, you’re setting yourself up for failure. As hard as they work, many lack the necessary training on award-booking rules and airline partnerships — and this can put an end to your award itinerary before it begins. Today, I’ll show you how you should use ExpertFlyer to get the award seats you want.”

Read the full post here.

 

 

Weekly Business Flyer Touts Loyalty for Amazing Upgrade Opportunities

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

In this third installment of tips and takeaways from frequent flying executives, we caught up with Andrew Mahaffey, a sales executive with Ingenico Group, a global leader in seamless payment. Catch up here if you’ve missed previous posts in the series.

Andrew flies for business on a weekly basis and holds Diamond Medallion frequent flyer status with Delta Airlines.

andrew mahaffey, ingenicoWhat are your frequent flyer ninja moves for enjoying as many perks via the airlines as possible?

I utilize the Delta American Express Reserve credit card for traveling and expenses which give you great miles and MQM bonuses, Delta Sky Club access along with free checked bags. With the Delta AMEX Reserve card, you also receive a Companion pass each year.

Being a Diamond customer is great because you will get upgraded 9 out of 10 times on domestic flights especially if you are originating from a non-hub airport which is outside of Atlanta, JFK, MSP, Salt Lake City, Detroit, or LAX. Hitting Diamond also gives you the added bonus to choose four gift options in which one offer is “Four Global Upgrades” to the Delta One cabin or partner equivalents if available. My wife and I just booked a round trip flight from ATL – Barcelona for later this Summer. Our flight was $800 per ticket for Economy but we were able to use the Global Upgrades for each ticket round trip to get us into Delta One (with lay flat beds); the cost of that ticket, if you are paying full price, is $4,525 per ticket.

What’s your biggest bragging right about scoring something from the airlines and how did it come about?

Earlier this year my wife and I redeemed SkyMiles to take a trip to Iceland which we were going first class round trip (99,000 miles each). Our original flight itinerary had us leaving ORD to JFK for a two-hour layover then JFK to REK arriving there at 6:45 am. Due to weather that day (and really that week), all flights into and out of JFK were either severely delayed or canceled. The ticketing agent at ORD was able to place us on a British Airways flight to London which had a 4-hour layover then a flight from London to REK where we arrived at 3:30 pm later that afternoon. The catch was that our flight from ORD to London was not in their first class cabin as it was completely full so we ended up flying economy (which was fine but we used more miles for the purchase to fly in first class). That turned out to be more than okay as our experience on British Airways was outstanding. Great customer service! Delta was still able to get us upgraded on our flight to REK from London which was on Icelandair but that flight was only 2.5 hours. Anyway, due to the delay and changing of classes, Delta gave me back 38,500 miles for each ticket along with giving each of us $200 flight vouchers. Delta also gave many passengers that week 20,000 bonus miles if you experienced a delay over 3 hours which we both received too. In the end, we actually ended up obtaining 58,500 miles back per ticket (117,000 total miles) from that overall experience which only put us 8 hours behind our original schedule. We effectively spent 81,000 miles total (original total being 198,000 miles) to go to Iceland all while getting $400 worth of flight vouchers, too.

Anything else that other business travelers should know to help them make flying more enjoyable?

I would recommend staying loyal to an airline and focus on obtaining status as the whole experience of traveling gets much better and easier once you get that status (early boarding, upgrades, sky club, priority customer service call center, etc.).