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What’s the real deal on air travel in 2016

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.

ExpertFlyer Chats with Bobby Laurie, Co-Host of New Travel Show, Jet Set

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.

 

“Did you know…Planes of the Future May Fly from NYC to Tokyo in 30 mins?

lockheed supersonic plane

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.

easyJet crew dons wearable tech

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.

 

 

 

ExpertFlyer’s 2015 Holiday Gift Guide for Frequent Flyers

 

christmas ornaments

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

smartwatches The Smartwatch

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 LuggageBluesmart 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.

voice recorder penSlim 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

ThinOPTICS glassesThinOPTICS

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

fitbit surgeFitbit Surge

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

 

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 headsetNOON 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

 

Create-a-SpaceCREATE-A-SPACE

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 G9 XCanon 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.

Red River Greeting CardsGreetings 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!

Approximately $1.00 per card (includes ink and envelope).  Visit redriverpaper.com.

MylioMylio

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.

Alaska Inner Passage framed using Whitewall

WhiteWall

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.

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Wishing you and yours Safe & Happy Holiday Travels!

 

“Did you know…People lose $5B worth of personal effects each year?”

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.