U.S. Customs & Border Protection encourages travelers to “Know Before You Go”

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

us customsAs the busiest three months of international travel approach, U.S. Customs and Border Protection encourages travelers to “Know Before You Go” when traveling to the United States or returning home this summer. CBP officers at international airports, cruise terminals and land border ports of entry around the country and at Preclearance facilities around the world are prepared for the additional traffic expected this summer. Last summer, CBP processed more than 108.3 million international travelers at U.S. ports of entry.

“The United States has been and continues to be a welcoming country and CBP remains committed to facilitating lawful travel to the United States,” said Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan. “In the spirit of this commitment, CBP has deployed innovative programs and technology including Trusted Traveler Programs, Automated Passport Control kiosks and Mobile Passport Control to make the arrival process as efficient and as quick as possible while maintaining our dual mission of border security and travel facilitation.”

CBP encourages travelers to plan ahead to ensure a smooth and efficient processing experience. Use these tips to help you prepare. Continue reading →

Cash vs. Miles Study Finds 11 Travel Reward Cards Beat 2% Cash Back

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

travel reward credit cards

In a recent study, MileCards.com ranked 38 travel rewards cards with points that can be used for domestic flights, including the primary airline mile cards of the 5 largest airlines, along with the bank point rewards cards from the 10 largest banks.  Here are the key findings:

Eleven travel rewards cards beat 2% cash back

·         11 of the 38 travel rewards cards ranked came out ahead of a no annual fee 2% cash back card for domestic flight rewards when factoring annual fees. And three significantly outperformed.

·         The Barclaycard Arrival Plus, Amex Everyday Preferred, and Chase Sapphire Preferred each offer over $2,000 worth of reward value over 3 years, compared to $1,687 for a 2% cash back card.

best travel rewards credit cards

Only two airline cards came out ahead, both from Southwest

·         If you’re looking for domestic flight awards, sticking to a single airline card isn’t a good bet unless you fly enough to cover the annual fee with bag fee waivers or other perks. And even then, you’re often better off putting your spending on a different card.

·         Two things put airline cards at a disadvantage. First, most only earn a basic 1 mile per dollar spent with few bonus categories like dining or groceries. Second, excluding Southwest, the average price of a domestic award in miles is a high 37,332 miles round trip.

·         Southwest is the exception. With a generous sign on bonus and anniversary bonuses, plus very low prices of 13,722 points on average for a round trip flight, the flight value from its two credit cards, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier, and Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus from Chase, beat a basic 2% cash back card.

When paying no annual fee, cash back usually wins

·         When travel rewards are involved, an annual fee can pay off. All of the cards that came out ahead of a 2% cash back card carry an annual fee.  But for consumers who want to pay no annual fee, a 2% cash back card like the CIti Double Cash is usually a better bet than using a travel rewards card for domestic flight awards.

·         The Discover It Miles, with a generous first-year offer that effectively offers 3x points on all spending, is the only no annual fee travel rewards card that matches a 2% cash back card for earning power.

·         Bank of America customers with high account balances can also get better than 2% rewards via the Bank of America Travel Rewards card using Bank of America’s Preferred Rewards program.

Personal spending habits matter

·         It’s important to take into consideration personal spending habits when evaluating a card. For people who spend more than the average $3,008 a year on dining away from home, a card with a 2x or 3x bonus on dining like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve can outshine the Barclaycard Arrival Plus.  For example, a consumer who spends $6,000 a year on dining could earn $2,252 in flight awards net of fees over 3 years with a Chase Sapphire Reserve versus $2,104 with a Barclaycard Arrival Plus.

While the MileCards study used the average spending habits by category reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, using a calculator that calculates card rewards based on personal spending habits can help give a better sense of which cards will outperform. Read the full study on MileCards.com.

Best travel apps you’re missing out on

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

top travel apps

Credit Donkey, a popular credit card comparison website, recently published their list of favorite travel apps.  Spoiler Alert: ExpertFlyer Seat Alerts is one of their top picks along with 70 some odd worthy competitors.

Read the full post here.


Getting High in Santa Fe

ExpertFlyer Hot Topics — Where the Rubber Meets the Runway

At 7,000 feet above sea level, Santa Fe, New Mexico is the highest state capital in the United States. But did you know that Santa Fe is over 400 years old, and it’s been a capital city under three different flags: Spain, Mexico, and the US? We’ve been covering domestic destinations that offer a foreign feel and flavor, and Santa Fe is among the top picks representing international cultures — not to mention art, cuisine, and attractions.  We interviewed Cynthia Delgado, marketing director for Tourism Santa Fe to learn more about this unique city.

WATCH our video interview with Cynthia Delgado, Santa Fe Tourism


There’s a long history of foreign influence in Santa Fe, mostly from Spain and Mexico, but also from indigenous, native tribes. Tell us about that.

It’s interesting. Many people don’t realize that Santa Fe, New Mexico is over 400 years old, in terms of being a community. If you build in the indigenous peoples in the northern New Mexico area, we’re talking thousands of years old. As a capital city, it has actually been a capital under three different flags. We have the indigenous Native American communities – sovereign nations still. Back in the late 1500s and early 1600s, it was under Spanish rule, and Spain’s flag as a territory – that goes back pre-Plymouth Rock; then it was under the Mexican flag as a territory, and now, of course, it’s under the US flag. It truly does have an international feel, flavor, and really an embracing of all those cultures and traditions. Although we enjoy an abundance of varied cultural infusion, they all remain distinct in their own way.  You can experience it in food, and performing arts, in visual arts, in our 114 museums.

Talk about the impact of the railroad and the arts on Santa Fe’s success.

It really is a fascinating story. Back in the early 20th century, the railroad did come to Santa Fe, but it never came as a passenger rail. We had lumber coming in, we had brick coming in, we had what I would call Eastern lifestyle coming in, but the passengers actually went up to Las Vegas, New Mexico. It created this opportunity for the community, or elected officials, or community officials to really talk about who Santa Fe was, and what were the things that made people excited about visiting there. It really was that coming together of cultures, the traditions of those cultures and really this out-of-the-way place.

People like Georgia O’Keeffe, these renegade artists really saw Santa Fe as off the beaten path, because quite frankly it was off the railroad’s beaten path. And so, the community took that reputation, took that energy and said, “We’re going to be the city different. We’re not going to be your typical US Main Street city. We’re going to have this amazing adobe architecture that we’re going to protect. We’re going to have museums that become receptacles of art from not only the region but from around the country.” For example, our New Mexico Art Museum is celebrating its 100th anniversary in November.  Why is that interesting? Well, New Mexico was barely a state at the time and yet it had an art museum — and dirt roads leading up to it.

We really embraced that artistic, that out-of-the-way, that not what you’d normally expect to see in the US way of being. It played for artists who were on the East Coast, and although they were successful, they wanted freedom. I always like to say, people come to Santa Fe for the land, the sky, the light, and freedom.

If someone is planning a trip to Santa Fe, what are the not-to-be-missed art attractions?

That’s a difficult question, but I’m going to go for it. The art in Santa Fe continues to evolve. It evolves from our very, very traditional and masterful Native American art, so that’s one part of an itinerary that I would say to include. The Museum of Indian Art and Culture, our Native American Portal program where you can actually interact with native artists. That is an important part of our history and the art scene. Then I would say there’s Canyon Road, which is a little under a mile of over 100 galleries.

It’s the most concentrated street in the world in terms of galleries. That road and those galleries show the evolution of our art, Native American, Western art. You see a more modern, Georgia O’Keeffe feel to the art. Then we have our railyard, which has big contemporary art galleries. Those are three experiences, but last and definitely not least is a new art experience that opened just over a year ago that’s called Meow Wolf House of Eternal Return. It is an art installation, interactive art experience that was developed by an art cooperative of about 150 young artists that wanted to build an exhibition where you didn’t just look at the art, or learn about the art, but you became immersed in the art with a component of storytelling, and discovery.

The House of Eternal Return is an exhibition you go to. You walk into this very large building, which used to be an old bowling alley, and you find yourself entering a home, a full-sized home. As you walk in, something just isn’t right. You can go through this house, look through the mail, turn on the computers, see videos, look in the files, go through closets, open the refrigerator and realize that it’s a portal to another world. All of a sudden, you become immersed in this story about a family that has disappeared. Within that scale, within that story, within that scope, you become part of the art experience. In the one year that it’s been open, they’ve had about 400,000 visitors. It’s a whole new way of experiencing art. 150 different artists developed it, and it shows how Santa Fe has been able to draw to it, maintain, nurture those artists that are challenging the boundaries of what we perceive art to be.

Let’s move from art to a different kind of beauty — Give us the high points of the Santa Fe landscape and how best to experience it?

Santa Fe is at 7,000 feet, which most people do not realize, so they come here with the thought of the word desert in their head. The one question I get a lot and it makes me crazy is, “Where are the Saguaro cactuses?” Actually, Santa Fe, in its geography is not a desert, from a biological perspective. It’s called a lowland forest environment because it gets more rain than what is considered a desert topology. So, we’re at 7,000 feet, we have all four seasons. Last Saturday, maybe the Saturday before, I was trying to get out of Santa Fe, and we had eight inches of snow.

We have all kinds of hiking, mountain biking. We’re an IMBA silver rated mountain biking destination, which there are I think only less than half a dozen of them in the country.  We have a wonderful spring season, where other mountain destinations are dealing with mud. We don’t have that because our snow evaporates. It’s really beautiful and we have no humidity — everyday is a good hair day!

What’s the best time of year to visit Santa Fe?

One of my favorite times of the year is the summer because there’s just so much going on in the city. We have the Santa Fe Opera, we have free music and dancing on the bandstand just about every night of the week. We have the Santa Fe Chamber of Music Festival; there’s the Bike and Brew, and we have our amazing markets!

We’re talking about how Santa Fe is one of those destinations you can feel like you’re leaving the country? Well, the International Folk Art Market happens in the second week of July, and they bring in 160 to 180 artists from around the world. This is a juried show. It’s juried by folk art market collectors and art museum curators. So, you’re getting to travel the world and see some of the finest folk art in the world. It’s a celebration of culture. They have music, food from around the world, and it makes you happy because this particular organization is the main source of income for many of the vendors. Many of the artists who exhibit here take home 90% of their sales for the year at this event.

I read recently that Santa Fe was named a top retirement destination so it would seem there is something for everyone.

The Baby Boomers are a very big dynamic for the travel industry. They’re healthier, they have money, they are active. They’re hiking, they’re biking, they’re eating, they’re drinking. They’re wanting to have great experiences. The Millennials that we talk so much about, you know what? They want to do all those same things, so we have to get it out of our heads to stop talking about age, and start talking about fun, and experiences, and adventures. Because at the end of the day, that’s what we all want.

What do you believe Santa Feans are most proud of?

I’m a 12th generation New Mexican and Santa Fean, and so for me, I think one of the things that is so important to the Santa Fe experience is our people. Whether they’ve been there generations, or they have become our biggest cheerleaders because they retired here. It is people wanting to share how much they love Santa Fe. And so, I always encourage people who come and visit, whether it’s your server at the restaurant or the individual at the boutique who’s helping you pick out that amazing piece of turquoise, ask them their Santa Fe story. Ask them about what drew them there, and you will learn about the magic of Santa Fe.

For more information on Santa Fe and a calendar of events, visit SantaFe.org.

ExpertFlyer Travel Survey Shows 40% of Respondents Affected by Electronics Ban

The recent ban on electronics including laptops and tablets on flights to the U.S. from targeted airports will impact inflight activities for many business and leisure travelers, a new survey shows. ExpertFlyer.com, an online airline information website, surveyed 1,566 subscribers to determine how severe the impact would be and what steps, if any, travelers might take to avoid these airports or how they would adjust their inflight travel habits. The survey also asked travelers if they would use laptops and tablets provided by airlines as part of a free loaner program on affected flights. While 58% of respondents said they would consider it, 42% said “absolutely not.”

Of the 1,566 responses, ExpertFlyer found that 40% said they would be directly impacted by the recent ban and 40% of those said they plan to reroute their itinerary to avoid the inconvenience. The remaining 60% affected by the ban said they would not change their travel itineraries and would simply adjust their typical inflight activities accordingly.

The ban targets specific airports, mostly in the Middle East, and applies only to direct flights to the U.S.  Airports currently on the list include Cairo, Egypt; Dubai and Abu Dhabi, UAE; Istanbul, Turkey; Doha, Qatar; Amman, Jordan; Kuwait City; Casablanca, Morocco; and Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Gary Leff, author at the popular frequent flyer blog, A View from the Wing, analyzed the results of the survey and offered some insight about what this means for international travel, as well as alternative options that travelers may consider to avoid the inconvenience.

“These are major world hubs that have become very efficient places for connections; not just between the U.S. and India but even to Asia from the east coast of the U.S,” Leff explains.  “For business travelers who have sensitive information on their computers, letting it out of their sight is not an option and they are left with only two choices; leave the laptop behind or adjust their itinerary to avoid the ban.” During his interview with ExpertFlyer, Leff discussed ways travelers can use their mobile phone, which is permitted on these flights, as an alternate work machine. He also suggests traveling during business downtimes. “Flying on Friday night through Monday morning minimizes the need to conduct business inflight. It’s a good time to decompress by watching a movie, closing your eyes or if you must work, catch up on emails using your phone.”

“As the survey suggests, a large percentage of respondents will be affected by this ban on electronics,” explains Chris Lopinto, president and co-founder of ExpertFlyer.com. “The ban has had a dual impact on the travel industry. Less people are traveling from these cities and the airlines have reduced the number of scheduled flights. As with the airline industry in general, this situation is creating an ever-changing dynamic that continually needs to be monitored.”

66% of respondents whose travels are affected by the ban (618 respondents) said they would not change their travel itineraries but confirmed their onboard activities would be impacted. This suggests that these respondents typically conduct business using their electronics while the remaining 34% who said it would not have an effect on activities would read, sleep, or access inflight entertainment programming.

“Long-haul flights like these typically offer entertainment centers in the headrests in all classes so if you’re not planning to work during the flight, the ban should have minimal impact on your usual activities,” Lopinto said.

Many airlines are creating laptop / tablet loaner programs for passengers during the ban. Offered primarily to premium cabin passengers, ExpertFlyer wanted to determine if such a loaner program had broader appeal among all passengers, not just those in Business or First Class. 57% of all respondents said they would consider using a loaner device from an airline while 42% responded with a resounding “no way.”

“For the traveler who wants to work in flight, it isn’t a replacement at all,” explains Gary Leff. “You don’t have access to your hard drive and you probably don’t want to use a USB drive for fear of leaving a digital footprint behind. The device doesn’t have the software or apps needed to work effectively and there are serious security issues to consider.” Mr. Leff’s comments echoed those of respondents who would not borrow an electronic device. Sanitary considerations were also frequently voiced. “Do you really think they properly clean those devices after every use?” one respondent barked.