Month: July 2015

6 packing hacks that let you travel light with minimal sacrifices

Photo: Angelo Amboldi/Flickr

If you are heading to the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York or Milan this fall, or you’re Kate Middleton on a three-week royal tour, stop reading now. All non-fashionistas/princesses, hi! Let’s talk about minimalist packing.

First, a quick primer on travel minimalism in general: done right, it’s not about living on a mountaintop with only seven worldly possessions. Minimalism is about limiting what’s secondary (and tertiary, and, um, whatever comes after that) so we can focus on what brings us the most joy, happiness, relaxation, awe, pulled pork sandwiches, concerts in the park, or whatever it is we’re looking for. Travel minimalism isn’t just about packing light. It’s about packing light in order to focus on the experience of travel.

Here are six tips:

  1. Wear and toss. You’re probably going to end up buying a pair of leather boots in Italy or a handmade silk dress in Vietnam, so rather than adding to your already overstuffed luggage, save some space by throwing out a couple T-shirts and those shoes you wore though past the soles. Or, better yet…
  2. Wear and donate. Before I left Kenya, I befriended a local man with 13 younger brothers and sisters. The day I left for Spain, I gave him everything but two outfits. I’m not sure which one of us was more thrilled. Additionally, tour companies, like Backroads, along with hotels, hostels, and even cruise ships now accept donations of gently used clothing and shoes(especially in developing countries). Be sure to check before you go.
  3. Shop for travel. If you travel frequently, create a travel minimalism stash. Buy a second set of airline-friendly toiletries and have them packed in advance. Shop for a few signature pieces that roll up easily and don’t wrinkle. Buy super-thin layers you can trade out (or wash in the sink overnight). That way, you only need one or two outer layers (shirts, sweaters, etc.) that require very little laundering. No one but your thankful chiropractor will care that you’ve worn the same 2-4 outfits for two weeks.
  4. But items with multiple uses: an indispensable travel dress for day, night, or work; a sturdy pair of hiking sandals you can wear to the beach; yoga pants dressy enough for a meeting, but comfy enough for sleeping on a 14-hour plane ride; a sarong that can cover your shoulders in a religious setting, serve as a beach towel or skirt, cover your hair if you’re sans hair dryer, or even work as a bag to hold the rest of your stuff.
  5. Don’t be afraid of laundry. I’ve paid under $10 everywhere from Guatemala to Uganda (about $20-$40 in developed countries) to have my clothes laundered outside of pricey business hotels. When available, I’ve done it myself for even less. The best part? Spend two hours in a laundromat as a foreigner, and I can almost guarantee you’ll have at least one memorable cultural exchange. Of course, if you’re on a short business trip, you can always use DUFL to launder, ship and press your clothes.
  6. Pick your splurges carefully. Again, minimalism is all about shedding what you don’t love to focus on what you do. While we want you to be less encumbered — literally — and open to new experiences when you’re traveling, we know keeping grounded will help you do that. Does that mean you bring your favorite polka-dotted rain boots? Books made from real trees? An acoustic guitar?  Your teddy bear? If that’s what makes you happy — but then put on a slightly wrinkled shirt you wore two days ago, get out, and explore.
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A reminder about social media censorship when you travel to certain countries

Photo: zeevveez/Flickr

Jodi Magi wasn’t trying to make a political statement or cause an international incident when she posted a photo to Facebook in February. The Australian artist just snapped a picture of herself in front of a car without a handicapped sticker that had illegally taken over two handicapped spaces in front of her apartment building in Abu Dhabi – and she even blurred the license plate before she shared it. But when one of her neighbors filed a police complaint about the pic, she was in for the kind of trouble that goes way beyond comments on social media.

Magi was charged under the United Arab Emirates Cyber Crime Law, found guilty (without a trial, obviously) of “writing bad words on social media” and fined $2,680. She has lived in Abu Dhabi since 2012 and has taught a women’s graphic design class, but she was told that she would be deported after paying the fine. When she reported to the police station to pay up, she was immediately taken into custody. Magi told news.com.au: 

No one’s talking to me, no one’s telling me what’s going on. I’m pretty scared.

A spokesperson for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told the news outlet that it had been offering “consular assistance,” and insisted that taking Magi into custody was “normal practice” before being deported.

She doesn’t know how long she will be held in jail and she says she had no idea that her post was even a little bit illegal (“I used the internet,” she said). Magi has since removed the post from Facebook and has changed her profile picture to a modification of one of her own paintings, called “Their delusion had a pathetic sweetness to it.” Before, it was a close cropped image of a zebra’s face. Now the zebra is behind heavy black bars.

Airline ancillary fees soared 21 percent in 2014

Ancillary revenue of global airlines jumped 21% in 2014 to $38.1 billion, according to estimates by aviation analysts IdeaWorks Company.

The company came up with that figure after analyzing the supplementary income earned by 63 airlines worldwide.

Ancillary revenues came from commission-based services such as hotel bookings, co-branded credit cards, loyalty programmes and fees for added services such as extra legroom, checked baggage and cancelation fees.

“Ancillary revenue is an increasingly important indicator of commercial success, and a major contributor to the bottom line of airlines,” said Michael Cunningham, chief commercial officer at CarTrawler, sponsor of the report.

“The secret to unlocking this revenue stream can be found in the data that customers generate with every transaction. It is no longer just the preserve of low cost carriers – it is something from which all airlines are benefiting.”

As a percentage of total revenue, low cost carriers unsurprisingly gained the most with Spirit Airlines out in front, banking 38% in ancillary fees.

Allegiant wasn’t far behind in third place with 32.4%.

Ancillary revenue at all US carriers jumped by more than 18% or $2.6 billion in 2014, with the big three carriers – United Airlines, American/US Airways, and Delta also the world’s top three for generating the most in ancillary fees.

You probably had no idea your credit card gives you these amazing hidden benefits

Row of Credit Cards

You may sign up for a premium credit card because of the rewards, but you may not even realize that it’s packed full of hidden benefits. One of the biggest reasons to always use a credit card for every purchase (in addition to getting points, of course) is that you can always dispute a charge with the issuing bank serving as third-party arbiter — that’s great protection. But better cards come with additional benefits, and your card probably has several of the following:

  • Purchase protection. When I dropped my cell phone on the sidewalk two months after I bought it, I shattered the glass screen. I used a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card to pay for the phone, and for that card Chase covers “your new purchases for 120 days against damage or theft up to $500 per claim and $50,000 per account.” I called Chase up and got connected with the insurance provider. We went back and forth on some paperwork and then I received a check for $314.99 to cover the repair.
  • Rental car collision coverage. Premium cards usually come with coverage for your rental car. You still need liability coverage, but if you ding the car you’re usually not going to be on the hook. Most coverage is secondary, meaning the card company pays what your own insurance doesn’t ( more or less means your deductible, and if you don’t have insurance, the card is in effect covering everything). Some cards — like Chase Sapphire Preferred, United Explorer, and Diners Club — come with primary coverage. If you ding the rental, your own insurance may not even have to know. There are some limits. A few countries — including New Zealand and Israel — may not be included in coverage, and there are limits to how expensive of a car you can rent. But usually you can just decline the rental company’s costly collision waiver and still be fine as long as you charge the full cost of the rental to your card with the coverage.
  • Trip delay and cancellation. If you run into problems while traveling, and incur costs during your delay — like a hotel room and extra meals — save your receipts because the card issuer may cover that.
  • Baggage delay and lost luggage reimbursement.  The same idea holds for lost or delayed bags — when you have to spend money to keep going on your trip, your card company will often reimburse you for the essential items you need to buy. People buy things all the time and fight their airline, often forgetting that there’s another deep pocket that’s already promised to take care of them. Here’s how to get your bank to pay when your flight is delayed or your luggage is lost.
  • Roadside assistance. It’s not as generous as a AAA membership, but if your car breaks down or you lock yourself out, there’s someone you can call to help at a modest fixed cost: your credit card company. Here are the benefits that different cards come with when you run into car troubles.
  • Price protection, warranty extension, and return protection. Buy something and see it for less somewhere else? Don’t want it, but the retailer won’t take it back? Did it stop working just after the manufacturer’s warranty ended? Who you going to call? You know the answer by now…

Are you using all the benefits your premium credit card offers? Or are you leaving value on the table?

The seats aren’t likely to find their way onto a major airline anytime soon – if ever.

But that hasn’t stopped the Internet from exploding with stories about an airplane seating plan that would force passengers to face each other in alternating directions.

What’s prompted all that talk? One of the world’s largest airplane seat manufacturers has patented such a plan, which would allow carriers to squeeze more passengers into the economy cabins of their planes.

In its patent, Zodiac Seats France – a division of Zodiac Aerospace – calls the seating arrangement “economy class cabin hexagon.” On planes where coach cabins have middle seats, the layout would turn the middle seat backwards to – in Zodiac’s words – “increase cabin density while also creating seat units that increase the space available at the shoulder and arm area by creating an overlap in the shoulder areas of adjacent seats.”

The seat-maker has issued renderings and diagrams of its proposed seating arrangement. For now, the idea is just an “exploratory concept.” And even with the patent filing, it’s unclear when – if ever – such a configuration might make its way into the cabin of a major passenger airline.

Despite the potentially awkward face-to-face arrangement, Zodiac claims the layout does have some upside for fliers. For example, Zodiac suggests the alternating seat direction would end up giving fliers four extra inches of legroom.

“It’s a different way of travelling, with people facing each other,” Zodiac vice president Pierre-Antony Vastra says to The Australian newspaper. “We can have nice conversations.”

Already dozens of stories on the topic have surfaced on the Internet, appearing in publications across the globe. The reviews are both over-the-top and generally negative.

Among those, Wired magazine called it “the most nightmarish idea for plane seating ever.” The reputable Globe and Mail of Toronto says the seating idea is “horrifying.”Conde Naste Traveler says the seat design “will haunt you forever” while worrying about “unavoidable eye contact, … hand-holding with your neighbors” and general all-around awkwardness.

There’s more. Tech site Gizmodo? It chimed in too, saying the design “almost seems like a sick joke or some misguided reference to the fear of an unknown serial killer.”Vox struck a similar theme, saying the proposed cabin layout “looks like something from a future Mad Max sequel.”

For now, though, fliers should take a deep breath and relax; this “exploratory concept” is unlikely to fly with a major carrier anytime soon, if ever.

Those hard plastic seats look about as comfortable as a park bench – Yan Baczkowski

This is the one airline where you’ll actually fight for the middle seat

Photo: Aero Icarus/Flickr

Nobody likes being stuck in the middle seat on a long flight — unless they have intimacy issues. But one airline is redesigning its seats to give the middle passenger extra room, and increasing its profit margin in the process.

Frontier Airlines is installing new 19-inch-wide middle seats, a full inch wider than the seats next to the window or aisle. Frontier claims they’re the widest seats on any U.S. airline. CCO Daniel Shurz told CN Traveler, “This will make sitting in the middle seat a little less uncomfortable.” You have to give him credit for not sugar-coating it. Not many executives would brag that their own company’s seats are “less uncomfortable.”

Then again, that’s Frontier’s style. The budget carrier has long embraced its no-frills image. Frontier loyalists know what they’re getting into when they book a flight: a bare-bones experience with all the extras stripped out in favor of a rock-bottom fare. Frontier even charges extra for drinks and carry-on bags, but not for that extra inch of room.

In keeping with the airline’s ethos, the new, roomier seats come with some major caveats of their own. They’re less padded, and they don’t recline. Actually, they come in a “pre-reclined” position. Frontier president Barry Biffle calls it a “built-in knee guard,” which is as good an example of positive spin as I’ve ever heard.

Frontier is also jamming more seats into each plane, giving each of its customers even less room. Its Airbus A320s and A319s will each add another 12 seats. This brings the total number of seats in an A320 up to 180, a full 30 seats more than United puts on the same aircraft. In the future, the company hopes to increase that number to 186, by moving the bathroom into a space where most airlines put a galley. Presumably, a row of seats will then be added in the cockpit, then in the cargo hold, then on the wings, then under the wings, and so on… all in the name of progress (and profit, of course).

But on the plus side, those seats will be wider than ever. And as you know, flying is all about making compromises.

4 new cabin classes to get excited about in 2015

So far in 2015, we’ve seen a lot of advancements in the world of air travel: Virgin Atlantic getting blinged-out with smartwear, Delta upgrading its Wi-Fi capabilities, and JetBlue accepting Apple Pay in the sky, to name a few. While all these tech innovations make air travel more tolerable, one airplane facet fliers are often complaining about is cabin class and seat comfort (remember British Airways big First Class faux pas in January?).

Luckily, a number of airlines are delivering new cabin classes this year to get excited about.

korean air

Korean Air Prestige Suites

As someone with an over-active bladder, being trapped in a window seat on a long flight gives me anxiety. Which is why I find Korean Air’s new Prestige Suites really exciting — you have enough space to walk around your seatmates without waking them up to use the toilet. And there are other features, too: 22.5-inch-wide seats (the average is 17.2), an ottoman foot rest and a 75-to-87-inch seat pitch (compared to the average 31-inch airline pitch). Since last month, Korean Air’s Prestige Suites are being used on flights to Singapore, and are being installed on all new aircraft.

air astana

Air Astana’s Economy Sleeper Class

If you thought actually getting sleep in economy was a far fetched dream, Air Astana’s new Economy Sleeper Class turns your fantasies into reality. Launched this month, the sleeper class allows you to enjoy a mattress, pillow and duvet, plus amenities like eye masks, socks, mouthwash and earplugs. By the end of the month, this class will be available on flights from Kazakhstan to London, Frankfurt, Paris and Hong Kong.

singapore airlines

3. Singapore Airline’s Premium Economy Class

While tickets for Singapore Airline’s new Premium Economy Class went on sale this February, the first passengers to experience it will be flying from Singapore to Sydney this August. With over $80 million spent on the project, top features include fully leather seats reaching 19.5 inches wide, 8-inch recline, calf rest, foot bar, power stations, and extra compartments for holding water bottles, laptops and cell phone. Inflight entertainment also gets an upgrade, with the installation of larger 13.3-inch HD monitors and active noise-cancellation headphones. For the first time, premium economy passengers will be able to select from a menu with three meal choices from the popular Singapore Airlines service, Book the Cook. Beyond the range of food options, passengers will also be invited to sip champagne or a selection of curated wines. With all the new amenities, Singapore Airlines is situated to become the leader in affordable luxury travel.

SAS

SAS “Erik Viking”

SAS debuted its sleek and smart new long-haul cabins — dubbed “Erik Viking” — February 17 on a flight from Copenhagen to Newark (this new class will mostly be available on flights to the U.S.). Three different cabins have been revamped, each with its own special features, like direct aisle access, full flat beds, massage seats, and luxury bedding. All have personal power stations, on-demand entertain systems with 9-15 inch screens and Wi-Fi capabilities.

Bonus: Cathay Pacific’s new business class seat

Cathay Pacific’s new business class seat actually won’t launch until February 2016, but you should still get excited. While photos aren’t yet available and very few details are known, the airline will be making use of their Airbus 350 fleet to offer upgraded flatbed seats, nicknamed “FB2+,” made by Zodiac Aerospace with design help from the Porsche Design Group. Stay tuned for more details are they unfold.

You can now download movies in less than a minute at the airport

digiboo

Like the dial-up speed Wi-Fi on airplanes, airports’ public Wi-Fi networks aren’t always the speediest places to catch up on Game of Thrones — until now. Beginning this week, Digiboo, a location-based retail entertainment download service, is launching independent Wi-Fi-enabled zones in public areas, including major airports, such as:

  • Boise Airport
  • Cleveland Hopkins International Airport
  • George Bush International Airport (Houston)
  • Indianapolis Airport
  • Knoxville Airport McGhee Tyson Airport (Tennessee)
  • Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport
  • Portland International Airport
  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
  • William P. Hobby Airport (Houston)

By the end of the summer, the Digiboo Zones should be available in hundreds more airports, and 2,000+ locations in the next year.

So what took so long for such a technology to exist? Digiboo CEO, Richard Cohen, explains:

“Digiboo has been able to take advantage of recent advances in digital compression, and Wi-Fi software and hardware technology, along with our proprietary software technology to provide its customers with the fastest mobile download. …We are constantly looking for technologies and processes to make downloads faster.”

To use the service, you’ll first need to download the Digiboo Player App (Android & PC coming soon, although these users can download movies from the Digiboo kiosks within the zones, no app needed). From there, you can browse Digiboo’s TV and movie selections, purchasable for $3.99-$4.99 per download — although they’re offering free new releases for a limited time to celebrate the launch. It should take less than one minute to download to your mobile device, available for 30 days in your library (although only 48 hours after you press play).

If this service works as it should, it will definitely make layovers suck a lot less. Sure, you can always try to find a hot seatmate on Tinder, but downloading Mad Men and watching Don Draper find a hot date is way less creepy.

These are the five best and worst deals in American air travel

Photo: Richard Moross/Flickr

With oil prices down, the airline industry is enjoying record profits. While airfares will reportedly drop (barely) in the near future, right now they’re exactly where they were when the price of gas was at a record high. Any way you want to spin it, these airlines are making out like bandits.

Joshua Schank, president of the Eno Center for Transportation, a Washington think tank, told The Washington Post:

“Airline Economics 101 is that prices are set by origins and destinations, not by the cost structure, so cost plays a very small role in the actual setting of the price. That’s why you get all those crazy pricing things in the airline industry where sometimes a shorter flight will cost you way more than a longer flight.”

This explains why flying between Atlanta and Charlotte will cost you, on average, $286. That’s for a one-way ticket, a journey of 226 miles. That means the flight costs $1.27/mile, which is the most expensive figure out of any U.S. route. In contrast, the median cost per mile on U.S. flights is just 23 cents. That’s Southern pride for you – they’ll pay five times more to stay below the Mason-Dixon Line than to fly anywhere else!

Interestingly, the next four most expensive flights are also regional. Here are the top five:

1. Atlanta-Charlotte – $1.27/mile
2. Austin-Houston – $1.23/mile
3. Chicago-Indianapolis – $1.20/mile
4. Chicago-Cincinnati – $1.15/mile
5. Portland-Seattle – $1.01/mile

The reason these flights are so expensive is because they’re so short that there’s no competition. The ones that do make the trips take advantage of the lack of competition and jack up the fare, even though costs are relatively low. This might leave you wondering, who would be willing to pay that kind of markup? People who aren’t picking the tab, of course. These five flights all connect business destinations. Airlines will almost always increase the price of business-oriented flights because they know business travelers will pay it.

In contrast, the five cheapest flights in the U.S. all connect to major tourist destinations:

1. Las Vegas-Philadelphia – 0.096¢/mile
2. Atlantic City-Tampa – 0.101¢/mile
3. Las Vegas-Washington – 0.101¢/mile
4. Miami-Plattsburgh, N.Y. – 0.102¢/mile
5. Las Vegas-Peoria – 0.102¢/mile

Airlines know that most tourists book their tickets months in advance, scouring the Internet for the lowest possible fare and exploiting every loophole to save. The bean counters at major airlines know it’s not worth their trouble to try and up-sell these fliers – they know a price war is the only way they’ll win their business.

Is there a lesson to be learned from all this information? Yes, but it may not be that helpful. If you want to save money on airfares, you just have to fly like a tourist. Better yet, only fly into and out of Las Vegas. Word of warning though: you’ll save money on flying, but you’ll lose it all in the casino. No matter what, you’re going broke.

Santa Monica gets tough with harsh anti-Airbnb law

Tough new laws enacted in the California beach town of Santa Monica cracking down on short-term vacation rental operators could wipe out about 80% of listings on home-sharing sites like Airbnb and HomeAway.

Due to come into effect today, Santa Monica’s new law says home owners can only rent out space in their homes if they themselves are staying there.

City Hall estimates that could affect as many as 1,400 of the 1,700 short-term rental listings.

The rules, some of the strictest in the country, have been passed to stop businesses from managing multiple homes purely for short-term rental income, decreasing the housing supply and sending real estate prices and rents even higher.

“Our city council thought that it was important to intervene and return rentals to the housing market,” said Salvador Valles, assistant director of planning and community development.

Any homeowner violating the rule will be hit by a $500 fine, Valdes said.

Hosts are required to apply for a business license at no cost and business tax would not be levied on rental income below $40,000 a year.

However hosts would still pay 14% occupancy tax.

Lawmakers have agreed to a ‘grace period’ and will not enforce the rule immediately as many bookings have already been taken for the summer at homes that would likely fall foul of the new law.

The law has been described as “a tragic mistake and a missed opportunity” by Robert St. Genis of the Los Angeles Short Term Rental Alliance.

“The law hurts a lot of people that it’s not intended to hurt. It hurts the family that’s used to being able to take a vacation using the money from renting out their home for the summer.”

“There have been vacation rentals by the beach as long as there have been houses by the beach.”

Tuesday, June 16, 2015