Saturday, December 29, 2007

Lithium Battery Restrictions

Several writers have recently mentioned the January 1, 2008 limitations on carrying lithium batteries in checked and carry-on luggage. And several of the news sources seem to have gotten it wrong. Go to for complete information, but the way we read it you can take a lithium battery attached to a device (camera, cell phone, laptop) plus two spares. But the spares must be in your carry-on bag, not checked luggage. The electronic devices themselves (with battery attached) can be in either or both your carry-on and your checked luggage. As with all things governmental and travel related, there are lots of silly exceptions – if you can get through the mumbo jumbo, you should be able to glean the correct information from the SafeTravel website.

Friday, December 28, 2007

New Year’s Travel Resolutions

Since everybody is getting in the game, we thought we’d play too. Here are our 2008 Travel Resolutions.

  • We will always attempt to travel with only carry-on bags.
  • We’ll keep a food and wine diary – both written and photo.
  • Outside the cities, we will never again depend on foreign public transportation (we’d be happy to never ride a bus again in our lives).
  • We will never intentionally go to Europe (or most anywhere) in summer.
  • We might consider sampling a cruise – a very small one that stops at a lot of interesting ports.
  • We will find an international cell-phone chip that really works.
  • We will not hoard frequent flyer miles, but use them often.
  • Being pescetarians (yea, it’s a word; here’s the Wikipedia definition), we’ll always bring food on the airplane.
  • We will save all boarding passes, receipts, and other travel documents after our travel ends.
Have a great 2008. Painting by Francesca.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

European Cross-Border Travel

Nine more countries have joined the European Schengen Agreement, which essentially eliminates border controls between participating countries. Currently, the countries in Europe which participate in Schengen are Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Austria, Greece, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. (The last nine listed have implemented the land border agreement, but will not implement the agreement for airport arrivals until March 29, 2008.)

Blue areas on this map have implemented Schengen, green areas are set to do so within the next several years. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Kayak and SideStep Merge

Two popular travel search websites – Kayak and SideStep – have agreed to a merger. Both sites search many different other travel websites, including airline sites, hotels, and competitive search sites. While some commentators have found value in Kayak’s and SideStep’s searches, we have never found any information that isn’t available elsewhere at the same price, and often more conveniently. We still prefer ITA Software for our first go-to airfare search site, followed by taking a look at route-map sites and individual airline websites.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Arriving In Japan

It seems like Japan has joined the U.S. and Great Britain in the “security as theatre” sweepstakes. According to an email newsletter we received from Continental Airlines, Japan will require foreign nationals arriving at Japanese airports to have fingerprint scans and facial photographs taken. As Continental notes: “Travelers are advised to allow extra time for this new immigration procedure in Japan.”

May your holidays be filled with presents.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Airline Alliances

Under the new Open Skies agreements, airline alliances could become a thing of the past, or they might actually gain some value for travelers. Open Skies goes into effect in March 2008, and only time will tell what the new routes are and how individual airlines will be affected. Here is a wrapup of members of each of the three airline alliances. One thing we would recommend, is that if possible book any multi-leg trips on airlines within one alliance – the process from reservations through frequent-flyer mileage credit will be much more seamless. All three alliance websites (SkyTeam, Star Alliance, oneworld) have a useful routing/flight tool, as well as other good information.

American Airlines
British Airways
Cathy Pacific
Japan Airlines
Royal Jordanian

Star Alliance
Air Canada
Air China
Air New Zealand
Blue 1
Croatia Airlines
Lot Polish Airlines
SAS Scandinavian Airlines
Shanghai Airlines
Singapore Airlines
South African Airways
TAP Portugal
Turkish Airlines
United Airlines
US Airways

Air Europa
Air France/KLM
China Southern
Copa Airlines
Continental Airlines
Czech Airlines
Delta Airlines
Kenya Airlines
Korean Air
Northwest Airlines

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Capital One Points System Changes?

If you have – or have considered getting – a Capital One “No Hassle” miles credit card, take a look at the points (fake miles) redemption rates. We’d previously posted that Capital One was a one-cent-per-dollar scheme (1%), with redemptions starting at 15,000 miles/points for a $150 statement credit for air purchases made on the card. The kicker was that the next redemption level was 30,000 points for a $300 credit, but you had no intermediate options (no $225 credit for 22,500 points).

Now, at least on our account, we’ve been notified that at 12,500 points we can get the same $150 statement credit, and at 25,000 points we can receive a $350 credit (1.4%). This is beginning to look like a much better deal. Of course, the “intermediate” redemptions still kick down to the lower level, so you’ll thus have to make sure your purchases match a redemption level that’s in your favor. (In other words, if you have 25,000 points, make sure you purchase a ticket not over $350, or you will have to wait until the next redemption level. And remember that if you have 25,000 points but want to get a credit for a $151 air purchase, it will still “cost” the full 25,000 points. Hold out for that $349 purchase.)

Credit card companies have different terms for different cardholders, so check your Capital One account. We’ve already begun to move our credit card spending to “points” cards rather than airline miles cards (see our previous entry), so this is a welcome change. Capital One has always been our preferred card for international travel, as they don’t add a “service charge” for foreign transactions (which is frequently 1-3% with other cards).

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Top 16 (18, 20?) International Travel Tips – Part 1

We’ve all seen innumerable “Top Ten” tips for travelers. As a former magazine editor, I initiated a few too many Top Ten articles myself. Still, most folks enjoy a few bits of timely advice. And what better arena to discuss tips than in the travel realm. So when it’s a slow travel news day (or week), we’re going to post a couple of International Travel Tips until we get tired of doing so. Or until we run out of our Top However Many list. Thus, the first two of our Top International Travel Tips.

Dress Like a Local
In Europe, dress better than you would originally think. Jeans are now totally acceptable, but dress them up with a leather jacket. Do not, not, wear running shoes, shorts (unless you’re in the Caribbean or on the beach), or a fanny pack. Still, don’t try too hard: the Japanese and Chinese wear very western clothes -- you probably shouldn’t wear a kimono in Japan if you’re an Anglo. You’ll probably never really fool a local into thinking you’re another local, but we have been asked (in French and in Dutch, respectively) for directions in Paris and Amsterdam. (Of course, when we said “Parlez-vous anglais?” or “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Dutch” we got an embarrassed laugh and a “never mind.”)

Travel Light (Really, Really Light)
We discussed this in detail in a previous blog entry, but we’ve come to the conclusion that we simply travel with too much STUFF. Try, really try, to travel with only a carry-on bag. This can free you to travel more spontaneously and more comfortably. What do we really need? Unless it’s a “special” trip (diving, skiing, professional photography), we think you can travel anywhere in the world for any amount of time in one bag. That’s what laundry soap was made for.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Europe By Train, Again

We’ve lately come to the conclusion that train travel is back as a way to travel in Europe. It used to be, in the hippie days of wandering around Europe, that a Rail Pass was a budget traveler’s best friend. Then, the low-cost airlines (easyJet and Ryan Air the two best examples) made it more practical for many to just hop on a plane across Europe. Now, with the new French high-speed train; the speeded-up Eurostar from London to Paris; and the soon-to-be-opened Loetschberg tunnel in Switzerland, train travel is reviving. As we noted before, what with luggage restrictions, airport security, and crowded skies, the train makes more and more sense. The new Loetschberg tunnel is said to cut many cross-Switzerland times nearly in half (the trip from Bern to Visp – near Zermatt – is reported to be reduced from 110 minutes to 55).