Sunday, August 31, 2008


We’re off to Scotland for the next 3 weeks. Visiting the Highlands and Islands; driving on the other side of the road; sampling a wee dram of Whiskey here and there. We are planning to get away from technology as much as possible, so we’re NOT taking a computer and don’t plan on any posting. Also, that means any comments to this blog won’t be moderated until we return. See you all again in late September.

For your enjoyment until then, here are a few of our totally biased “best of” entries from the past year:

Flying vs. Driving
Rethinking Mileage Credit Cards
Car Rental Tips
Stress-Free Travel Tips
Senior Travel Thoughts
How To Take a Wine-Tasting Tour

Saturday, August 30, 2008

No More Family Early Boarding

According to the Wall St. Journal’s The Middle Seat Terminal blog, at least 4 airlines – American, United, Delta, and Southwest – have stopped pre-boarding for families. The airlines all claim that the new policy speeds up boarding for all passengers, and gives flights a better opportunity to leave on time.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Alitalia Bankruptcy and Zoom Death

Italian carrier Alitalia filed for bankruptcy protection today, according to Bloomberg. So far, the news is sort of unclear, but seems to indicate that the airline will probably keep flying until its various parts are sold, liquidated, or merged (with Air One).

In other airline news, Canadian carrier Zoom entered bankruptcy and completely ceased operations yesterday evening.

Best Economy Plus Airlines

As a counterpoint to our previous post about the worst airline seats, we present this information about what could be considered the best economy seats.

According to surveys conducted by the Skytrax (UK) website, the five top-rated economy plus airlines were (in order):

Airline & Seat Pitch/Width
EVA Air - 38”/18”
bmi - 49”/21”
ANA - 38”/18.5”
British Airways - 38”/18.5”
Air New Zealand - 38-40”/17.8-18.5”

[Economy plus seat pitch and width numbers from SeatGuru.]

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Travel News: Minimum Stays, China Air Service, In-Flight Internet, US Airways

Minimum Stays Returning?
While not (yet) reverting to Saturday-night-stay requirements for the cheapest airfares, some airlines are re-instituting minimum stay requirements, in an effort to squeeze more money out of business travelers.

China Air Service Overview
The OAG travel website has a good article detailing air routes to China from the U.S. (It also discusses air to China from other parts of the world.) The story notes that currently only four Chinese destinations – Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Guangzhou – can be reached by non-stop flights from the U.S.

In-Flight Internet Roundup
TravelTechTalk has a nice overview of in-flight internet either planned or in operation on U.S. carriers.

US Airways & America West
Does anyone other than us find it odd that three years after the “merger” of US Air and America West that we’re still getting email for both our newer (merged) US Air frequent flyer account and the older America West account? Even after the two programs merged mileage balances years ago? Or that the current US Air website’s title is still “US Airways America West Airlines Official Site”?

Monday, August 25, 2008

United’s Downhill Slide

An old acquaintance from our days in the Colorado ski industry, Claire Walter, posed an interesting comment on her Travel Babel blog. On her post, titled Help Me Rediscover the Joy of Travel, she asks: “Have my posts become too whiny -- or has travel simply become a chore rather than a joy?”

Sometimes, we feel we’re in the same boat. Are our posts too cynical? Does stating over and over again how moronic the TSA is help us (or others) be better and happier travelers?

It’s really not a simple question. The world today, and especially America, seems full of pompous and arrogant politicians, agencies, businesses, employees, and, yes, even customers. It’s a lot more than just travel. Store clerks are surly, drivers are insane, and service businesses are cold-hearted. Of course, there are exceptions, and those people and businesses can brighten our days.

But overall, we’re a nation of whiners who are seemingly only looking out for ourselves. Maybe we need another long trip somewhere uncivilized to clear the mind. With that in mind, we present our last diatribe against the travel industry for at least a month. We are taking most of September off, albeit not to an uncivilized destination. So without further ado:

United’s Downhill Slide

The travel blog-o-sphere is awash in words about United’s recently announced changes regarding in-flight meals and other “Changes Provid[ing] Value.” For many years now, United has been our preferred domestic airlines as well as having our favorite frequent flyer program.

Yet we haven’t flown United since the new slash-and-burn mentality appeared a few months ago. We are on several United flights (both domestic and international) over the next few weeks, and it will be interesting to see how service is, even though the international changes aren’t scheduled to take effect until Oct. 1. We booked those flights way too far in advance, and have already suffered through seemingly dozens of phone calls every time United changed a flight time or aircraft or had another tantrum.

To pour salt into the wounds, United is now offering 10 percent off international tickets by purchasing with a Visa card. It galls us that they claim they’re losing so much money that they have to charge us for snacks, yet they can forgo 10 percent revenue with this promotion. Even if this is a totally Visa-sponsored promo, it just sends the wrong message.

So now we’re trying to decide if it’s best to burn our United frequent flyer miles in the near future, before United sinks so deep into the mud that it simply disappears. We’ve already begun to put any domestic-airline flying miles into international carriers’ programs (such as bmi). When that’s not feasible, we’re accruing domestic flying miles into Alaska’s program (yet even Alaska is devaluing their mileage program, as is Frontier). Finally, this only reinforces our conviction that non-flight rewards (credit-card spending, mostly) are better as cash-back rewards or points in hotel or other programs rather than as airline miles.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Still More Misc. Travel News: Lonely Planet, Continental, TSA, Unions

Lonely Planet Maps on Nokia Phones
Nokia phone users can download Lonely Planet maps to more than 100 “popular tourist locations.” The service costs 8 Euros per download.

Continental Leaving Dining Program
Continental Airlines is pulling out of the Rewards Network dining program, effective Oct. 31, 2008. Most other airlines still appear to be participating.

Dumb & Dumber Isn’t Just For Airline CEOs
Two exceptional news reports:
First, from the Dallas Star Telegram’s Sky Talk blog, comes the story that the TSA is defending a TSA “inspector” who damaged 9 American Eagle planes (and delayed 40 flights and hundreds of passengers) by climbing on the outside of the aircraft. The best part? The TSA is threatening possible action against American Eagle for “security lapses.”
The second Head-Up-The-Butt story comes from USA Today’s Today in the Sky blog, about Northwest Airlines’ unions slamming NW management after NW and Delta asked employees about ways to better integrate during the upcoming Delta/NW merger.

It Takes A Million (Names on the Terrorist Watch List)
According to Travel Babel, the ACLU has estimated that there are now 1 million names on the Department of Homeland Security’s terrorist watch list. That’s names, not people. And how many other folks have the same names as the ones on the list? Pretty soon, the airlines won’t have to worry about alienating their customers, because the TSA won’t let anyone fly, as everyone in America will be on the list. We feel so much safer now.

Friday, August 22, 2008

More Misc. Travel News

BAA Must Divest Itself of Some UK Airports
BAA, the operators of 7 UK airports, will probably have to sell Gatwick and Stansted airports, after the UK Competition Commission found that BAA was anti-competitive in its ownership. The Commission also recommended that BAA sell either Glasgow or Edinburgh.

American Airlines Inflight Internet
American Airlines has begun to roll out inflight internet service on domestic flights. Aircell’s Gogo service will be available on American’s 767-200 aircraft, offering coast-to-coast coverage on nonstop flights between New York and San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Miami.

Air France/KLM Considering Merging Frequent Flyer Program with Delta's?
A strange survey, courtesy of FreeFrequentFlyerMiles, seems to indicate that Air France/KLM might be considering merging its frequent flyer program with Delta’s. (On the FreeFrequentFlyerMiles site, follow links from the “what’s new” page.)

The Airline Oil Spin
The Airline Oil Spin website has been launched by, in an attempt to counter the airline industry’s claims that “oil speculators” are responsible for higher oil/fuel prices.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Worst Airline Seats

So you’re complaining about your 31-inch economy seat pitch on American or Northwest or Continental or....? Fly some of the cheap airlines of Europe (many are charter airlines) and you’ll be treated to seat pitches of 29 or even 28 inches. This list comes from the Skytrax UK website.

  • bmi Baby – 29”
  • easyJet – 29”
  • Belair – 28-31”
  • First Choice (short haul) – 28”
  • Monarch Airlines – 29”
  • Thomsonfly (short haul) – 29”

Separately, Skytrax lists North Korea’s Air Koryo as the only “1-Star” (lowest) of all rated airlines. It doesn’t say anything about Air Koryo’s seats.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Misc. Travel News

Airline Fee Chart
The total price you’ll pay for airline travel today will probably NOT be the one shown when you purchase your ticket. A great overview chart showing the fees that different airlines are adding on can be found at

United Pilots’ Opinion of Their CEO
Not only are the airline CEOs out of touch, but United’s CEO Glenn Tilton has been in the business world for decades yet apparently never even reserved his own domain name. United Airlines pilots have begun a campaign to oust him from the leadership of the company, using as their grievance page.

KLM Award Seats on Delta’s Website
Delta announced that members of its frequent flyer program can shop for award seats on KLM. Previously, passengers could shop for seats on Air France, Continental, Northwest, Hawaiian and Alaska.

American, BA, and Iberia Alliance
American Airlines, British Airways, and Iberia Airlines have announced a joint business agreement (pending regulatory approval). All airlines are members of the oneworld alliance.

Another Best-Airline Awards List
The UK Skytrax website surveyed more than 15 million air travelers worldwide, and has announced their “best” airline awards. We thought we’d mention it because we love silly lists. See how many U.S. carriers you can find in the awards.

1920s Postcard - Paris Opera

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Capital One No-Fee MasterCards

A reader of one of our previous posts took issue (correctly) with our comments and mentioned having a Capital One MasterCard that carries no annual fee and which offers Capital One’s well-known 0% foreign-exchange fee. (Which is the primary reason we suggest using the Cap1 card only for international travel – the rewards programs are generally not that great.) We had previously found only one travel reward MasterCard in Capital One’s line, and that showed a $39 annual fee. Now, we’re seeing nine different Cap1 MCs on this page, four of which offer some type of rewards and all with no annual fee. (And weirdly, some Cap1 application pages show a card without any MC or Visa logo at all, and no indication of which card you’re applying for.)

Bottom line: We’re still generally under-impressed with Capital One’s reward programs, but think a Cap 1 card is the best for international travel (or even purchases from the U.S. that are made in foreign currencies, such as from an international merchant). With Capital One not charging the 3% forex fee most other cards charge, using the card for international purchases can be like getting a 4% rebate (1% cash-back rebate on some Cap 1 cards, plus not being charged the 3% forex fee).

Monday, August 11, 2008

Pet-Friendly Road-Trip Travel

We really don’t think it’s a great idea to fly with any animal – it’s stressful for both pet and human, and it’s risky (animals do die, although very infrequently). On road trips, though, traveling with the critters, especially dogs, can be relatively easy.

You’ll have three major aspects to consider. 1) While traveling in your car. 2) Lodging. 3) What to do with the dog(s) while you’re doing other things – tasting wine, shopping, etc.

In the vehicle, you should have plenty of space and carry a familiar blanket or pad. Make lots of stops along the way for short pee breaks. Don’t feed them significantly, but offer the occasional treat or dog biscuit. When you stop, unless you’re in the middle of nowhere and far off the highway, put them on a leash for their break – you don’t want them chasing a rabbit across the highway. Offer water outside the car during those stops. And, obviously, factor in a bit of extra time for all those breaks – traveling with a dog can easily add 30-45 minutes or more to a day’s drive.

There are many lodging options for dog travelers, but our favorites are motels that have individual cottage or cabin units. Some home rentals ( is a good source for vacation homes) are pet-friendly, but most are geared to multi-day stays rather than single nights on the road.

When you go out for the day to do your own thing, take the dogs. Do not leave them in your room or rental (most lodging specifically prohibits it anyway). As with driving, allow extra time in your schedule for breaks and walks. If you leave the dogs in the car for two hours while you’re shopping, make sure they get a good 10-15 minute walk when you get back. Also, leave all windows opened a few inches to give the dogs plenty of air. And you probably don’t want to travel with animals at all during the heat of summer.

Take familiar objects along – dog beds, their usual food, toys, treats, etc. The more they feel at home the more your dogs will be good travelers. And if you have a barker, invest in a bark collar – they are not cruel, and should keep the peace with other travelers. Anytime, anywhere you’re walking your dog, pick up after it and dispose of the droppings appropriately. And do take them for walks a lot – they don’t have their yard or other usual outdoor space to run and play in.

Lastly, be a good traveling-dog owner. One lodge owner said to us that he’d had more problems with people and kids than with dogs, and therefore welcomed them. Be respectful and considerate, and more lodging owners might allow animals on their properties.

Vacation Rentals Accepting Pets
Pets Allowed Hotels

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Can It Get Any Worse? (Of Course It Can)

Did all airline executives graduate from Dumb & Dumber University? Is there anything more that U.S. airlines can do to annoy their customers? (That’s rhetorical: We know there’s a lot more coming.) We aren’t aware of any other business that tries so hard to disenfranchise their customers – their source of revenue. Not even used-car dealers, not cable companies nor mortgage brokers. Sure, we may not LIKE some of those other businesses, but they at least seem to WANT us as customers.

Fees for food. Fees for “free” tickets. Fees for changing your mind. It’s become such a joke that there are charts all over the internet of both real and bogus fees. Changed flights, disappearing routes, opaque pricing, baggage fees and hassles. It appears that the airlines really DON’T want customers. Not us, not ANY customers.

Maybe airline CEOs and executives are just in it to make their huge salaries and bonuses, biding their time and waiting to go out of business. It seems like they believe that sitting in the big office is just something for them to do for awhile, passing their time making millions a year and not really caring (or knowing) anything about their business or their customers.

Oh, yes, we forgot. It’s the evil oil speculators who are FORCING the airlines to annoy us. Yup, makes sense. Oil speculators know that airline executives are dumb as a box of rocks, and will flutter around like wounded birds in a small room, knocking over lamps and crapping on the furniture. Yes, that’s it: The smart oil speculators are trying to push the airlines out of business so Americans and Chinese will have to drive instead of fly, burning a lot more automotive gas instead of a lesser amount of jet fuel that would have been used for equivalent per-person air travel. Yea, that’s it.

Any airline that returned its service levels (and lack of “fees”) to what they were 10-20 years ago would have our lifetime loyalty – no matter WHAT the price of a ticket. We want to be loyal customers. We want an airline that actually wants us as customers.

Of course, it’ll never happen. Graduates of Dumb & Dumber University can’t read, can’t think, and certainly don’t know how to run a business and retain customers.

Monday, August 04, 2008

It’s a Race to the Bottom: Run, Don’t Walk, Toward International Airlines

Flying to Europe or Asia for your next vacation? Are you a leisure traveler and not a business traveler stuck with a corporate account with a particular U.S. airline? If so, get yourself a domestic ticket on Alaska, Frontier, Virgin America, or JetBlue to an international gateway city (Los Angeles, New York, etc.) and fly a real airline (an international carrier) overseas.

The Upgrade: Travel Better blog talks about United’s possible new scheme to charge for all food on international flights. United is apparently doing the market research for that scenario now. As Upgrade says, we think your best choice increasingly becomes to fly international carriers and not U.S. ones. All the U.S. majors have international alliance partners, so even when you have to fly a U.S. carrier in the states, you can credit your frequent flyer miles to an international airline which flies most conveniently to your preferred destinations. As Upgrade says, it’s a race to the bottom, and the only winners will be international airlines and maybe a few domestic carriers such as Alaska, Southwest, or JetBlue.

Star Alliance
SeatGuru’s premium economy comparison chart

Friday, August 01, 2008

Summer Travel: Ski Resorts

Even if you’ve never been a skier, consider a summer trip to a downhill ski resort. Many ski areas have a wide variety of summer activities – hiking, mountain biking, alpine slides, dining and restaurants, shopping, scenic chairlift rides, guided mushroom hikes or photography courses, mini golf, climbing walls, and a host of other activities. Many resorts are also world-renowned for music festivals, theatre, or wine-and-food events.

Ski resorts are scattered across every mountain range of the U.S., and offer a wonderful escape from the heat and noise of summer in the lowlands and cities. State-by-state lists of ski areas (all may not offer summer activities) can be found at HowToTravelAmerica, GoSki, SkiResortGuide, and SkiResorts.)

Most resorts that do have summer operations close shortly after the Labor Day Weekend, so they can begin preparing the slopes for next winter. But since most ski resorts are on National Forest or other public land, they offer opportunities for hiking or picnicking in the beautiful fall days of September and October, until the snow flies. (A few ski areas may be entirely on private land, and may therefore close the entire area until ski season.)

The majority of resorts offering summer activities are in the west (California especially), the Rocky Mountains (especially Colorado and Utah), and New England (a lot of the Vermont resorts), but there are many more. There are an estimated 600 ski resorts (to our knowledge in at least 38 states), so you should find something near you.