Hello from 31,000 feet! Today I am on my way to a five-day trip that will take me to Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Chicago. As I look out my American Airlines window, I’m still moved by moving 450 miles an hour above the clouds. It gives me time to reflect... and share my thoughts with you.
2018 is underway and I am so excited to have gotten back on the road for another year of exploring this big world we live in. 2017 was an excellent year for me personally and professionally and 2018 is going to be even better. In the now-famous words of Joey Tribiani from “Friends”, I ask, “How YOU doin’?” I’m curious because if travel is NOT part of your plans this year, then I am kindly suggesting you get it on your radar. I’ve built an entire platform dedicated to touting the benefits of travel. But I, perhaps like you, am also a responsible father, brother, son, friend and CEO of my company. This means I owe it to a lot of people (including myself) to make fiscally responsible decisions. What I am saying is that while I strongly believe in the positive power of travel, I also believe you should be able to afford to travel. Please do not spend money you don’t have to take a vacation in the hopes it will cure some or all that ails you... it won’t. Instead, take a vacation for which you can afford to pay cash. I assure you, the entire experience will be so much more pleasant. In this new year, start with a blank piece of paper and decide where you’d like to go, then marry that with your schedule and financial resources. If that means you have to push off the trip for another year, great! But now you can make a travel savings plan and set a course to stick to. Perhaps you could use a portion of your tax refund to put toward that travel savings plan. Or, scale back in other luxuries in order to take a vacation of a lifetime. Personally, I do the very same thing. As of the publish date of this column, I know where, when and how much my personal vacations are going to be/cost for 2018. It gives me financial goals to attain, peace of mind and a roadmap to follow. The added benefit is, by having this plan in place, I can focus even more on my work, which, as may have guessed, I love.
On a side note, support your local PBS station and give them a couple of bucks. You’ll then become a member of PBS which gives you member-level access to PBS Passport. I mention this because my new TV series “Beyond Your Backyard” debuts this Spring and I don’t want you to miss it. We’ve been shooting episodes since last fall and I am so excited to show you the fruits of our passionate labor. Shameless promotion!
Time and time again, I have said I love to travel and I am on a mission to get you traveling more often, staying longer and experiencing the potentially life-changing positive power of travel. And if you heed my inspirational words or videos, then you too will find yourself (most likely) in need of an answer to the following question: Where are we going to stay? According to the American Lodging Association there are 5,000,000 hotel and motel rooms to choose from in the United States alone. You read it right; six zeros; five million. That’s a lot! You may also be wondering if a vacation rental, B&B or Air B&B could be the right option. I wouldn’t dare speculate on which option is best for YOU; that’s up to you. But I would like to offer my advice.
If I have a choice, I stay in a hotel or motel. Tried and true brands who have stood the test of time usually have been able to do so for a reason. Meaning, they have earned a right to still be offering rooms at a fair price. The reasons I prefer hotels/motels over vacation rentals or Air B&Bs are pretty basic. Reliability, safety, cleanliness and amenities.
First, I travel a lot so I like earning points with brands I stay at most frequently. This may not apply to you, so let’s leave that off the table for now. By staying at a known brand, I am hedging my bets that I will ACTUALLY be getting what I paid for when I arrive. Brand standards are pretty stringent, so even if you are a franchised property, being a part of that brand (think Marriott, Hilton or IHG) comes with rigorous inspections and compliance. Granted, not all franchise-owned properties are created equal, but in my opinion, it’s a step in the right direction.
Safety is also a big concern of mine when I’m traveling. Security systems, working fire alarms and tourist-friendly neighborhoods are all factors to consider. Hotel brands are in the business of making their guests happy and keeping them safe. This means they have skin in the game and if, in the unlikely event, something goes wrong, they have more to lose than the causal lodging enthusiast.
Cleanliness is a huge one for me. Bed Bugs, stained sheets, rings around the toilet or showers, dirty carpets, insects or rodents and other disgusting details lurking in the shadows (most of which are invisible to the naked eye) can ruin a good night’s sleep and/or your entire vacation. Hotel brands have strict cleanliness standards. Of course, they don’t always abide by them, but at least they are in place. They also have practices and procedures in place to address the occasional cleanliness issue.
Amenities and services are also a factor in my lodging decision. I like knowing what is available to me when I check in. Minibar, snacks, laundry, dry cleaning, concierge, ironing board, hair dryer, cocktail lounge, reliable internet, safe parking and valet are all services/amenities I may require for a comfortable stay. When you stay OUTSIDE of a known brand, these items/services are sometimes hard to come by, not available or simply inconsistently offered across the board. Of course, you may not care about any of these items, but when I’m traveling with my family, something is bound to come up and I want to solve the issue efficiently and cost-effectively.
Traditional B&Bs are another matter to consider altogether. These business owners DO have skin in the game but we’ll save that discussion for another post.
I’m not against Air B&Bs. There are plenty of Air B&B owners who DO treat their home as a business and I applaud them for doing so. I am simply offering my cautionary tale as I want YOU to have an amazing trip and mitigate as many risk factors as I can think of before you step foot outside your house.
Greetings my fellow travel buddies...this week we’re discussing cheap flights. Two ultra low-cost carriers Southwest vs. Jet Blue Airways are the subject de jour.
Southwest Airlines is a much larger airline than Jet Blue. But they do compete for the same dollar, so that is why we are comparing the two. Let's start with the basic facts:
Size of the Fleet
Before we go any further, deciding HOW you are going to get somewhere via flight can be a seemingly daunting task when it comes to price. But let’s demystify that for you. Let’s look at this idea from an airline’s perspective and then we will get to you.
Revenue management is a big deal for airlines. What is the highest price an airline can charge for a seat?
Let's use a quick analogy to answer. When you look at the produce section of a supermarket, an orange has a fast expiration date. It was picked off the tree, and now it’s ready for you to purchase. The grocer wants to charge as much as he or she can for that orange before throwing it away. Unless the commercial aviation industry radically changes they way they charge for seats, then think of every seat on every flight as a piece of rotting fruit. That seat on that day on that flight (or segment) is only going to exist once. If the flight takes off and a seat is empty, then it becomes a piece of fruit the airline makes no money on.
Now let’s talk about you. You expressed an interest that you want a cheap flight to wherever you are going. Many factors contribute to the cost of an airline seat. These include, the specific airline, the on-board experience, the class of seat, where you are flying from and where you are going and how long it takes to get there. And finally, in some instances how far in advance you book and pay for these seats.
For starters, in many cases getting the lowest or cheapest airfare has everything to do with where you live and what airport is your home airport. That’s where the word HUB comes into play or “cities of focus” or operating bases. To give you a clue, research online and check the number of gates an airline occupies at any given airport and then check to see how many flights depart from that airport or city per day. More gates and more flights equal more flexibility when things don’t go as planned.
The top five hubs for Southwest include Chicago Midway, Baltimore, MD, Las Vegas, Denver, Dallas Love Field. While Jet Blue’s top cities include JFK in New York, Fort Lauderdale, FL, Logan airport in Boston, Long Beach in California, San Juan Puerto Rico and Orlando, Florida.
Why is this important, because the more fights per day on the airline you choose from the place you’re flying from and to decreases the chances of issues on your air travel day. Issues such as missing your flight, weather delays, crew delays or airplane mechanical problems.
Now let’s look at the value of your time. The longer it takes to get somewhere...the less you might pay. Airlines know through years of industry research; the flying public wants direct flights. That’s point A (the place you are flying from) to point B (your ultimate destination) without having to stop, or change planes. Therefore, a direct flight might be slightly more expensive than an itinerary with stops or connections. Also, the time of day you depart often affects the ticket price. For instance, a 6:00 a.m. departure might be cheaper than the more desirable 9:00 a.m. departure.
Given all that, let’s get back to Southwest vs. Jet Blue. Southwest has one class of seating. Jet Blue was also built on this premise. However, on some longer Jet Blue flights you’ll find premium or business class seating. They call it Mint. On Southwest, they have an open seating policy. Each passenger is assigned a letter and you board by letter and take any seat you wish. Jet Blue has a more traditional seating arrangement whereby you select your seat, or one is assigned to you before you board.
Both airlines offer complimentary snacks and soft drinks. Both charge for alcoholic beverages and Jet Blue offers additional in-flight snacks for purchase on some flights. Both airlines have in-flight entertainment options. And both have frequent flyer programs.
Jet Blue has code share agreements with a long list of international carries while Southwest does not.
We announced last week that while the staff here at Erik The Travel Guy takes lots of trips, to help bring you the latest and greatest info, we want you to be a part of the selection process. You can vote at erikthetravelguy.com/vote or leave a comment on this video in the comments below.
Keep in mind, this information is for educational purposes only and contains editorial opinion by yours truly. Facts contained here may change without notice. We try to keep up with the changes, but I strongly encourage you to do your own research before making travel purchases.
Earlier this year, I wrote about TSA Pre Check which is essentially a faster way to get through airport security within the U.S.. Today, it’s time to discuss whether (or not) Global Entry is right for you.
For experienced flyers, getting back into the United States can be a long process when you arrive back at a U.S. airport. Personally, I think Customs and Border Patrol does an excellent job of making this process as pleasant as possible. Remember, every person (resident or visitor) must be screened and approved to gain entry into the United States. This is a good thing. But for those of us who fly internationally often, Global Entry is an excellent program to help speed up this process, especially after a long-haul flight.
Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program which allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival back in the United States. Global Entry members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at selected airports.
In my opinion, this program is essential for anyone traveling internationally five or more times in the next five years. Your one-time, $100 fee is due before you are approved, but once you are a member, your membership is good for five years.
The application process begins online, their is a cost to enroll in the program and you must provide valid photo identification. Currently the fee is $100.00 per person for five years. In addition to the application you must give your fingerprints, have a photo taken of you and you must be interviewed.
Expedited re-entry into the U.S. for air passengers at select airports in the US.
Global Entry includes TSA Pre Check.
Not all airports participate
Surrender personal information to a govt. agency
In short, I love Global Entry because I travel a lot both within the U.S. and internationally. The application process was easy. If you’re planning on taking two or more air trips outside the US, then I suggest becoming a member of the program.
More detailed information can be found here on Global Entry from the official Department of Homeland Security website.
The price of a cocktail, ice-cold beer or delicate glass wine can be on the spendy side when you’re on your next vacation. Understandably so, any alcohol provider whose lot in life it is to charge tourists for booze, in my opinion, should make as much money as possible. Supply and demand, you know? But you fastidious novice vacation thrill-seekers may be tempted to bring your own sweet spirits with you on your next adventure. My advice? Don’t.
Granted, if you are road-tripping, then sure, it is perfectly acceptable to bring your favorite spirit for when you get settled in to your hotel/resort or camping area. But even then, some hotels frown on this practice for a couple of reasons. First, they want to sell you their booze with their mark up, of course. But they also are particularly interested in your safety and the safety of their other guests. Unless they search everyone’s luggage upon check-in, hotels have no way of knowing what each guest is bringing onto the property and into their rooms. Remember, not every hotel guest practices common sense like you and me. Therefore, check with your hotel in advance and at the very least know their BYOB policy. Then you can decide if you want to bend or break the rules a bit on your trip.
Airlines are another story. While you are free to bring alcohol in your carry-on, it is usually against the Airlines’ policy to consume it during flight. In addition, TSA has strict liquid rules and bringing a bottle of wine (or any other type of liquid over 3 ounces) is strictly prohibited and enforced. Learn more about TSA’s liquids rules here. I suppose you could pop a bottle of your liquor of choice into your checked luggage. Airlines do permit this but why are you taking an unnecessary risk? That bottle would need to be bubble wrapped and heavily padded to prevent breakage. And at that point, wouldn’t it just be easier to pop into the liquor store upon your arrival?
Cruise ships are also not big fans of you bringing your own alcohol on board. For a lot of the same reasons hotels frown on this practice, cruise ships are very serious about the safety of all the passengers and crew. Again, I would check with your cruise line for their liquor policy. Or better yet, leave your booze at home.
In general, I love a good cocktail when I’m on vacation. But it’s also worth noting that excessive drinking can be problematic for a myriad of reasons. So, I tend to be a little more strategic, take a few extra precautionary steps and limit my alcohol consumption on vacations. It’s better for my health, safer, cheaper and a lot less hassle.
The bottom line here: While carting around your personal supply of Ketel One on your vacation to save a few dollars may seem like a good idea, upon further research, it simply isn’t. So in my opinion, resolve to paying a little more for each cocktail wherever you’re headed for your next trip. Of course, you could always skip the alcohol all together when you travel. What? I think I was tipsy when I wrote that last sentence. But in all seriousness, always remember to consume responsibly at home or on your next great adventure.
I am on a mission to get you traveling more often. As the host of the Emmy award- winning, nationally syndicated television television for PBS and the Create channel, "Beyond Your Backyard," I travel (on average) 25 weeks per year. I am very grateful for the opportunity to meet cool people, experience new places, eat delicious food and work with the best production crew in the world. Hopefully, through this blog, you will join me on my travels and be reminded just how exciting it is to be alive!