Dear Travel Truth Seeker:

With the billions of pages of consumer-oriented travel information and data available in cyberspace, why would we devote a major web site to offering you truthful answers to your travel questions?

Sadly, there is a need for truthtelling in this industry. Unfortunately, the vast majority of travel sites do everything possible to insult your intelligence.

You don’t want a song and dance. You don’t want to exchange e-mails or have a salesman call you. You don’t want to filter through hours of travel drivel to find a kernel of truth. And you certainly don’t want your travel questions interspersed with meaningless chatter from those whose credentials you cannot certify, many of them paid shills using e-mail aliases.

This is something different. This is a place you can feel comfortable visiting. You can count on the fact that no one is trying to sell you anything. You can assume your name will never be used or given to any advertiser or marketer.

This is the only travel site that will not accept advertising or money from  advertisers or suppliers. We think it is impossible for any travel site to really be honest with the consumer if it is accepting payment from the very people it is reviewing.

Traveltruth is the only travel site written by the award winning journalists and consultants at Churchill & Turen Ltd. Every single word on this site is written by the Senior Contributing Editor at the nation’s leading industry magazine or a consultant with more than two decades of awards including “Travel Superstar”, an accolade given by Conde Nast Traveler to only eight individuals in the United States. Two of the “Superstars” write for this site.

This is traveltruth.


Our credo at traveltruth is simple. We wish to be the most unadulterated, truthful, and industry knowledgeable travel site in the world.


Travel Q&A



YOUR WEATHER CONCERNS SEEM A BIT ALARMING

Climate Change BXXXQ –  Your travel advice is spot on with one rather glaring exception. We don’t subscribe to your theory that the earth is getting hotter and that travel to places like Europe should be reconsidered in the summer months. We just returned from a ten-day package in Germany and we found the July temperatures to be quite comfortable. This site is getting popular but it will get even bigger if you refrain from citing all of the faulty democrat climate change BS. 

A –  Gotcha. Now we understand why we are not popular. And we so desperately want to be popular. Actually, Scientific American, a well-known right-wing rag, has just released new NASA  figures showing that last March was the hottest on record and it was the 11th month in a row to break the  global high temperature record. It is likely that April through September will, rather easily sustain that record making fifteen consecutive months of the highest-ever temperatures worldwide. The magazine quotes leading climatologists as saying that this new data is “shocking” and that it signals a “climate emergency.”

But we know you will agree that this entire fabrication started when Hillary was explaining why she does not spend much time out in the sun.

HOW DO YOU SPOT A FAKE HOTEL REVIEW?

tripadvisor-legal-_1744676c.jpg AXXX Guardian NewspaperQ –  Most of my  friends use and depend on TripAdvisor to develop their travel “expertise”. They mostly use it to justify the hotel they selected based on price. But I have learned, partly from this informative site, that these online reviews are often fake. So I wonder if you might share some ways that will help me know if what I am reading in a travel review is actually written by a traveler who stayed at the hotel? 

A – There is some good news on the fake review front. Researchers at the famed Cornell School of Hotel Management have created a website called Review Skeptic.com that will tell you, with 90% accuracy if a posted review is real or not. The staff at Cornell has created a series of  algorithm’s that analyze opinion spam using psychological and linguistic components.

All you need to do is copy the review and paste it on the ReviewSkeptic site. Then click on  the “Test It” button and the results will be revealed. The test even shows you why it has concluded that a review is fake or real.

Of course what is wrong with this technology is that we must now have several groups set up to defeat the algorithms. They will try to develop linguistic patterns that can beat the system. But, for now, this is the best tool we have to detect the high percentage of fake reviews flooding the major travel and restaurant sites. And as this science progresses, it is well to note that the folks at Cornell will be getting better at spotting the fakes.

Always remember that you do not have to have been a guest at a hotel to post a review of the property on TripAdvisor. Sort of like writing a restaurant review without actually dining at the restaurant. But this is all in keeping with the business ethics practiced by many of our travel web site designers.

CAN I SELL MY BOOKED HOTEL ROOM TO SOMEONE ELSE?

London St. James Hotrel SuiteQ – We’ve booked a hotel in London  for five nights and are currently in penalty. There is no agent involved and I did not take out insurance for this trip. We’re due to leave in 11 days. Is there any way to sell the room in London or to re-sell it in the States so I can recover some of what I paid (I booked a top suite at well over $1,000 USD per night) Not looking for anything illegal – just a secret strategy to get some of my money back. 

A – There are now two web sites that resell booked hotel space. Try RoomerTravel.com and Cancelon.com Your listings will immediately appear on sites such as Kayak and Trivago. The average fee to these sites is 10-15% and you should expect to recoup about 50% of what you paid for the room. Do be careful when transferring confirmation numbers. And don’t change your mind and just show up as the bed may feel crowded – unless you are from Marin County.

HOW DO MY HUSBAND AND I GET UPGRADED?

Upgrade Offer   Connaught    BXXXQ –  You probably get this question quite often but we’re rather new to the idea of international travel as my husband is about to take a comfortable retirement next month. Although we live outside of Charleston and could just enjoy the city we love so much, the world seems to be calling. At your suggestion to previous writers, we’ve established a relationship with a travel agent we think will take good care of us. But we keep hearing about hotel upgrades and we would appreciate it so much if you would just list a few steps we might take to be in the best position for these hotel upgrades when we travel. We certainly will be staying at the very finest hotels. Thanks so much for all your kind advice.

A – Well thank you. A case of your best sweet tea from time to time is all we ask in return.

Here is our quick list to secure the best upgrades:

01 – Become a Rewards Club Member with all the top chains and particularly Starwood through Marriott and the Ritz Carlton.

02 – Make certain that your travel consultant is a member of Travel Leaders, Signature, Virtuoso, Ensemble, or American Express to receive complimentary upgrades not available to those who book directly with the hotel or online. This is your single best strategy.

03 – Guests who arrive later in the day and who are only staying for one or two nights are often upgraded. Let the hotel know you are in their loyalty club.

04 – When you are upgraded always send a thank you note to the General Manager and, possibly, the reservations room manager. Very few guests do this and it means a lot.

05 – Never loudly complain about any issue or try to make the problem seem more than it is to get an upgrade (I know your southern temperament would never allow that) Hotels can easily mark your profile. Most guests do not realize that hotels write behavioral comments about their guests and that information can be viewed the next time you check in.

CAN YOU SOLVE A TWENTY YEAR MYSTERY?

China Tianzi Mountain Wulingyuan  AQ – I lived in San Francisco for may years where I was a modest collector of watercolors I would buy at street fairs. I was particularly struck by these incredible mountain scenes, always covered by fog in the paintings and seeming quite mystical. Now, my wife and I are in a financial position where we can go in search of these mountains. I realize the tourist board will help me but thought I would check to see if this might ring a bell in terms of the destination I need to visit?

A – We can’t be sure but we are betting that the scenes you remember were of the Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve in Wulingyuan, China. See if this photo brings back the right kind of memories.

ANYTHING YOU CAN RECOMMEND CLEANING ON MY NEXT FLIGHT?

aircraft ventsQ – I am a frequent flyer in the front of the plane who loves your site(s). The problem is I read traveltruth whenever I fly and sometimes the conversation about cleanliness makes me itchy. I know I’m a germaphobe and I don’t have any problem coming out of the closet. So I would ask one favor – if I’m going to be cleaning anyway, and I am, what are the five things I should clean first and foremost?

A –  Sorry for the delay. We had to take a shower after reading your question. OK – here is the list based on the latest research we’ve seen:

The Filthiest Piece of Aircraft Equipment Award goes to the tray table. The fact that it is so darn close to your body must not be comforting. Clean it immediately after being seated.

The Second Filthiest Piece of Aircraft Equipment Award  goes to the water fountain – although they are being phased out. Only flyers with a death wish should avoid touching one of these. Even terrorists in the midst of a hijacking avoid using the on-board water fountain.

The Most Surprising Germ-Infested Piece of Equipment with an amazingly high “colong forming units of bacteria” rating is the overhead air vent. They are never cleaned and have a higher bactyeria count than the bathroom flush button which is the Fourth Filthiest item on your plane.

Finally, the really filthy 5th place winner is your seat belt buckle. The pros clean this first after boarding.

Hope this helps. Happy Flying!

REALLY GETTING FRUSTRATED BY AIRFARE SEARCH ENGINES

Booking on laptop with CC   bXXXQ –  I’ve been keeping track – in the last three months, I’ve found four low airfares, tried to sell it to my husband, and each time when I got back the price was gone. Do these fares really change like that every  fifteen or twenty minutes?

A – We are thinking that you have been victimized by a little known but frequent online practice involving internet air searches. As you are searching specific flight combinations, these web sites can quickly raise the price once you return to the screen to make your purchase. This is highly unethical but it is not yet, illegal. You can fight the practice by going in and deleting your search history, and your cookies (we hope you know what cookies are or you will think we’re insane). You can then go on the site with a fresh search and the original fares will reappear. Airlines do not change their fares every fifteen minutes although the software will automatically raise the fare once a pre-determined number of seats  are sold at the lower price. That is why families booking online are often shocked to discover that the entire family is not traveling at the same price despite booking the same seats at the same time.

ANY HINTS FOR POTENTIAL CARIBBEAN RETIREES?

Caribbean hammock CQ – We have been once – 25 years ago – to the Caribbean (friends house on Antigua) and fell totally in love with the island’s quietness, the vibrant and friendly people, the sound of the sea, and especially the steel drum music.

We are now approaching retirement age (58 and 53) and we want to re-discover the Caribbean and perhaps even scout out a place we might consider moving to when we are done working. But we sense that the “old Caribbean” that we visited many years ago, may have given way to crowds and cruise ships. We want to get away from the getaways …….would you have any suggestions? We have read wonderful things about Bequia (Grenadines) but have not yet visited. Is the Zika fear creating any notable bargains for travel and real estate? Many thanks. We have really enjoyed reading this site and listening to you on the Financial Sense show.

A –  Generally speaking, purchasing before you retire is a good idea as you can build up equity while you are still working. We would suggest that you skip entirely any Caribbean island with a strong budget cruise ship presence.

You should be subscribing to International Living – a newsletter for future ex-pats. Be careful about books on the subject – they are notoriously out-of-date.

Look over the CIA Country Report for any island you are considering. It will give you a breakdown of the population as well as crime and cost of living statistics. Also read the British government foreign office reports on each island.

Some of the better retirement islands are St. John, Anguilla, The Turks & Caicos, and out islands in the Bahamas. We would suggest that you go for a month and spend a week on four islands with the best real estate agent on each island. Have a visitation schedule sent to you in advance with photos and pricing so you can rule out clunkers.

Caribbean home for sale BXXSkip the guidebooks and get in on ex-pat chat rooms. Do detective work and keep a binder of the issues/problems on each island under consideration. Don’t be naive. On many of the islands there is resentment toward Americans who drive up real estate prices. Many Americans commit only to discover they have made a terrible mistake.

Generally speaking, you will get far more for your money in Central America than you will in the Caribbean. Try looking at both Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Oh, and one more thing. If you have to worry about finding a cheap airfare to the Caribbean, you may  not have the income to retire there.

Finally, do choose your island carefully. The Caribbean is home to some of the highest overall crime rates in the world.

SHOULD WE FEED THE ANIMALS IN THIS ZOO?

Deals under $500 Orbitz     CXXXQ – I received an e-mail from Travel Zoo. I have never traveled with them. There were two bargains that would enable me to take my three daughters with me:

01 – Portugal, which includes airfare, well under #1,000 per person.

02 – Tuscany, about the same as above. How do I get an answer on the legitimacy of this company and some information for me to have a comfort level? Thank you.

A – TravelZoo is a global media company that accepts paid advertising from tour operators to put their deals on its site. They claim to investigate the deals to assure they are real. Since Travelzoo is providing information on so-called deals, rather than operating the tours themselves, there is not a great deal of information about the company. They are large and they have been around for years. They appeal to bottom-feeding deal seekers who aren’t particularly interested in the financial history of the company they are working with, the safety record of the airlines used in some of the shadier package deals, or the quality of the hotels. And there are almost always additional costs.

Since a round-trip flight to Lisbon from the United States on a reputable carrier is, all by itself, more than the cost of the entire trip you are quoting, we have to assume there might be some concerns about quality. You should check out the company operating the tour packages carefully and to look at anything posted on the Better Business Bureau site. Unfortunately, there is no proper source within the travel industry that honestly rates and evaluates the quality of top-tier tour operators. Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure do list the top tour companies annually. We do suggest you utilize companies on these lists.

Here’s a secret. The best way to determine the quality of a tour operator is to find out if they belong to any of the major travel agent consortium groups as a preferred supplier. If they don’t, we would advise you to walk away.

Finally, don’t try to figure this all out yourself. See if you can find a struggling travel agent with few clients who is willing to take you on.

WHAT EXACTLY SHOULD WE BE DOING WITH BREXIT AND THE DROP IN THE ENGLISH POUND?

Brexit 3Q – We have been planning a trip to England and Wales next May, hoping to be gone for two weeks. We’re thinking we may rent a car but driving on the wrong side of the road might do us in so we are considering a tour or even private guides. Our question has to do with taking advantage of the drop in the value of the Pound. For travel next year, how do we lock in the best rate. Any strategical advice would be appreciated. There is lots of talk about this on the news but no one tells Americans the best way to play this in terms of  getting the best rates. 

Brexit 2 (Telegraph)A – We have received a wide range of questions on this topic. Since no one knows where England’s exit strategy will lead them, it is a bit premature to predict pricing for next year. But we would be shocked if prices didn’t reflect a British pound that was severely devalued against the dollar. Here are a few suggestions:

Don’t buy a brochure program. Anything out in print will be using last year’s exchange rate.

Do not book online. It is too soon for recalibrated rates to show up on web sites.

Do book everything in British pounds whenever possible. Leave it to your credit card company to use the conversion rate that reflects current valuations.

Do book directly with hotels and pay in British Pounds.

Do book with a consultant who is a member of one of the larger consortiums. They will have overseas affiliated offices in the U.K. that will quote arrangements on a net basis in BP. This is what the savvy players will be doing during financial chaos of the next several months – or years.

If you are booking an escorted tour, ask your consultant if the operator has a track record of adjusting pricing, after deposit, downward when there is a major shift in the value of the local currency. Some do – many don’t.

For now, we are targeting travel within Great Britain next year at a price reduction in the range of 30%.

But do be aware that some analysts are predicting that the exit will bring a surge of tourism to Great Britain  from China, Europe, and Russia . The demand could actually slow the kinds of pricing discounts we are anticipating.

HOW CAN A READER TELL IF AN ONLINE REVIEW IS HONEST?

Fake Reviews 4Q –  As an early adapter and technical Millennial, I like to think of myself as tuned in. But travel on the internet seems to be a blur of contradictory advice and I keep getting the feeling that I am being set up and fed large amounts of really crappy, biased information. This seems particularly true on travel so-called “review” sites. I just heard that 60% of travelers my age will check a review before deciding to travel anywhere. Is there anyway to even know of the person writing the review has even been to the hotel or destination being described? 

I know you will probably say that I should use a consultant – but I don’t have time for that process and you’re not going to change my mind about taking full advantage of the high-powered computer in my back pocket. Quite frankly, I don’t see how you can work in a business that is so based on distortion and lies. 

Fake Reviews 3A – No worries – we won’t try to talk you into using a consultant. There are “Travel Do-It-Yourselfers” and you are likely one of them. Your point is well taken and there is no easy solution as you know. We try to follow this subject closely and the percentage of fake reviews seems to be increasing rather rapidly. There are any number of businesses that curate favorable reviews for a travel entity like a hotel or airline and they also use buzz marketing techniques to do as much damage to the competition as is legally possible. We believe very little we read in the way of reviews on the internet. In fact, if we challenged you to find a truly objective review of the Townhouse at the Galleria in Milan, you would, we will bet, be unable to find one. It exists but only in the form of an actual hotel inspection report from trained inspectors – reports that are not available online.

Fake ReviewsYou are absolutely correct in your assumption that you do not have to have been a guest at a hotel to review it on major sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. Most travel marketers now have thirty or more e-mail alias addresses which they use to post reviews in support of their benefactors. There is one ray of hope in all of this. Cornell University has developed an app called “Review Skeptic” that it claims can detect a fake review with 90% accuracy. Cornell has designed key word algorithms that react to submitted review copy with a likely “deceptive” or “truthful” recommendation.The content of the algorithms is, of course, confidential, but it depends largely on the kind of emotion and language someone who is deceptive might use.

So we’re finished with our response and you will notice that we did not, once, encourage you to use a travel consultant. Of course, you will be paying to use one as virtually all travel product pricing includes agent fees, but doing it all yourself is likely worth it. That way, if you screw up, you can sue yourself.

ANY WAY TO COMBINE A TRAIN TRIP OF QUALITY WITH MACHU PICCHU ?

Hiram Bingham Train AQ – This is a lovely web sight and we’d love to know who sponsors it. Is it the tourist boards or the hotels? Our question concerns a desire to see Machu Picchu but to combine it with train travel which my husband just loves. He has a magnificent train set up in our basement and loves anything on tracks. Our travel agent feels we may find sightseeing a bit challenging in Machu Picchu and is suggesting we not do the trip. But if we could do it all by train that be be a possible option for my husband. We are 79 and 81 and the legs are not what they used to be. Thanks so much.

andean_explorer_luxury_train_travel_Peru-1A – Yes, we are sponsored by all of the world’s tourist boards and most of the world’s hotels. They love the kind things we always say about them and they keeping throwing money at us.

You can’t do the entire trip by train. But we’re not sure you absolutely need to rule this destination off your list. You can take the deluxe Hiram Bingham train from Cuzco up to the border of Machu  Picchu.

Belmond Andean Explorer Train Dining CarHere is the itinerary:

9:05am Departure from Poroy train station (20 minutes drive from Cusco)
12:25pm Arrival at Machu Picchu station. Transfer by bus to the Sanctuary
1:00pm Tour of the ruins
4:00pm Afternoon Tea at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge
4:45pm Transfer to Machu Picchu train station
5:50pm Train departs for Cusco
9:15pm Arrival at Poroy train station

There is another train you need to consider, the new Belmond Andean Explorer that will travel from Cuzco and Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca and then on to Arequipa. We suggest you ask your agent to construct a trip using these two trains with van assistance between points on your itinerary. The Explorer will begin its three-day journeys in May of 2017.

Your travel agent knows you much better than we do. We would urge you to consider her counsel carefully regarding your ability to handle the inevitable challenges of travel within South America.

WE ARE BRINGING THE KIDS TO BERLIN – CAN THEY HIT THE BEER GARDENS WITH US?

German Beer Garden with kinderQ – This might be an unusual question: My husband and I are bringing our two kids, along with our nanny, to Berlin and Munich this coming summer. Our children are ages 6 and 9. We really want to get into the nightlife and we are wondering if we can bring the kids to the beer gardens where we are planning to spend good portions of our days. We could have the nanny watch them in our hotel but I’d love to bring them along as we try everything there is to try in the way of beer. (Please don’t think we’re heavy drinkers and not responsible. My husband works for one of the major breweries in New England). Cool site.

A – Yes,  It is wholly appropriate to bring young children to outdoor beer gardens in Germany. We would, however, draw the line when it comes to indoor beer halls which tend to have a more intense atmosphere with many of the revelers leaving the premises in a mood to invade Czechoslovakia.  At the numerous outdoor beer gardens you will see lots of parents toting along their little ones as they spend portions of their day enjoying the outdoors while seated, stein in hand. The sausages will be on the grill and it is very much a family atmosphere. Some of the more popular beer gardens even serve “Kinderbier” brewed especially for the little ones. It is essentially a heavy malt beverage that makes the kids feel that they are imitating their drunken lout parents although there is no alcohol content.

By the way, German young people enjoy drinking on bridges for some reason no one can explain. Just walk across one or two of the bridges on a nice day and you might see musicians and a crowd of inebriated spectators.

WHO REALLY HAS THE BEST AIRLINE FOOD IN FIRST CLASS?

Singapore Airlines First Class Meal 1Q – We’ve started enjoying our retirement and flying to points around the world on our bucket list. We had owned fractional ownership in our own jet but going forward we’re feeling that flying commercially in First makes more sense. Obviously, we fly the airline and the route that works best for us but my wife is very interested in knowing what you all think about airline food and which airline(s) can be depended on to provide the very best cuisine available. Thanks for a most interesting site and hope you can continue without ads or sponsorship. Singapore Airlines First Class Meal 3

A – You will generally find the very best food in First Class on competitive routes that depart from cities with high food standards. This tends to boil down to the Asian carriers with Singapore Airlines generally thought to have the best cuisine overall. But ANA, Japan Airlines, Malaysian, and Cathay Pacific are all worthy competitors. The Middle East carriers have brought in famous chefs to oversee their meal services in First or Business but although they lead in most other areas of service, it is currently felt that the  Asian carriers are still the best when it comes to food served aloft.Singapore Airlines First Class Mean 2

It is still possible for any number of carriers to produce a memorable First Class meal. But true gourmet status is rare at 33,000 feet. We have surrounded your question with some photos of First Class meals taken aboard Singapore flights. Singapore First Class Meal 2

For those really obsessed with airline food in all classes, we would recommend a Dublin-based web site called www.inflightfeed.com The author of the airline foodie blog, Nikos Loukas, has identified the grilled chicken with vegetables and potato mash served in Swiss Airlines Business Class was “among the worst meals I’ve ever had on an aircraft.”

 

DO THE EUROPEANS REQUIRE PIN NUMBERS WITH THOSE CHIP CARDS?

Credit card chip and pinQ –   We will be leaving for Europe in three months  and we’re concerned about whether or not our credit cards will be accepted or do we need a chip? Also wondering about a pin number. It seems we’re  quite a bit ahead of the Euros on this issue as we don’t need the nonsense of all these special cards and numbers. Can we assume they will accept both my Visa and Mastercards?

A –  Actually, we’re quite a bit behind the “Euros” on matters of credit card technologies. You absolutely need chip-embedded credit cards  when you travel. Your older US technology cards will likely not be accepted. Most locations also require a pin number that must be programmed into the swipe machine that reads your chip number.

About two years ago, Visa and Mastercard decided to go-ahead with the less-secure chip and signature technology instead of “chip and pin,” The thinking on this is that Americans are deemed not smart enough to properly handle and remember various pin numbers. The card merchants believe that retail spending would have nose-dived had pin numbers been required.Pin numbers

You will generally have a merchant “sigh” when you indicate you don’t know your pin number. They will then figure out a way to accept your already outdated “chip-only” card.

IS OUR TRAVEL AGENT NUTS?

Vina Vik 2 AQ – We are winos, in the best sense of the word, and all of our recent forays have been to wine destinations like Bordeaux, Tuscany, and a great week in Napa. Our travel agent has planned these well and knows we’re adventurous (early forties and financially comfortable). 

But now she is recommending we go to Chile’s Millahue Valley with a stay at the Vik Hotel. Do you know this place and do you think our agent has gone nuts? 

Vina Vik Hotel Millahue Valley Chile 1A – Actually, we think you may be nuts for not embracing her recommendation. We like her already. The Vina Vik is an incredibly beautiful 22-suite property in a world class setting – it overlooks the 11,000 + acres of prime vineyards in Chile’s Millahue Valley. You will only be about a two-hour drive south from Santiago so air connections are not an issue. Given the fact that you have seen the “Big Three” destinations for wine aficionados, this strikes us as a wonderful recommendation as it will feel nothing like the European vineyards you have visited.

If you can’t get into the Vini Vik – reschedule the trip. Please give your agent a raise – oh wait, you can’t because you likely are receiving her services on a complimentary basis.

IS THERE A STRATEGY TO GET UPGRADED AT A REALLY NICE HOTEL? HOW DO THE PROS DO IT?

Hotel DeskQ – I travel internationally and domestically for both business and pleasure. I have a good corporate agent who seems to get me good rates at the top-end hotels I use. But I wonder if we are missing a strategy that might get me comp upgrades. They just are not happening. You have a nice following in Toronto – so good on that.

A – The best overall way to get an upgrade is to have your travel consultant prepare a well-written short bio which is presented to hotel management in advance with a note suggesting that upgrading you might be in their best interest. It is much better of a third party requests it.

For our readers who handle their own hotel reservations, we suggest a conversation with a member of the management team, the head of sales, or the reservations supervisor, giving them three possible dates for your stay. Ask them which of those dates has the lowest occupancy and then ask “If I came on those dates would you consider upgrading me to “The Churchill Suite”? You will be surprised at how often they say “yes”.

WILL BE TRAVELING MORE OFTEN TO LONDON; HOW DO I GET THROUGH SECURITY AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE?

Heathrow SecurityQ – Good news – I’ve just been given a plum assignment in London that will get me in and around the British Isles. I will be flying back and forth to London quite frequently and am wondering if there is one best way to avoid the lengthy security lines? I’ve been on the internet but it is rather confusing, 

A –  Once you can prove you have visited the U.K. at least four times in the past twelve months, you can apply online to become a “Registered Traveller”. This will get you use of the express entry lane at nine British airports as well as the Eurostar terminals in Brussels, Paris, and Lille. Congratulations and best of luck. Sorry the internet is confusing, We believe that will be fixed soon.

LOOKING FOR ADVICE ABOUT INTERNATIONAL PHONES

international-calls-4Q –  This is written out of frustration. I’ve been on tech boards, researched on my own, and talked to my best high-tech buddies, and no one seems to have a solution to a simple question. I travel internationally all the time and I need to use my phone in the most effective manner. Some of the charges I’ve been getting lately are ridiculous. If you could just break it down to a simple recommendation I would be really appreciative.

A – Can’t do it – too many variables. This includes where you are attempting to use the phone. Advice varies based on continent. You might want to contact a company called Wireless Traveler. They will sell you a phone that works in 65 countries and it is surprisingly  reasonable. You can reach them at 866-700-3883.

If you use Verizon, look into TravelPass which lets you switch elements of your domestic plan to international calls. Learn to us eSkype, WhatsApp, Viber, or Facebook’s Messenger Service. These will allow you to make free calls once you learn the essentials. See which one is most comfortable.

Most savvy travelers leave their phone in airplane mode which turns off those expensive cellular data charges. You can use your phone for next to nothing as long as you are in a Wi-Fi spot. Think of buying a portable Wi-Fi hub.

Wish we could be more helpful. This is not an area where we are qualified to advise you.

DO WE REALLY HATE HIGH-DENSITY VACATIONS?

Royal Caribbean crowdsQ – Don’t wish to slow down the pace of your wonderfully engaging travel Q&A, but, as an architect, the question of density and travel is something I find intriguing. I work on high-rise design.

If you think of places like Monte Carlo, the Indian slum Dharvari, and, perhaps, Hong Kong, we would have several of the highest population densities in the world. Some cities, like New York, solve some of this by building high-rise buildings that almost reach the sky. But travelers in planes and tour buses, on cruise ships, and at major tourist sites in season are experiencing some of the highest human density statistics on earth. I am particularly interested in how you think this works on a cruise ship. In most situations, humans wish there wasn’t so much density but, somehow, cruise ships actually get people to pay for it. 

Royal Caribbean Interior   BA –  This is an interesting question. If we use the squalid slums of Dhavari as an example, we are looking at a population density of about 800,000 per square mile. Sanitation is a major problem and the real world of pollution, crime, and traffic engulfs the area. If we look at Royal Caribbean’s mega-ship, the Allure of the Seas, we can calculate the density rate at approximately 1.2 million per square mile.

But you can make some good arguments that a huge cruise ship eliminates most of the problems people have with density. In fact, it seems to us, people like being around lots of other people in a controlled space where urban problems normally associated with high density are conceptually removed. It is more fun watching a show in a theater with three thousand people than it might be in a cabaret with a hundred or so guests.Royal Caribbean Street View

The Allure, for example, is a high-rise that makes perfect use of its space. It is totally pedestrian – there are no traffic issues so people can move freely from one high-density neighborhood to another interacting with thousands in the same environment but always having the option of closing the door of their cabin to be alone. Anyway, that is our theory. We don’t think that density, by itself, is necessarily a bad thing. Many travelers welcome it.

WHAT SHOULD I EXPECT WHEN THEY CLEAN MY ROOM?

Hotel Maid A XXX Good HousekeepingQ – As a frequent traveler within the USA,  I find my printing business takes me away about three weeks a month. I stay in lots of hotels, never, if I can help it, less than four stars. I read your post about bedding and how often sheets are changed and found it fascinating. But I am also interested in how much of a room is disinfected and what happens with the toiletries. Are they recycled?

A – Well let’s start with “disinfected.” That is a fairly technical term with some specific meaning. Every major quality chain has  a check-list every maid must complete. Their work is checked by senior housekeeping staff. You’ve probably seen them at work. They’re the ones without the carts.

Every policy manual we’ve seen for cleaning a room at a quality property calls for disinfecting remote TV controls (remember to never ask us why) and light switches. But that’s about it.

Toiletries are fairly straightforward. If you opened the bottle it is tossed. Some hotels do donate some of these room amenities to charity and that might include shampoo containers, conditioner, and bars of soap that have received only minimal use.

There are a lot of tricks of the trade when it comes to making the guest think that a room has been hermetically sealed and totally sanitized by a team from NIH in hasmat suits. One of the most widely used in spreading around some baking soda in the carpet every few weeks for that “fresh room smell”.

Some of our readers have been telling is that they have started asking at check-in how often the sheets will be change din their room. The real answer tot his question is that the sheets are changed for every guest and then on an “as needed” basis as determined by the maid.

IS THERE ONE ISLAND IN THE CARIBBEAN THAT IS NICER AND MORE HIGH-END THAN THE OTHERS?

Anguilla 1Q –  Help me – I don’t know how exactly to phrase this but we’re looking for an island in the Caribbean that hasn’t been completely overwhelmed by mass-market, trinket seeking day trippers. We appreciate the finer things in life and we don;t want to give up on the Caribbean but our last several forays were near-disasters. We are seeking high levels of security, elegance, great beaches, and a variety of upper-tier hotels that know how to treat the luxury traveler. And we would prefer that cruise passengers were several hundred miles away in the distance. I know there are semi-private and private islands like Mustique and Necker, but we’re looking for an open island that seems to attract travelers like us who might want to dine around at some fabulous restaurants after a hard day on the beach. Is this an impossible dream unless we just go and buy our own island?

A – It is not that bleak a picture. You can plop your Ralph Lauren shorts down on a nice chaise in a variety of absolutely luxury resorts on the island of Anguilla. Just go to San Juan and hook a right.

Anguilla 2  rum-punch-villa-1The government of Anguilla has devoted its efforts to cultivating the luxury end of the travel spectrum. You might want to look at renting a villa or staying at any one of a number of really fine hotels like the Viceroy Anguilla, CeBlue Villa and Resort, the Cuisinart Hotel and their new project The Reef, and the just opened Zemi Beach House.

The island is growing with a 38% boom in new hotel construction almost all of it geared to luxury travelers. We think this island will meet all of your stated criteria.

DO WE NEED TO GET TO THE AIRPORT THE NIGHT BEFORE OUR FLIGHT SO TSA HAS ADEQUATE TIME TO SEARCH MY PURSE?

TSA ClassQ –  We watched the shots of the huge lines at O’Hare Airport last night and we thought we would ask if there are posted times for international departures out of LAX? What are professional travel experts now recommending for the number of hours early one must now arrive at an airport to assure making a flight to Asia or Europe? We have two such flights coming up later this year.  As an aside, we were also wondering what these TSA agents tend to earn as they seem incapable of moving the lines quickly.

A –  The current advised wait times vary with time of day, date of travel, local airport hiring status, and the specific level of terrorism alert. So there are just too many variables to give the kind of definitive response we know you would prefer. But we have revised upward our recommended airline arrival times at major airports in the US. Here is our current Airport Arrival Advisory for our clients traveling internationally in terms of time you should arrive at the airport prior to your scheduled departure:

ATLANTA –  3 Hours

BOSTON – 3 Hours

CHICAGO O’HARE – 4 Hours

LOS ANGELES – 3 and 1/2 Hours

NEW YORK JFK –  3 and 1/2 Hours

SAN FRANCISCO – 3 and 1/2 Hours

As to your question regarding TSA salary levels: A Transportation Security Officer is an entry-level TSA airport security position. TSOs fall in the D and E pay bands, depending on their skill level and their experience. As of January 2013, D-banded TSOs receive annual salaries of between $25,518 and $38,277, while E-banded officers are paid between $29,302 and $44,007. These salary bands do not include the additional locality pay that TSA employees working in high-cost areas are eligible to receive.

WHICH AIRPORT IS BEST AVOIDED IN EUROPE DO TO POTENTIAL STRIKE ACTION THIS SUMMER?

heathrow192Q – We are doing a cruise on Azamara that will require us to fly into Barcelona this summer. I am going to be doing the air research myself and will, likely, not use my travel agent for the air but will, instead, do it myself. I am, according to the lovely wife, “totally air anal”. So my question really is about strike actions this summer. I will need to connect somewhere major in Europe to get to Barcelona and I am wondering where you think the strikes are most likely to occur. Or, perhaps, you feel strikes are unlikely. Thanks so much for all “the truth”  My fellow “anals” and I appreciate it.

Heathrow Strike TwoA – There will be strikes this summer. The Euros get in a snit when they have to work anything more than a 30-hour week or when they are expected to work extra hard when the airport is packed. It is always hard to gauge who will get in the biggest snit this summer but it always an interesting competition between the Italians working out at Fiumicino, the French at Charles De Gaulle, or the Brits working out of Heathrow.

Based on current reports and the level of discontent among British Airways pilots, air traffic controllers, baggage handlers etc., we are betting that London Heathrow has the most frequent airport closures this summer with the French valiantly maintaining second place. But when the gauntlet is thrown down, never count the Italians out. They have fewer strikes but theirs last longer.

WHY DOESN’T LOWER FUEL COSTS EQUAL LOWER AIR FARES?

Delta Plane Fueled 2Q – I just paid $2.10 a gallon to fill my Lexus with premium gas. I imagine the airlines are seeing similar huge reductions in the price of fuel. So why did I just pay $120 more for a round-trip ticket on Delta to London than I did the same time a year ago.? Is this the nation’s biggest rip-off or is there a plausible reason why airline prices have not nose-dived since these guys are buying fuel for their planes at the lowest prices in years?

A –  Oh these cynical traveltruth readers! You mean to imply that the major airlines in the US would not pass on all of their current savings realized by sharply lower fuel costs? What will you be expecting next, thicker seats and more legroom? Or, perhaps, the airlines should pay us all reparations for past injuries suffered as a result of their blatant disregard for the comfort of those they serve.

The prevailing analysis is that five years ago, fuel took up 30% of the major airline’s operating costs. That number has been halved in the past twelve months and yet airfares have declined by an average of only 3%. Put another way, the nation’s four largest airlines recorded profits of $22 billion last year with the consumer seeing little in the way of price reductions.

Airlines operate is a far less competitive environment than they once did so they see little need to steal customers away from one another with lower prices. Instead, the “majors” have been investing their profits in new aircraft and in stock buybacks, strategies favored by their stockholders. Writing in The Atlantic, aviation reporter Joe Pinsker points out that the five largest Investment Fund Managers own about “17% of both American and Delta.” The current strategy on airfares also tends to keep the regulators at bay since it is harder to prove that airlines are colluding on pricing.

We are presently in an environment where the airlines have little incentive to change much of anything while they stockpile for the future and figure out new ways to incentivize as many components of the flying experience as possible. Sorry, it is all about happy stockholders not happy fliers.

For any other info please read this .

Ticket prices should be 10% lower than they are given current fuel costs.

Continue for more Q&A