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.
Q – We have friends who just had their rental car broken into in Switzerland. A bag was taken including their passports, wallet, cell phone etc. We have an upcoming trip planned to Greece and Italy and we will be renting a car for a portion of this trip. What do we do if we are robbed, as in first steps. Also wondering if you can provide any tips others might find useful in terms of a really awful “what if” robbery scenario.
A – Never, ever, leave your things in a car anywhere in the world. If you are robbed or if you lose your passport/money/ID the first thing to do is contact your travel consultant and keep them engaged in your efforts. Contact the nearest American Consulate or Embassy after first contacting the local police and filing a claim.
Take a picture of the picture page of your passport and store it on your phone. Also store the photo on your home computer so you can access it from anywhere. You should also store photos of your luggage on your phone.
Make certain that your travel agency provides or recommends a Flight Monitoring service. They can be extremely helpful in a situation like this. If you lose all of your money, ask your travel agent to wire you funds at your hotel.
Q – I have gotten my golfing, Bloody Mary drinking, lazy retiree of a husband to agree to take me on a cruise in the Galapagos islands in January or February of 2018. I am wondering when I should make these arrangements? How far in advance should I start locking this in?
A – The so-called warm water season runs from late November through the beginning of June. The rule of thumb is to reserve your passage one year in advance.
Q – We have dear friends who recently returned from a Private Jet Tour around South America and they absolutely raved about the experience, We’re in our early seventies and we’re at a stage in life where we want the details handled. Our friends said the private jet made everything easier with no overnight flying, all sorts of landing privileges, and wonderful accommodations. They also said that at under $100,000 per person with absolutely everything possible included, they thought it was a “really good value”. I’ve been studying this and it seems like they’re right. Is there a winter private jet trip you can recommend and do you even think a private jet trip to this part of the world is a good idea?
A – It is true that a majority of our Around-The-World-By-Private-Jet clients end up telling us that they ultimately decided on the trip because of the value. Safety and convenience are also important considerations. We would suggest that you look closely and urgently, at Abercrombie & Kent’s 21-Day Africa Revealed Private Jet trip scheduled to depart from Madrid on February 17th and ending in back in Madrid on March 9th. This “Not Too Busy but Substantial” odyssey includes time in Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Morocco.Only high quality accommodations at the best available luxury hotels are used, expert guides are with you every step of the way and all sorts of special events are built into the program. The cost for the 2017 departure is $92,000 per person including all air costs round-trip from Madrid. But do be aware that this trip is heavily booked with quite limited availability.
Q – With all the terrorism over there, I am wondering where the Europeans themselves are now going on vacation. I know a lot of them used to go to Egypt but I imagine that has dried up. Are they now avoiding travel and staying home on vacation.
A – The Europeans tend to be adults in these matters and they understand the relative risk of terrorism versus, say, driving an automobile. There has been a reduction in European visitors to Egypt – but there is little evidence they are staying away from Europe in general. Since they actually read (England’s readership rate in terms of print media is double ours) they are generally better-informed than Americans are about reward/risk stats.
In fact, Europeans have been putting off vacations in some of the more dodgey areas of the world in favor of vacations on the continent. CNN reports that Spain and Portugal have seen tourism increases of 30% this summer versus 2015.
Q – In June we got caught up in the middle of the Air France pilot strike making it impossible for us to get home on time. It was an absolute mess but I won’t bore your readers with details, except to say that we had to triple connect from Paris to get back to Oklahoma City. As I travel with my family abroad at least twice a year, I would love any suggestions to avoid these strike and serious delay hassles, particularly in Europe.
A – Well first, of course, you need to move from Oklahoma City. Try New York or Chicago – far better air connection gateways. Short of that we would suggest the following to protect yourself against likely strike actions that are normally scheduled during heavy travel periods in the summer:
01 – Do not do your own air. Have your tickets issued by an actual human you can contact who will be your advocate. The convicts who man the phones at warehouse call centers may not have your best interests at heart.
o2 – Road warriors know a trick you need to know: When airlines can’t operate their flight, it is in their interest to put you on a partner carrier. When choosing airlines you might want to think about whether or not their partners could get you where you need to go in an emergency. If, for instance, you are stranded in Singapore, Delta will be little use to you.
03 – Strikes are most likely to occur in France, Italy, Greece, and Spain. In one or two of these countries striking is a sport and they get as much practice in as possible. Try to watch the news carefully, particularly the European press, in the days just prior to your flight.
04 – The most important single thing you can do is use a flight monitoring service that will handle re-booking details on your behalf and watch all strike actions carefully. There is normally an extra charge for this service but it is almost always less than $100. Your travel agent will set this up for you.
05 – If you insist on booking your airline tickets online, always do it on the airline’s own site. If you don;t, they have all sorts of outs to deny you service.
Q – 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.
Q – 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.
Q – 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.
Q – 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.
Q – 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.
Q – 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!
Q – 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.
Q – 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.
Skip 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.
Q – 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.
Q – 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.
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.
Q – 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.
A – 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.
You 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.
Q – 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.
A – 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.
Here 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.
Q – 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.
Q – 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.
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.
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.
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.”
Q – 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.
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.
Q – 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?
A – 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.
Q – 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”.
Q – 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.
Q – 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.
Q – 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.
A – 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.
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.