Travel updates for 2012
Think of what follows as a travel tapas buffet — tidbits that just might whet your appetite for more. Here are a dozen pieces of information for the 2012 traveler.
1. You will know how much you’ll pay to check your bags when you’re flying. The Department of Transportation this month denied requests to delay implementation of this rule, so as of last week, you will know what you’ll pay if you decide to check a bag or another piece of luggage. This, of course, applies to the majority of us who aren’t flying in first or business class, aren’t elite frequent fliers or haven’t paid with a credit card that gives us free baggage check.
2. You won’t immediately know how much your total airline ticket will cost when you book online — at least not yet. (You will see more realistic totals in advertising, however.) The DOT has put some rules into effect that benefit consumers, notably the tarmac rule that keeps you from having to wait eons without food, drink or restrooms (emergency landings and snowstorms notwithstanding). Now the DOT is working on getting you the total cost of your ticket as you are booking it. That means taxes and fees, the cost of the seat with extra legroom, the cost of your bag (see above) and so on are included. The implementation of this total-visibility rule probably won’t occur before 2013, if indeed it occurs at all. From the perspective of the airlines and third-party online travel agencies — the Expedias and Travelocities of the world — the idea of accounting for every contingency in online ticket booking is staggering. Or, said another way, the new DOT rule could be the full employment act for programmers.
3. You’ll probably be paying more for airline tickets. That’s not a big surprise; although oil prices teased us last fall by dipping to $80 a barrel, they’re hovering around $100. The worse news: Those who fly from LAX might take it on the chin because competition, which keeps prices down, is limited. At least, that’s the thinking of Joe Brancatelli, whose “Joe Sent Me” newsletter is a travel must-read. “Everyone [the airlines] wants LAX to be a hub,” he said. “They can’t all be hubbed here.” Then too, as business travel continues to recover, the leisure traveler may pay the price. Here’s what the Global Business Travel Assn. told me in an email at the close of 2011: “Based on the GBTA Business Travel Quarterly Outlook, we’ve seen in 2011 more business travelers hit the road and next year we expect to see a maintained level of demand. For those traveling for leisure, this continued demand means that all travel planned during peak travel times, such as weekdays, may see some higher prices for their tickets....” Sigh. But....
4. Credit card companies will continue to court your business with terrific flier-mile offers. 2011 may be remembered as the year British Airways seduced us with the promise of 100,000 flier miles for signing up for a Visa card (and you had to spend a little too). The BA website (www.britishairways.com) was recently offering 50,000 miles for a card sign-up — still not bad. You may recall, though, that BA whacks you with a big fuel surcharge on a so-called free ticket, so you might be better off spending your miles on one of its partners in the oneworld alliance (American is one) that don’t charge those kind of fees. What’s the best way to find these dandy offers? John Di Scala, better known as JohnnyJet.com, likes TravelHacking.org, which offers a 14-day trial for $1. Before you play the credit card game, remember that some card companies may charge you a membership fee and as much as 3% on foreign transactions. You can comparison shop at https://www.creditcards.com.
5. If you’re a get-in-the-car-and-hit-the-road kind of traveler — and 80% to 90% of California vacationers do go by car, the Auto Club of Southern California says — you won’t be immune from those aforementioned fuel-price increases, and you’ll probably pay more for a roof over your head (see next item). Gasoline may top $5 a gallon by Memorial Day, GasBuddy.com has said. But Jeff Spring of the Auto Club noted that if the economy improves, the price increases may not affect the number of people who travel. They’ll grin and bear it or trim the length of their trip. American citizens, though, may have more company from abroad wherever they go: President Obama, hoping to increase travel to the U.S., recently issued an order asking for improvements in the visa process that would help foreign visitors with entry and asked for the creation of a task force that would promote the U.S.
6. You’ll pay more for hotels in some places, and Southern California will be one of them. In Los Angeles County, you’ll fork over about $5 a night more for a room, up to an average of $132, and in San Francisco, the average rate will increase by about $10 to $136. That’s the prediction of Bruce Baltin, a senior vice president for PKF Consulting. Rates in other cities— Atlanta, Chicago and some in Florida — will decrease, making those places a good bet for bargain hunters. And Vegas? Well, roll the dice. As it continues to battle back from the economic downturns, you’ll see good prices, Baltin said, usually midweek and on slow weekends, if there is such a thing in Sin City.
7. If you’re applying for a new passport with your certified birth certificate, it will need to say who your parents are. This new rule, which crept under my radar, has been in effect since April. Here’s what https://www.travel.state.gov says: “The U.S. Department of State will require the full names of the applicant’s parent(s) to be listed on all certified birth certificates to be considered as primary evidence of U.S. citizenship for all passport applicants, regardless of age. Certified birth certificates missing this information will not be acceptable as evidence of citizenship.” If you don’t have that information, you’ll have to have some combination of secondary evidence, which includes “hospital birth certificates, baptismal certificates, medical and school records, certificates of circumcision, other documentary evidence created shortly after birth but generally not more than 5 years after birth, and/or affidavits of persons having personal knowledge of the facts of the birth.”
8. If you love the Transportation Security Administration at the airport — and, judging by a poll last fall by the U.S. Travel Assn., many of you do not — you’ll love them at other points of transit. Besides airports, the Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response, or VIPR, team patrols subways, trains and cruise ship ports. This isn’t a new group, said Nico Melendez, a TSA representative: “We have used TSA teams in each of those locations [mentioned above] for several years now.” The 25 VIPR teams have run more than 9,300 checkpoints and other ops in the last year, according to a recent L.A. Times story. A team named for a deadly snake may not give you warm fuzzies, but remember, the vast majority of people who die of snakebites are in Southeast Asia, not at Amtrak.
9. If you’re planning to slake your thirst at a pub in London during the July 27-Aug. 12 Olympics (or any time), you’d better hurry. The ale houses are said to be ailing. A group called CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), a 40-year-old organization that identifies itself as campaigning for consumer rights, estimates pubs in Britain are closing at a rate of two a day, thanks to high taxes, bureaucracy and the economy. And Time magazine reported in December that British breweries took it in the Adam’s apple when the beer concession at Olympic venues was given to ... Heineken. Ouch. If you want a taste of real ale, you’ll have to hie yourself to a real British pub.
10. If you are going to London for the Games, you will pay dearly for that ale and everything else — but you would anyway. London ranks as one of the most expensive cities for visitors. The State Department’s per diem — the guideline on how much you should spend a day, according to the normally stingy federal government — clocks in at $499 — $319 a night for a hotel and $180 for meals and incidental expenses. The Games often mean higher prices, even though London Mayor Boris Johnson has asked hoteliers to restrain themselves. So what do rates look like for Games times? If I were booking Feb. 10-12 at the Radisson Edwardian Bloomsbury Street Hotel (chosen at random), I’d pay $208 a night, a nonrefundable rate for a superior room. If I checked in July 26 and departed July 31, I’d pay $1,007 a night. The Financial Times said the mayor had criticized hoteliers for raising prices, calling them “short-sighted Arthur Daleys” (a character on a British TV series who’s a con man). Apparently the Daleys were not listening.
11. The new heartthrob in aviation may be the Dreamliner 787. The raked tips of its wings are just the beginning, its designers say; passengers will get a smoother, quieter ride, thanks to the use of composite materials and a host of other design features. The long-awaited aircraft made its commercial debut in October on an All Nippon Airways flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong. For passengers, the pluses are the “autodimming” windows (say so long to plastic shades), bigger windows and cabins that are pressurized at 6,000 feet instead of 8,000, which means you may feel less sluggish because you are getting more oxygen. Boeing has more than 800 orders for the new aircraft, which can carry as many as 290 passengers. United/Continental, which has 50 on order, is aiming to introduce them by the second half of this year.
12. It might be time to fall out of love a little with online booking. Maybe the world’s aura needs fluffing or maybe it’s the run-up to the Maya prediction of the end of the world as we know it on Dec. 21, but a Lemony Snicket series of unfortunate events has caused havoc and worse for travelers. The recent wreck of the cruise ship Costa Concordia, the Arab Spring and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March were among the shocking events that plagued the world, never mind the dozen weather disasters that cost the U.S. a billion dollars in 2011, the Hartford Courant reported. So if you’re planning a complicated vacation, you will need an ally, and that’s usually a travel agent or someone who can pull some strings if you’re in a jam. Booking a ticket toWashington, D.C.? I can do that myself. Going on a tour of the Middle East or on a world cruise? I’d call a travel agent who wants to be my new BFF.
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