Sunset in Vietnam
The First Kickstarter Video
One of the reasons we went here was to film some footage for the very first camera bag Kickstarter we did with Peak Design! Since then, there have been a lot more bags made, and you can see all of them over on the Peak Design website!
And, for old-times-sake, here is the first Kickstarter video we made!
Daily Photo – Sunset in Vietnam
Here in Fuqua, Vietnam, we never saw a bad sunset. They were all winners. It made me think that maybe I want to live on a little island like this where great sunsets are a regular thing. But, I’m definitely more of a mountain-kinda-guy. I don’t get to see as many great sunsets, but I like seeing all the beautiful relief on the mountains around me all the time. I sort of think of that as a non-stop sunset with interesting textures and shapes in the sky.
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February 24, 2018 at 08:15AM
Nashville’s Convention Business is Booming Thanks to its Music Industry Branding Strategy
This post is original content produced by the SkiftX team for our Skift Cities platform launching in March 2018.
There are more than 50 hotels under construction or in development in Nashville today, driven in large part by convention business. About 40 percent of the city’s inbound visitors are convention delegates, which is significantly higher than most U.S. cities.
Nashville is also the only midsize city among the top five metros in the country with the most aggressive hotel development pipelines, joining New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas, and it had the hottest housing market in the U.S. last year.
How, then, did such a small city — whose most indelible tourism industry asset for decades was the Grand Ole Opry — rise to become one of the trendiest cities to visit in America, and one of the top 10 most popular for conventions?
According to Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of Visit Music City, the region’s convention and visitors bureau, a lot of it has to do with the local music industry. During the last 10 years, the music scene has evolved to encompass all genres, and the musicians themselves are the driving force behind the indie ethos in Nashville.
“The artists, songwriters and musicians are incredible ambassadors, and we have worked with so many that they can organically tell our story for us,” says Spyridon. “The importance of remaining true to who we are as Music City cannot be overstated. Music, creativity and genuine Southern hospitality are what we do best. That’s the foundation of our brand.”
How Nashville developed that music industry storytelling strategy for the meetings and convention industry was two decades in the making.
In the late 1990s, Nashville’s economy was in a bad spot. Visitor arrivals were on the decline, and the destination brand equated primarily with country music. So, the local hospitality industry began discussions in 1998 about building a new convention center, and then a feasibility study was conducted in 2001.
It would take years for local government, economic development, and business leaders to raise funding and align their vision around designing a new convention center. Eventually, the Nashville Music City Center opened in 2013 as the country emerged from the recession, and the city’s visitor economy has since surged in terms of arrival, convention, spend and occupancy volumes:
However, a lot of cities opened new convention centers in the last five years. The second part of the equation behind Nashville’s success revolves around Visit Music City’s branding strategy celebrating the legacy of music and musicians in the area. That has helped fuel the city’s rise as an ‘it” destination, joining the ranks of other destinations such as Austin and Portland where individual creativity is valued and fostered, to drive competitive advantage in the face of widespread American homogenization.
In 2014, for example, the bureau invested more than $300,000 to produce the hour-long “For The Love of Music: The Story of Nashville” documentary to define the soul of the Nashville lifestyle. The documentary profiles all different types of singers and bands, ranging from gospel and blues to rock and country, and it shows the business savvy and clout behind the local music industry. Overall, the film helps dispel some of the misconceptions surrounding the city for people who’ve never visited.
“Meeting planners will tell me, ‘Oh, my group doesn’t like country music,’” Spyridon explains. “So I ask them, ‘Have you ever been to Nashville?’ No, they haven’t. Or they’ll say, ‘Nashville isn’t sophisticated enough for our group.’ And I say, ‘Have you ever visited Nashville?’ No. So, for us, it’s all about the stories we’re putting out there that explain how we’re unique.”
Visit Music City is launching a longer, more expensive follow-up documentary in May 2018 focusing on the local songwriters, who typically don’t get the same recognition as the singers.
Following is our conversation with Spyridon about how Nashville ultimately built its visitor brand around the spirit of its musician community.
Skift: Take us back to the 1990s. What was the catalyst for building Music City Center?
Butch Spyridon: Necessity and almost desperation. We were a city dominated by Opryland, and at that time, the end of the ’90s, Gaylord Entertainment. The Opry, the Opryland Hotel, theme park, riverboat, and everything related to that kind of dominated. When they closed the theme park and started building hotels around the country, their priorities changed and we were left at a crossroads. We took that opportunity, I’d say, and instead of feeling sorry for ourselves and panicking, we assessed where we were, who we were, and asked the question: “Did we want to be in the hospitality industry as a destination? And if so, what would it take to not just sustain it but grow it?”
Fortunately, for me, the answer was, “Yes, we should attempt to be in the business.” Then, the answers to what it would take were: building the brand; working off an event strategy so that we shined a spotlight on the brand — the talent is the brand in our town, and events are demand generators — and then building what turned out to be the convention center.
It was a three-legged stool that the community got behind in 2003 and 2004. We had a strategic plan. We were given the keys to the brand, and we knew how important it was because we didn’t have all the typical normal demand generators that other destinations had, meaning: gaming, theme parks, mountains, beach or huge business travel like a New York, Chicago or Dallas. We knew we had to make it work.
Skift: What was the destination brand vision from a visitor standpoint back then?
Spyridon: Capturing the authenticity behind the city was at the heart of it all. It made a difference because we didn’t try to become something we weren’t. We tried to take what we had, and maybe polish it, make it more consumable, and at the same time, broaden the perception of what Nashville had to offer.
It’s kind of like looking at what you do have, and what has always been there, and tapping into the legacy of the city. It’s the stories of our local songwriters, our local musicians and artists and everyone in that industry. It was conscious decision to share their stories, and by sharing their stories, you’re sharing the Nashville story.
Skift: Was there a goal to develop that storytelling beyond country music at the time?
Spyridon: There was a creative culture that permeated the city, but we never back then, as a community, we never really embraced it. Everybody knew about country music, but there were all of these other artists that lived here, and songwriters that wrote across genres. So we looked at exposing that, and maybe spreading some other love, not instead of country music, but along with country music. It’s like country music is the front door, but we have the whole house, so lets take it and run with it. Ironically, and this is hindsight, there was clearly a pent-up demand on the consumer side for something a little bit unique and a little more authentic in its offering for a wider spectrum of interests.
Skift: How do you continue getting that story out to meeting planners about how Nashville is a platform for all types of creative artists, and innovative businesses in general?
Spyridon: It’s like being on a treadmill. We continue to run as fast as hard as we can, but we know we’ll never be done. We have made enormous progress, and at the end of the day, if we can get somebody here, we can sell the city. If they’re going to live with a preconceived image of Nashville, which means a prejudiced notion, it’s a tough sell still. But if we can get them here, we let the city and the city’s offerings speak for themselves.
Skift: Your 1-hour “For The Love of Music” documentary, which cost more than $300,000 to produce, was unprecedented in its scope. What was the catalyst that inspired its development?
Spyridon: We were working on our website with the intent of showing what we have to offer in terms of the depth and breadth of our music. We’ve been doing this a long time, and we have a lot of stories to tell. A gentleman with the company that was helping us with the website literally turned around in a meeting one day and said, “Y’all should do a documentary.” As the words came out of his mouth, it was like a light bulb literally went off.
It was a good idea, but we knew it was going to take a lot of favors and cost money that wasn’t in the budget. It was such a captivating concept to tell our story that way, and not have it coming from the paid talking heads to advocate for Nashville. We went way outside of our comfort zone, our wheelhouse, and took it on as a true documentary, not a travel blog or a paid endorsement. We did the storyline in-house. We lined up the artists. We didn’t pay anybody to be in it. We didn’t script anybody and we got all the music gratis. That’ll tell you the kind of town that this is.
Skift: How was the film distributed beyond your website and other marketing channels, and how was it received?
Spyridon: We absolutely admit that it was better than we thought or hoped. We pitched it to ABC. They loved it and aired it. We pitched to Foxtel in Australia. They aired it for us. We pitched it to Channel Four in the UK. They loved it. And kind of unintentionally, we started to enter it against some significant competition nationally and internationally. It won a Gold Pencil award in New York. It won a Gold LIA award in London, and it won silver and bronze Cannes Lions awards. It’s still airing in Europe. British Airways also added it to their in-flight entertainment across their entire network.
The scariest piece of all of it, it worked so well. It was a departure and a risk to take our brand and put it out there in a different light. Most people would say, “It doesn’t tell people to come visit.” I would argue that it does, but it just doesn’t do it directly. Part of our marketing strategy for using that film is we want people to explore and discover the mystery or the creativity or the culture here. We want them to be inspired to come, not convinced to come, if that makes sense.
Skift: And now you have a second documentary gearing up to launch in May. How will it expand on the first?
Spyridon: One of the things we try not to do is gamble too hard and rely on lightning striking twice, but the second film is going to tell the songwriter story. The first one was more of a historic look at how Nashville evolved into Music City, going back to the 1800s. It covered the diversity, the history, and the lineage of our musical roots up to where the pop and rock side has evolved here. This new documentary focuses on the story behind the songwriters, who are the story behind the songs. Nobody ever gets to meet them. Nobody ever gets to hear their stories or even know the names of the people writing these hits. Typically, people think the artists wrote them.
To bring that to the forefront is really the differentiation in Nashville and other music destinations. We think there’s only one Music City, but there are certainly other cities that do a lot in the music field. This just gives us a chance to shine a light on the true heart and soul of that creative culture.
Skift: This film is also longer and it’s more expensive than the first.
Spyridon: It’ll be close to an hour and a half. Yeah, I don’t have the final price tag, but it’s probably in the $400,000 to $500,000 range, which is still a bargain. This time around, I was able to budget for it a little bit.
Skift: How or why is this impacting the convention segment? How does music and the local vibe and the songwriters’ stories influence meeting planners to look more closely at Nashville?
Spyridon: At the end of the day, and particularly on the association side, meetings are a revenue generator, and attendance drives the revenue. We have built what I hope is a compelling story about Nashville as a city and a destination, and we know that groups often achieve record attendance when they come here, so we know we’re a good draw. That makes us desirable in the association market.
Second, we believe we’ve created a pretty unique experience, which again is what meeting planners, both corporate and association, are looking for. They want to know, “What can we do different this year? How can we draw more interest? How can we present the meeting’s story, our content, in a different light?”
They’re accomplishing that by embracing the music brand. They use it in their marketing. They use the talent as part of their entertainment. And they’ve even used songwriters in particular to help talk about collaboration, cooperation, creativity, and how that fits into the meetings world and in the everyday world for both corporate organizations and associations. It’s all about being different and being accessible.
Skift: There’s a Tennessean story where you ask what would happen if your live music venues were suddenly inundated with chain stores. You said, “If our neighborhoods lose their character, what are we standing on?” Just to sum up, what are you standing on?
Spyridon: Our brand promise. It’s an authentic and creative offering revolving around music that’s delivered in an unpretentious and hospitable manner. That word “authentic” is at the epicenter of everything we’re doing. We have to make sure we don’t lose our authenticity, and that could happen during our growth as our population increases, by people moving here that don’t get it or accept it or won’t embrace it. As we grow development-wise, the price of real estate grows, so someone might say, “Okay, I’ve owned this land and I have this honky tonk, but I can sell it to Walgreens and make a ton of money.” That one person will make money and this city will lose. We are fighting to keep our soul. It’s a tough battle every day. Success breeds opportunity, which breeds greed, which breeds shortsightedness. We fight that every day.
Skift: Do you think there’s more demand for authenticity today, in what Skift calls our “Age of Permanxiety?”
Spyridon: Without question. I can’t tell you we knew that from the consumer side. It’s just what we’ve always had to work with, but as we really dug in, we saw how the homogenization of America’s cities is really spreading globally. We all look more and more alike. So when that happens, what’s the compelling reason to come here instead of somewhere else? Cities that let it happen are going to be on the short end of the stick because absolutely the consumer wants a unique, authentic, different experience. We work everyday to preserve that and serve that.
The above content was produced by the SkiftX team for the upcoming Skift Cities platform, defining how cities are connecting visitors and locals to co-create the future of urban industry and livability.
Photo Credit: Trend setting local bands like Kings of Leon helped expand Nashville’s destination brand beyond country music. Visit Music City
via Skift https://skift.com
February 24, 2018 at 01:46AM
Review: The Pseudo-Mysterious Seriousness of “Annihilation”
The new movie “Annihilation” feels like a vanity project in a very
specific way: until a few strikingly inspired moments near the end, it
plays like a film made for no personal need, no sense of inquiry or
effort to understand situations, characters, or the universe—rather, it
appears made to impress. What’s more, that strategy has, for the most
part, paid off with critics. “Annihilation” is one of the dullest shiny
objects in the recent cinema, a work of a sort of bureaucratic hubris;
it’s evidence of how studio movies that escape from the longtime
critical bugbears of franchises and superheroes, and that appear to be
made for (a word that I utter with a loud eye roll) “adults,” get graded
on an astonishingly generous and distorting curve.
“Annihilation” is a science-fiction movie set in a world not very
different from this one, not a dystopian future or a technological
wonderland but, rather, a current-day world that is jolted off kilter by
one peculiar event. It’s a setup that depends not on the ingenious
abstractions and artifices of a film like “Black
which uses the conventions of genre to create a movie driven by powerful
ideas; “Annihilation” is instead dependent on grafts—on the one big
twist inflicted on contemporary society—but it offers neither a
satisfying view of the current-day people who confront the implications
of the event nor of the society in which the thing happens. Rather,
“Annihilation” squeezes and narrows its characters and the world at
large to fit the tight confines of a plot issuing from the big deal and
turns a potentially cosmic vision of metaphysical distortion into an
unintentional comedy of self-derision.
The big event is a sharp, swift beam from outer space that pierces the
atmosphere and blasts the base of an ancient lighthouse on the barren
shore of a nature preserve. Its effects are first, albeit obliquely,
manifested through the pain of its protagonist, Lena (Natalie Portman),
a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and seven-year Army
veteran, who is in mourning for her husband, who was in the military and
was reported killed in action a year ago. She’s home, renovating the
house to embark symbolically on her new life, when her husband, Kane
(Oscar Isaac), shows up. But Kane doesn’t seem like himself; he’s
emotionally remote, and Lena can’t get a story out of him. Then he
En route to the hospital, the ambulance in which Kane is being
transported and Lena is accompanying him is waylaid by a squad of black
S.U.V.s and a batch of masked agents who purloin Kane and administer a
knockout injection to Lena, who awakens in a secret hospital-like
facility. There, she’s attended by a psychiatrist, Dr. Ventress
(Jennifer Jason Leigh), who explains that Kane is still alive; that he
was part of a mission to enter a zone, centered on the lighthouse,
that’s surrounded by a rainbow-like curtain of light called “the
Shimmer”; and that Kane is the only person who came back. He’s now lying
gravely ill in the facility, and Lena volunteers to join a new mission,
led by Ventress, and including three other scientist officers, Josie
(Tessa Thompson), Anya (Gina Rodriguez), and Cass (Tuva Novotny), to
penetrate the Shimmer and investigate its mysteries.
Their mission begins innocuously enough—or, rather, it begins dully and
unimaginatively. The movie’s writer and director, Alex Garland, shows
the five women from afar, passing into the wavery Shimmer, but there’s
no experiential side to the sequence: he never shows what it’s like for
them to enter, never shows their point of view, never shows what they
see as they’re crossing through to the other side. It’s a mark of
directorial incuriosity, and it exemplifies his approach to the bulk of
The Shimmer zone is uninhabited by people, and it features some unusual
foliage; but the first sign of big trouble is an attack by a crocodile
that emerges from a pond—and that turns out to harbor shark-like
multiple rows of teeth. And that’s the trick of the Shimmer: it
“refracts,” Josie explains—it refracts genetic material and performs
splices that merge different life-forms into one. But, rather than
discovering the exotic varieties of beings inhabiting the zone all at
once, the five women advance from the lesser mysteries to the greater
ones as they get nearer and nearer to the lighthouse and its
ever-stranger recombinations—a mad bear-like creature, gut-squirming
worms—and, in so doing, they get killed off, one after another, Agatha
The death wish is built into the feeble, thin, and flimsy construction
of the women’s characters. The cast is happily diverse, but it offers no
diversity of experience. Nothing in the movie indicates that the
ethnicity of its characters is of any significance whatsoever to the
action. (The movie is adapted from the first book in a trilogy by Jeff
VanderMeer; it’s in the second book that Lena is revealed to be
half-Asian, half-Caucasian. Garland has
said that he was adapting only the first book and never read the sequels;
said that only learned of her character’s identification while on a junket
for the film.) As the protagonist, Lena has a bit more density to her
character—the movie flashes back and forth to her interrogation,
post-mission, in a sealed glass chamber by a hazmat-suited official
(Benedict Wong), and flashes back to her affair with a medical-school
colleague named Dan (David Gyasi), but the manipulation of the time
structure, and the depiction of her memories, are slight and
Besides Lena, the women are given no inner life whatsoever, with the
exception of one point of suffering each: one used to cut herself;
another is a recovering drug addict; one lost a child. And these
troubles render each, as one of them says, “damaged goods”—as if these
troubles sufficed to spur them into a virtual suicide mission. The
notion is both trivializing (of their troubles and of their mission) and
also essentially offensive. Their psychological flatness is all the
odder because one of the effects of the Shimmer is to befog the mind: as
genetic and elemental fusions take place, so does the refraction and
disintegration of the brain, and the officers on their mission begin to
feel its effects—to report its effects, but with no sense of
subjectivity, of eerie or dulled experience. Garland merely drops the
information in as a line of dialogue.
What’s more, the dangers and monsters that the squad faces are realized
with a ludicrous earnestness that smothers the implicit humor in the
refractions and renders the action all the sillier. One “refracted”
creature is a metallic being that resembles a human-sized Oscar
statuette, and the investigation of its qualities involves a virtual
ballet of mimicry that seems borrowed from the Marx Brothers’ mirror
scene in “Duck Soup.” It’s the second recent science-fiction movie to do
so, after last year’s
starring Anne Hathaway. The director of “Colossal,” Nacho Vigalondo,
gives Hathaway a wide margin of invention in the scenes of mimicry, and
she makes much of them, with the elements of comedy adding depth to the
drama. In “Annihilation,” Garland’s approach is exactly the opposite: he
ramps up the pseudo-mysterious seriousness, and the result is to make
the viewer laugh out loud.
On the other hand, right near the end of the film—after nearly a full
two hours—there are a couple, a literal pair, of imaginative
inspirations. Both are matters of design: a set of crystalline trees
that suggest the aesthetic exaltations of the horrors posed by the
gene-splicing space invaders, and a final conflagration of a overwrought
enormity that runs just a few moments but suggests nonetheless the
proximity of the ridiculous to the sublime. For those few moments,
Garland harked back to the low-budget, high-invention thrills of classic
science-fiction movies and did itself, and its Hollywood heritage, more
honor than in the two proud hours of sententious bombast that preceded
them. At a time when many great movies of real substance and complexity
are released—few of them from the Hollywood studios—there’s little but a
nostalgia trip keeping movies such as “Annihilation” afloat on
adulation; and the misplaced praise only detracts attention from, and
distorts taste regarding, the movies that are worth paying attention to,
and that may not be coming to a theatre near you.
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February 24, 2018 at 12:52AM
What Is Independent Travel Insurance and When Is It Worth It?
More than ever, travelers need to prepare for when travel plans go awry. Yet with terms like travel insurance, trip protection and cancellation insurance used interchangeably, it can be difficult to figure out what will give you adequate peace of mind for an upcoming trip, or to know if the right credit card benefits offer a sufficient alternative to purchasing third-party travel insurance.
In a nutshell, travel insurance protects your financial investment in your trip. But not all plans and protection are created equal.
Independent travel insurance plans purchased from underwriters such as Allianz and WorldNomads typically offer coverage that’s more comprehensive than the protection included with your credit card. While card benefits vary, many only cover transportation-related cancellation or interruption costs in the event of illness, injury or death. Furthermore, most credit card-based benefits only cover expenses and activities paid (partially or in full) with that credit card. Plus, your credit card benefits may be limited to a certain number of claims or a maximum reimbursement amount within a 12-month period.
Third-party travel insurance also differs from the airline trip protection available for purchase when booking a flight. The main distinction is that airline trip protection typically costs more and offers less than a policy purchased separately after research. Additionally, airline trip protection only covers the flight-related portion of your travel, and specifically targets delays or cancellations relevant to natural disasters or dire circumstances such as a death in the family. For instance, most airline trip protection will not reimburse you for non-refundable excursions, or hotel stays missed as a result of delayed travel — unlike travel insurance, which specifically protects you in these kinds of situations.
Plans are available for just about any type of experience related to travel, including transportation, tours and excursions, hotel stays and medical coverage. At a minimum, independent travel insurance plans cover transportation cancellations and interruptions; medical expenses and evacuations; and luggage loss or delays.
Types of Coverage
Trip cancellation coverage targets any non-refundable portions of your trip, from transportation to excursions and hotel stays. Most hotels and tour groups have very strict rules regarding last-minute cancellations or missed travel, so you most likely will not be able to get a refund if a canceled or delayed flight prevents you from reaching your destination. If you’ve planned a full, expensive vacation, travel insurance is the best way to protect your investment.
Most underwriters offer comprehensive lists of individual excursions and activities they cover in each of your destinations. If you need complete peace of mind, you can opt for pricier “cancel for any reason” or “cancel for work reasons” plans which will offer the most flexibility.
Trip interruption coverage is very similar to cancellation coverage, differing only in the timeframe within which it kicks in. If you’re already partially through your trip and need to change your itinerary, head home early or reroute your plans, the plan will reimburse you for the unused portion of your trip, as well as additional costs for last-minute travel changes.
Medical expenses can cover anything from a saline-drip IV for heat exhaustion to serious injuries treated in the ER or a hospital overseas, as well as related expenses such as emergency helicopter airlifts. Most health insurance plans in the US don’t cover international incidents or needs that arise, and a travel insurance plan can provide coverage for accidents and illnesses while abroad.
Emergency evacuation coverage can easily save you tens of thousands in out-of-pocket expenses for unexpected helicopter airlifts, medically equipped flights home or ambulance transportation to a local hospital.
Lost or delayed luggage, and delayed flights — Many credit cards now offer trip delay protection and lost baggage reimbursement, so this perk is one of the smaller side benefits of purchasing independent travel insurance. However, an independent travel insurance plan will not only reimburse you for expenses incurred as a result of a flight delay that causes you to miss your connection, but will also cover the cost of affected expenses such as a non-refundable hotel room for the missed night, or an excursion you booked for the day following a missed flight. Most credit card benefits only extend to the baggage and contents themselves.
Additional Coverage Options
If you need or want more robust insurance for peace of mind, underwriters also offer add-on options for:
- Life insurance
- Hazardous sports
- Rental car collision
- Identity theft
Note that death/dismemberment insurance and rental car coverage are frequently offered with many credit cards, so check your card benefits before purchasing these add-ons to avoid redundant coverage.
When Travel Insurance Plans Are a Great Idea
- You’re traveling in a group, especially with small children — You may find yourself needing a lot of flexibility for last-minute changes if traveling with your family, or any time you book travel for multiple people at once. A few hundred dollars spent on a good policy can save you thousands in otherwise-sunk costs in the event of an emergency. When traveling with her niece or nephews overseas, Shannon O’Donnell of A Little Adrift purchased insurance plans that, amongst other protections, covered travel costs for a back-up guardian in case she became incapacitated for any reason — a scenario that doesn’t typically occur to most travelers.
- You need medical protection overseas — If you plan to hike Machu Picchu, backpack your way through Southeast Asia or undertake any other equally adventurous trip, it can be a good idea to look into medical evacuation coverage against the unlikely scenario that you need to be airlifted to a hospital or treated for emergency surgery. Most credit card benefits don’t offer medical expense or evacuation coverage, so if you need that coverage for peace of mind, it’s only a few dollars more for comprehensive travel insurance. Medicare doesn’t offer any international assistance, and US-based private health insurance plans offer little to no coverage for international travel. Countries with universal health care may offer some basic help, but they aren’t obligated to do so, especially if you aren’t a citizen.
- You’re planning a complex trip with many moving parts — In 2015, Connie Wang quit her job to travel the world for 15 months by stringing together a series of shorter trips across 47 countries and six continents. Instead of purchasing one giant insurance plan for the full year, she was able to purchase individual plans for each leg of her travels through World Nomads as she went. This lessened her up-front expenses and simplified the stress of planning each activity months in advance.
When Purchasing Travel Insurance May Be Unnecessary
- You’re traveling on a domestic flight worth $300 or less — Usually, it won’t be worth the additional cost of a travel insurance plan. In this situation, your credit card trip delay protection will most likely prove more than sufficient to cover any expenses incurred as a result of travel delays.
- Your trip is refundable — If you book a flight through Southwest, for instance, a travel insurance underwriter may see that you were issued a travel voucher for the value of a canceled ticket, and refuse to further reimburse you for the travel costs.
- You’re traveling on award bookings — Insurance companies will only reimburse your actual spend, not the value of your seat. A round-trip Singapore Suites ticket may be worth $13,000, but when your underwriter sees that you only paid $203 in fees, your financial return on insurance investment will be very low. Instead, look into your airline’s policies regarding canceled or missed award travel. In some cases, you may be eligible for a partial or full refund, although redeposit fees will often apply. Cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred are eligible for compensation on award redemptions.
- You don’t often plan big, complicated or dangerous travel — Many cards limit protection claims under a certain dollar amount within a 12-month period. So if you’ve already filed a large insurance claim with your credit card company within the past year, independent travel insurance might be a wise purchase to consider for your next trip.
How to Find and Purchase Travel Insurance
Katie Warner, CEO of Lucid Routes, recommends travelers price-shop for insurance as soon as they make their initial trip payment so they can take full advantage of the maximum period for cancellation coverage.
The most important first step is to figure out your coverage priorities, and identify the most important criteria for your trip. For example, Shannon O’Donnell purchased a comprehensive plan in 2011 that would cover the cost of an emergency guardian for her 11-year-old niece in the event that she could no longer travel with her. You can determine the key coverages you need by browsing a list and selecting the top two or three; use them as filtering criteria when comparing insurance quotes.
Once you’ve established what you need in an insurance plan, utilize a reputable comparison site such as InsureMyTrip, which includes reviews for every insurance company plan it recommends. You can select the travel and activities for which you need insurance, using drop-down menus on the website to receive an instant quote. WorldNomads is probably the most popular underwriter amongst solo world travelers, endorsed by the likes of Lonely Planet and similar backpacker guides. However, you may find that AIG, Nationwide or Allianz offer more competitive prices for your bachelor cruise or family vacation to Disneyland.
What it Costs
Depending on the package you select, expect to pay between 4-8% of your total prepaid, non-refundable trip expenses. Basic plans for peace of mind can cost less than 4%, while premium vacation plans that cover just about any conceivable issue can cost more than 12% of your total trip expenses. Travel medical insurance is sold based on the duration of your travels, and can be as low as a few dollars per day.
All reputable insurance companies will offer a “free-look period” during which you can receive a 100% refund on your premium. This allows you to review the policy you’ve selected and return it for any reason within the time period allotted — usually for a small administration fee under $10.
For the most part, you don’t need purchase a “cancel for any reason” policy unless you really need the flexibility — you’ll overpay when most accepted reasons are plenty sufficient.
You can receive a quote and purchase a policy online in minutes with any credit card. Note that, although you may think travel insurance should count as travel and be eligible for bonus rewards on cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, your earnings will depend on the individual underwriter’s merchant code. When in doubt, expect that the purchase will fall under the insurance category for earnings.
Here’s a sample insurance price comparison I generated for a planned vacation, valued at a total travel cost of $2,500. My quoted rates for a solo traveler to Dubai over New Year’s Eve, including coverage for a skydiving session, varied slightly in price range and cancellation payouts, but offered pretty drastic differences in actual compensation for medical coverage. When looking at medical limits for comprehensive plan comparison, Nationwide came out as the clear winner at a much lower price than I would have expected.
What if I don’t live in the United States?
If you’re a permanent resident somewhere outside of the United States, you may find that your quoted costs are drastically higher if you use an international address, so make sure you shop around for the best coverage options. Many US-based companies will not offer the best rates for expatriates; for example, researcher and writer Laine Munir discovered that using her South Korea address for insurance bids generated quotes almost double the cost of the same plans quoted using her family’s address in Washington.
BridgesandBalloons blogger Victoria Watts Kennedy offers a comprehensive guide to travel insurance for British and European travelers.
What if I need to make a claim?
Ideally, you’ll never need to make good on your insurance investment. But if you do, here are some of most common reasons why insurance companies might deny your claim — and how to avoid them.
- Make sure you read the fine print on your coverage exclusions very carefully — Many plans will not insure property losses incurred during bungee cord jumping, for example.
- Incomplete documentation is one of the main reasons that result in reimbursement delays or denial — Your insurance underwriter will require, at minimum, all paperwork related to your property loss or medical expenses, such as a police report or hospital discharge papers. The faster you can get written proof or documentation for an issue, the quicker your claim can be processed. It’s crucial to remember that cancellations must be recommended by a doctor, in writing; unless you purchased a “cancel for any reason” policy, it will not be sufficient to expect reimbursement just because, say, your child developed a cough that you believe is a precursor to bronchitis.
- Enrolling too late — Insurance cannot be purchased after a hurricane has already been named, or after your illness has already set in. Again, this is why it’s important to purchase travel insurance as soon as you’ve made a payment on your trip bookings.
Featured photo by Jake Ingle on Unsplash.
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February 24, 2018 at 12:10AM
United Award Sale: Save 20% When Redeeming Miles to Select Destinations
United MileagePlus program is running a Saver award sale to select destinations in Europe, Asia and Australia.
Four cities are on sale, including Porto, Portugal; Reykjavik, Iceland; Singapore and Sydney. Members will spend 20 percent fewer miles on award flights in economy class to these destinations by booking flights by March 2. Round-trip travel has to originate in the contiguous United States or Alaska.
One-way tickets are not eligible for the mileage discount, and only coach flights are on sale. United Airlines must operate all segments, and no connections to other Star Alliance partners are allowed.
You’ll save between 12,000 and 16,000 United miles per ticket on these itineraries. United typically charges 60,000 miles for a round-trip economy ticket between the United States and Europe, but you’ll redeem just 48,000 miles with this sale. Round-trip awards between the U.S. and Australia/Singapore typically go for 80,000 miles, but now they’re just 64,000 United miles.
Travel dates are limited to May 4 to June 17 for Porto, Singapore, and Sydney, and to May 23 to June 17 for Reykjavik.
This award sale is a great opportunity to visit your favorite destinations by redeeming fewer miles. Keep in mind that Europe is quite small, and it’s possible to book intra-Europe flights to other countries at affordable prices. Same goes for Southeast Asia. You can reach many nearby countries from Singapore for cheap if you’d like to explore more places on one trip.
Need more miles? Check out these offers from our partners.
Will you redeem United MileagePlus miles for travel to one of these destinations?
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February 24, 2018 at 12:02AM
A Teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Returns to School
Sarah Lerner, who’s thirty-seven, teaches Senior English and
Introduction to Journalism at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Last
week, she was teaching George Orwell’s novel “1984” when
nineteen-year-old Nikolas Cruz came to the school with a legally purchased AR-15 and killed seventeen people, injuring more than a dozen
others. After hearing what sounded like firecrackers, she locked herself
and fifteen students inside her classroom, where they waited it out
until an eight-man SWAT team arrived. “I thanked every single one of
them, because they secured the campus and got us safe,” she said on
Lerner was preparing to return to Stoneman Douglas on Friday, for the
first time since the shooting, for an optional day of staff discussion.
It was a way, in part, of giving teachers and other staff a chance to
visit the school again before classes resume, on a reduced schedule,
next week. “I’ll be walking in with friends,” Lerner said. “I’ve gone to
counselling and it’s helped a lot, just being able to talk about it.”
Talking about the shooting, and its aftermath—and even the “more asinine
ideas” she’d heard suggested as ways to prevent future shootings—is part
of her recovery, she told me. One of the most asinine things she’s
heard, she said, was the notion, embraced on Thursday by President Trump,
of arming teachers. “I wouldn’t expect the first responders to come in
and teach Shakespeare, and I shouldn’t be expected to take down an
active shooter with a gun,” she said, adding, “If a shooter is on campus
and gets into my classroom and my gun is elsewhere, by the time I access
it I’m dead. He won’t wait for a fair fight.” She went on, thinking
through other hypotheticals. “Or what if a student gets a hold of my gun?
Or what if the police think there’s two shooters and shoot me because
they think I’m one of the shooters?”
That’s not to mention the cost of training people and arming them. “Give
it to me in my paycheck,” Lerner said. “Pay me for educating all these
incredible children who are speaking out and showing more poise than the
adults making these asinine decisions.” She mentioned David Hogg, the
Stoneman Douglas student journalist and activist who began reporting on the shooting, with his phone, while he and other students hid in a classroom closet.
“Lots of kids were documenting in their classes on all forms of social
media,” she said. “This is what we teach the kids. To get the story, to
document the story.”
On Friday, Lerner arrived at school around 8 A.M., with perhaps a
hundred and fifty other school employees. A memorial now sits along the
fence in front of the school: seventeen wooden crosses, with flowers,
stuffed animals, banners, candles, and signs around them. “Let the
Fallen Fly,” one reads. Others call for gun control. Between the faculty
parking lot and a fence that runs along the school’s perimeter there is
still some police tape blowing in the breeze.
“Everybody was genuinely happy to see each other,” Lerner told me
afterward. “There were lots of hugs. We got T-shirts.” Someone in the
P.T.A. had made #MSDStrong shirts for those who returned. They had
breakfast together in the cafeteria, a mixture of clerical, custodial,
cafeteria, faculty, guidance, and administrative staff.
Afterward, the school’s principal, Ty Thompson, spoke briefly to the
group “about what would happen today, and what to expect moving
forward,” Lerner said. He explained that no one was allowed to go into
Building 12, or “the twelve hundred building,” the three-story freshman
structure where the attack took place. “They’d blocked it off,” Lerner
told me. “All those teachers are going to be relocated. So some of us
will be sharing classrooms, or displaced.” Thompson told them that
everyone would need to help one another in the coming weeks and months.
“Everyone was on board with that,” Lerner said.
Afterward, teachers—except for those who’d worked in the twelve hundred
building—returned to their classrooms for the first time in nine days.
“It was the most bizarre thing,” Lerner said, of walking into hers. “My
room was fine—nothing happened there. But it was like time stood still.”
Her water was still on her desk. Her computer was still on. “The ‘1984’
quizzes the kids were taking, some of them unfinished, they were still
on their desks. My laptop cart was still open, with all the computers we
use for yearbook. It felt like I didn’t clean up after myself on a
Friday, and now it’s a Monday coming in and I’ve got to get ready to
start my day.”
The first thing she did was erase the date from the whiteboard. “It
still said February 14th, with the little heart I’d drawn around it. I
wanted to take that off, for when the kids came back. I didn’t want that
to be the date they saw.” She left the rest of her instructions on the
board. “And then I really started to get emotional,” she said. “I felt
like I couldn’t breathe. It was some kind of anxiety, panic attack. My
stomach was bothering me. I could see the twelve hundred building from
my classroom. So I got the things I’d left—my makeup bag and my
planner—and I just walked out. I couldn’t be in my classroom anymore.”
Lerner left campus around ten, just two hours after she’d arrived. “I
had to get out of there. I feel very scattered, very uncomfortable, and
anxious. It all hit me in the face at once.”
In the afternoon, I drove over to the school and saw that a hundred or
so people had gathered there. A woman with a microphone urged everyone
to call their representatives. Two young girls took the mike next. “We
walked all the way here from Coral Springs Middle School,” one said. “We
need higher security and better gun restriction. This won’t get past us,
any of us. Every Valentine’s Day, we’ll remember.” Behind them, a dozen
more waited their turn.
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February 23, 2018 at 11:20PM
Rod Rosenstein Renews the Call to Find a Federal Prosecutor’s Killer
On October 11, 2001, Tom Wales, an Assistant United States Attorney in
Seattle, became the only federal prosecutor in American history to be
killed in the line of duty—if, in fact, he was killed in the line of
duty. After more than sixteen years, the circumstances of his death and,
most important, the identity of his killer remain unclear. Deputy
Attorney General Rod Rosenstein travelled to Seattle on Wednesday for a
news conference about the case, with much of the law-enforcement
leadership of the state, as well as the mayor, Jenny Durkan, and Wales’s
daughter, Amy, also in attendance, but the occasion served mostly to
remind everyone how little progress has been made in the case.
Wales, who was forty-nine, was shot through a window as he sat at his
desk in the basement of his home in the quiet Queen Anne section of
Seattle. (I wrote about the search for his killer in 2007.) The
ostensible purpose of the news conference, held in a room in the United
States Courthouse in Seattle, which is named for Wales, was to announce
an increase in the reward money in the case. The reward for information
leading to a conviction has been as been as high as a million dollars,
but now an association of former United States Attorneys has contributed
another half a million. As one reporter pointed out, in a question, it’s
hard to believe that a citizen who was not tempted to come forward for a
million dollars will be enticed by another five hundred and twenty-five
thousand. Still, the best argument for the additional money is that the
announcement might serve to stir the memory of a witness in a case that
has largely faded from the headlines, even in Seattle.
Wales was a good prosecutor, but a methodical one; he didn’t bring many
cases, so he didn’t make many enemies. In 2000, the year before he died,
he had brought a case against two local men for falsifying documents in
connection with an attempt to retrofit a helicopter from military to
civilian use. (Selling the helicopter for civilian use might have
brought a profit of some six hundred thousand dollars.) Wales’s case
fell apart; after an expert witness would not support his theory at
trial, Wales was forced into the embarrassing position of dismissing the
case. On July 27, 2001, one of the men, an airline pilot, filed a
lawsuit against the U.S. Attorney’s office, charging that the case
against him had been “vexatious, frivolous or in bad faith.” That suit
was thrown out, but he has never been charged in the case—although his anger was noted by investigators. (His attorney told me that he denied
any involvement in Wales’s death.)
In private life, Wales was an active supporter of gun control in Washington State; he took up the cause after a student shot and
wounded two other students at the high school that his son attended. A
reporter at the news conference on Wednesday asked Jay S. Tabb, Jr., the
special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Seattle field office, if he
thought that Wales’s gun-control advocacy might have been a motive in
his murder. Tabb, in perhaps his only substantive remark about the
investigation, said that it had been explored, and that “we don’t like
that theory,” noting that the F.B.I. has conducted hundreds of
interviews and reviewed thousands of documents, some in the past year.
(An excellent new podcast, “Somebody Somewhere,” is also calling attention to the Wales case.)
Wales was murdered exactly a month after September 11, 2001, when the
country was still transfixed by the horror of that day. As a result, his
murder, though unprecedented, did not receive the attention it deserved.
The effort by Rosenstein and others to focus the public’s mind on the
continuing investigation is certainly commendable. And it’s possible
that the authorities have made some undisclosed progress and are now
hoping to find the final pieces of the puzzle that have eluded them. But
the sad truth is that nothing that was announced in Seattle suggests
that they are any closer to cracking the case than they were sixteen
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February 23, 2018 at 10:37PM
Ryanair Urges Brexit Negotiators to Eliminate the Uncertainties
Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has repeatedly warned about possible repercussions from Brexit for European air travel as soon as next year, but the carrier expects the status quo will remain into 2019, if not later, as the UK decides how best to negotiate air treaties, another Ryanair executive said in an interview.
“We’re still calling with great urgency for a solution to be put forward,” said Kenny Jacobs, the airline’s chief marketing officer. “Practically speaking it looks like everything will continue to run as it does today in 2019 and probably beyond while they’re still working that out.”
Jacobs said recent developments suggest the UK will not rush to slash ties with the European Union, adding that should be favorable for airlines. But until the UK makes its plans official, airlines will continue to be nervous, even if they suspect the government won’t cut off air routes, Jacobs said.
The airlines want to know for certain that the Open Skies agreement they rely on — agreements that allow airlines to fly whatever routes they want within Europe — will not disappear abruptly.
“We and every other airline are still saying, ‘OK, Open Skies technically runs out on the 1st of April 2019,”‘ Jacobs said. “We need to know how we’re going to fly from the UK to Europe, so please tell us.”
If the unthinkable happened and the UK pulled away from the European Union without ensuring airlines had the same rights as today, Ryanair could be among the most-affected airlines. Ryanair flies from the UK to the rest of Europe with an Irish operating certificate, and those routes could be at risk. Ryanair also operates a few domestic UK routes, along with some unique routes from London to North Africa.
“Michael O’Leary has a very complex set of issues that have to be resolved,” Michael Whitaker, a former senior executive at United Airlines and a deputy administrator at the FAA during the Obama administration, said Thursday at an industry conference in New York.
Other airlines would be in similar predicaments, and while most of the issues should be resolved, carriers are not happy with the drama.
“It’s a negotiation that has no upside,” Whitaker said at Aviation Day USA, a conference sponsored by IATA, a trade group, and the Wings Club “There’s nothing good that can come out of it. For the airlines it’s bad. It introduces uncertainty, and unpredictability. Normally in a negotiation, you have an upside you can get to. In Brexit, the best upside we have is the status quo. And other than that you have a lot of downside and a lot of risk.”
Ryanair, like many airlines, is taking precautions. It has said it is obtaining a UK operating certificate, which should give it flexibility to continue its current routes under most scenarios. It has also said it might warn customers who buy tickets later this year for 2019 that their flights might not operate if the UK government does something drastic and cuts air ties with the rest of Europe.
But much of that might be bluster, since the UK likely does not want to upend European air norms.
“We’re still making the same warning, but it looks like they’re playing for time,” Jacobs said.
Photo Credit: Two of Ryanair’s Boeing 737s sit on an airport ramp. The airline expects Brexit will not affect its operations in 2019. Ryanair
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February 23, 2018 at 10:35PM
Alaska Introduces Chrome Extension to Earn Bonus Miles
Alaska Airlines has introduced a new tool that makes it even easier to earn extra miles when shopping online. The Mileage Plan Shopping Button is a new extension for Google Chrome browsers that allows you to earn Alaska miles without having to click through its shopping portal.
While not a huge change, the new extension will make it easier for you to remember to earn bonus miles through the Alaska portal when shopping online. A notification will appear on screen when visiting an eligible website, asking if you want to activate the mileage bonus.
Clicking on the button will bring up your recent mileage earnings. As another bonus of the extension, when you search on Google, there’s be a badge showing if a website is part of Alaska’s shopping portal.
Online shopping portals are an easy way to earn extra miles for shopping. By logging in and just clicking through an airline or bank’s shopping portal, you can earn anywhere from one, two or even dozens of extra miles per dollar spent. This is on top of the points you earn from your credit card.
Alaska miles are some of the more valuable in the points and miles game but can be difficult to earn. Installing the chrome browser and signing up for a card like the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature Credit Card, which is currently offering a 30,000-mile bonus after you spend $1,000 in the first 90 days of account opening, are a good way to start racking up currency with the Mileage Plan program.
Featured image by Shutterstock.
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February 23, 2018 at 10:31PM
An Alternative Oscars Ceremony, and Masha Gessen on Putin’s Russia and Trump’s America
Masha Gessen was born in the Soviet Union and has written extensively about Russian politics. She talks with David Remnick about the similarities between Putin’s Russia and Trump’s America. The New Yorker’s Sarah Stillman talks with a former Border Patrol officer, whose years on the job left him emotionally and physically depleted. Richard Brody hosts an alternative Oscars show—“The Brodies”—and recommends some of his favorite films from the past year; and the writer Chang-rae Lee takes us to a sprawling international supermarket in Honolulu, Hawaii. And, in a Shouts and Murmurs piece by Seth Reiss, the comedian Bill Hader plays a disgruntled server who’s got some strong feelings about the house-made ketchup.
“We Do Our Own Little Spin on Ketchup”
A disgruntled server has some opinions about the house-made ketchup: it’s disgusting.
Masha Gessen on Putin’s Russia and Trump’s America
Masha Gessen is uniquely positioned to write about Putin’s Russia, Trump’s America, and how the two intersect.
Francisco Cantú Reflects on Working at the U.S. Border Patrol
In a new memoir, a former Border Patrol officer examines the emotional and physical toll of his time on the job.
The New Yorker presents “The Brodies”
Richard Brody offers his take on the best pictures of 2017—the movies you should have seen, and still can.
Chang-rae Lee at Don Quijote
In a world where every purchase can be reviewed, the writer Chang-rae Lee takes us to a Hawaiian store where such precision is impossible.
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February 23, 2018 at 09:48PM