Driving Across Iceland

Driving Across Iceland

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Netflix Show Recommendation

Okay, this is a really dumb but funny show. For whatever reason, I find it hilarious at times. It’s called “Toast of London.” I even had this crazy dream where I met this guy and we got to be best friends. Even better, he was exactly the same way in real life.

Daily Photo – Driving Across Iceland

Here’s a photo from one of my many road trips across Iceland. I’ve been thinking about going back here for another solo road trip during the summers there when it never gets dark. It’s hard to explain how different it is at the latitude of 66 degrees. I thought New Zealand would be similar, but we’re only at 45 degrees. The summers here keep the sunlight all the way past 10 PM, but there are still many hours of darkness until the morning. I find it hard to force myself to be awake for 4 hours in total darkness to wait for the sunrise, but it’s a lot easier in Iceland where there is no wait at all!

Driving Across Iceland

Photo Information


  • Date Taken2010-06-13 02:12:51
  • CameraNIKON D3X
  • Camera MakeNikon
  • Exposure Time0.5
  • Aperture8
  • ISO200
  • Focal Length34.0 mm
  • FlashNo Flash
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias

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March 21, 2019 at 08:05AM

Skift Forum Europe: Ennismore CEO Sharan Pasricha on Reimagining Hospitality

Skift Forum Europe: Ennismore CEO Sharan Pasricha on Reimagining Hospitality

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Hundreds of the travel industry’s most-forward-thinking executives will gather for our third annual Skift Forum Europe in London on April 30. In just a few years,  Skift’s Forums — the largest creative business gatherings in the global travel industry — have become what media, speakers, and attendees have called the “TED Talks of travel.”

Focusing on responsible travel practices and other key issues, Skift Forum Europe 2019 will take place at Tobacco Dock in London. The Forum will feature speakers, including CEOs and top executives from British Airways, IHG, Thomas Cook, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, Silversea, Uber, and many more.

The following is part of a series of posts highlighting some of the speakers and touching on issues of concern in Europe and beyond.

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Sharan Pasricha didn’t necessarily know he would become a hotelier. The CEO of London-based Ennismore got into the hospitality business by chance, after a failed attempt to purchase Soho House in 2006. It was then that he bought his first hotel in London’s Shoreditch neighborhood. Today, his company has a portfolio of eight hotels, seven under the flagship Hoxton brand, with two more Hoxtons on the way, as well as the launch of a new co-working brand later this year.

Since that first hotel purchase, Ennismore’s Hoxton brand has come to epitomize a new breed of boutique hotels that are highly design driven yet accessible — both in terms of price point and the crowds they attract.

The Hoxton brand operates on a somewhat elevated select-service model, if you will, placing heavy emphasis and investment on the amenities and features that bring guests the most return on investment, like complimentary continental breakfast delivered to their doors or Instagram-ready lobbies filled with dining and beverage outlets helmed by local chefs. It’s all part of the brand’s effort to reimagine the boutique and lifestyle hotel experience.

Skift recently sat down with Pasricha in the lobby of one of his newest hotels, the Hoxton Williamsburg, which opened last year in Brooklyn, New York.

Pasricha will speak on April 30 at Skift Forum Europe in London about that very topic — reimagining hospitality — and what’s next for the industry. Here’s a preview of what you might expect to hear from him there.

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Skift Editor’s Note: Please note this interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Skift: What’s needed to reimagine hospitality and how did you go about that with Hoxton?

Sharan Pasricha: So I guess it’s a couple of things. The first is consumers’ and guests’ habits are fundamentally changing. Where you stay today says a lot more about who you are as an individual than where you stayed 10 years ago. So people are a lot more socially aware of the place they’re staying in and as a result, are very selective about the choices they make when they’re staying.

The second thing is that there’s no doubt that there’s a huge rise of experiential travel. People are tired of functional travel, and they want to ensure that when they go and visit places, whether it’s staying in an Airbnb or going to a key city or going to a new island, it reflects the place they’re going and staying in. And I think we’ve seen a huge shift where hotels are being a lot more reflective of the environments and the local communities and the neighborhoods that they’re in.

This is certainly new to a lot of brands but integral to what we do as a Hoxton. Community and making sure that we are the gateway to the neighborhood is an essential part of every one of our hotels. And as a result, every hotel we build looks completely different but — we’d like to think — feels exactly the same.

And we spend an awful amount of time, frankly years in advance, before moving into some of these neighborhoods, to really get to know the local communities. Whether it’s through our Hox Friends program where we’re inviting hundreds of people from the local neighborhood to be part of selecting what goes in the bedroom, to naming the cocktails, to helping with food tastings, to being selected to preview the menu, to being part of our opening week, just makes them feel part of the experience and part of our journey, which has been quite exciting.

Relatedly, we’ve seen how the workplace has changed and how hotel travel has changed and how hostels have changed. There’ll be a convergence, in my view, of the living space, the work space, and the hotel space. And I think you’ve already seen that with some interesting concepts that have come into the market.

And you know, this is our year where we’re launching a co-working business. Frankly, we’ve been in the co-working business for 10 years. We just haven’t charged anyone for it.

The lobby of the Hoxton Williamsburg, where Skift recently interviewed Ennismore CEO Sharan Pasricha. Source: Ennismore

Skift: Tell us more about the co-working brand you plan to launch this year.

Pasricha: We’ve got two projects, one in Chicago and one in London, where we’ve got offices that are part of a hotel.

Our lobbies have been this hub where people meet: They work, they’re interviewing, they’re working from it, and actually, we’ve embraced it. We enjoy it. It’s a big part of our hotel and our public spaces.

And we thought, well, how amazing would it be to kind of provide the next level of an experience to somebody who spends three hours in our lobby, who wants to get on a call or get on a conference call, have a meeting space?

So we’ve created about 1,000 desks between Chicago and London for about 2,500 members, and really it’s an extension of our lobby and super residentially inspired.

Community is at the heart of everything we do. But, we’ve got multiple bars, multiple kitchens, hundreds of bedrooms, and our opportunity is to align the workplace and the hotel and our community in one.

It’s kind of fun to imagine members of our co-working spaces who are working to meet a deadline and pulling all-nighters. Guess what? Now they’ve got a bed to actually sleep in. They don’t have to curl up under their desk to sleep right?

So, we’re finding lots of ways to link in our amazing restaurant and bar programing, our culture programing and our bedroom programing, with our co-working spaces, and it is integral to our proposition.

Skift: Would Ennismore ever consider getting into homesharing?

Pasricha: Homesharing is still frowned upon and/or illegal in a lot of cities around the world for a certain number of days, so we’re still scratching our heads thinking about how you could create an economically viable product in some of these interesting cities.

For us, we’re more akin to Airbnb anyways. Because, people stay in Airbnb because they want to experience a local neighborhood through the eyes of somebody who lives there. And actually, people who come and stay with us do exactly the same.

I think homesharing is evolving and changing. I think you’ll have a lot of the homesharing companies now building towers or residential towers, where they’re now creating these co-living consolidated blocks which are becoming a bit of a trend. And it’s required, too, in some cities, because you know, homesharing is not allowed or it’s not permitted, or it’s taxed highly and it’s difficult to get around.

I think our product is already very complementary to the world of people living together who want to see a city through a local lens. I think there is an opportunity in the not-so-distant future to think of a product where you have a slightly extended stay product, where you know, people stay for longer. And I think with this convergence of hotel, co-living, co-working — I think there’s a universe of the future that integrates all of them. And there’s some really interesting brands out there that are doing some interesting things in that space.

Skift: Any brands that stand out?

Pasricha: I think there [are] different brands that do very different things. You know, we love what Airbnb [does], bizarrely, even though we’re a hotel group, which is not what many hoteliers would say but, I admire what they’ve done. They’ve disrupted the industry per se.

But we are more akin to Airbnb than we are with traditional hotels because the guests that come and explore and stay with us want that experiential experience, rather than a very functional product and function.

Now there’s always going to be a role for functional hotels in this world. I mean, of global hotel stock, there’s only 2 percent of the global hotel stock that is boutique or lifestyle. But it’s 10 percent of the global inventory of future hotels that will be in this space. So it’s not a trend anymore. It’s here to stay. People want to have these unique experiences.

But our rendition or our version of that experience is a lot different from a lot of our competitors. You know, we own the real estate and real estate is such a big part of our experience, and therefore we’ve got to know our neighbors and we’ve got to know our community — and we spend a lot of time and money, frankly, getting to know them and immersing that experience into the overall guest journey.

A bedroom at the Hoxton Portland. Source: Ennismore

Skift: Has it been more challenging to achieve scale when you have that approach to real estate?

Pasricha: Yes, I think so. We just started our journey of growing asset light. We know we’ve been approached by a lot of hotel owners or private equity firms who could manage their assets on their behalf, which we’ve started to do now going forward. It is a real shift in our journey thus far. But you know, like most businesses, you need scale, and these are expensive assets to build and they take a hell of a lot of time.

I mean, this is five years you know; Hoxton Williamsburg was five years of my life I probably won’t get back. But you know, I am immensely proud of what we managed to create and the impact we’ve had on the local neighborhood.

But if we want to scale quicker and faster, we’re going to have to partner with like-minded investors or like-minded hotel owners, as long as they understand what makes the Hoxton unique and different, you know there’s a lot of synergy there, so we’ve started to do just that.

Skift: Do you worry that might dilute the experience or the brand in any way?

Pasricha: With scale comes, at times, compromise, and as storytellers, which is the heart of our business, you’ve always got to make sure it’s brand first. You know, we’re not led by the stock market or we’re not led by an IRR [internal rate of return] stick that bashes us on the head every single day.

Every decision we make is a brand decision with the guest at the heart of our thought process, so we don’t have to build 15 hotels a year. And as a result, we’re very selective about who we partner with. And more importantly, we’re very selective about the cities and specifically the neighborhoods we get into. So, that process means you’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs. Which we spend a lot of time doing.

Skift: Let’s backtrack to Airbnb. What did you think of Airbnb’s desire to acquire HotelTonight, from your perspective as a hotelier?

Pasricha: I mean, I get it. Brian [Chesky, Airbnb CEO] wants to cover the entire landscape of travel and experiences, and frankly, there’s already a bit of a war between Airbnb and Booking.com and you know, every quarter there [are] announcements of who’s doing what and why.

So, I get it, it makes a lot of sense. I think HotelTonight has been an innovator in what they created, and since then there [have] been brands that [have] definitely sort of been inspired by what they’ve created and gone on to copy it.

I think it’s another piece of ammunition in their artillery to control the whole booking journey. It didn’t come as a surprise per se. I think it’s interesting, and it seems to be in part of Airbnb’s strategy to kind of control that whole experience.

Skift: Do you use either one of those channels as distribution channels?

Pasricha: You know, roughly 80 percent of our business comes direct to us. We have a huge brand, storytelling, [and] digital innovation team that focuses on capturing as much mind share and market share of our guest direct because that’s always the best experience. But yeah, we certainly use a lot of these distribution channels, certainly when we’re opening into new markets.

But you know, they’re always strategic or they’re short-term or they’re project led. Any brand wants to control their own guest journey and guest experience, and I think we’ve been very successful at that, even in some of the newer openings we’ve had where a large proportion of our bookings have come direct. So thankfully, thus far we haven’t had to use them as much as perhaps some of the others have.

I’m pretty sure we would have used HotelTonight. We’re doing something with One:Night with Amar [Lalvani, CEO of Standard International] and his guys, which is sort of a rendition of HotelTonight. So you know, the business model makes sense. After a certain point in the day, you’re not going to be able to shift some of the inventory, and therefore that model does that and it works and I’m sure we have used that.

Skift: What about Airbnb?

Pasricha: I couldn’t tell you. I’m pretty sure we’ve discussed it internally. I don’t know if we’ve actually got rooms on them.

Even if we have, it’s been something to test and try. I’m not sure if it’s in any way part of our strategy.

The entrance to the Hoxton Paris. Source: Ennismore

Skift: What are your thoughts about Amazon and Google and their entry into the hotel or travel businesses? What are your thoughts on those two tech giants getting deeper into the hotel business?

Pasricha: There’s no question Google could disrupt the industry over night. And it’s a bit of dichotomy because, on the one hand, Booking.com pays them billions of dollars of years in advertising. On the other hand, they could flick a switch and do what Booking.com [does], and they’re already starting to do that.

I guess somebody at Google’s scratching their head thinking about you know, is this a market they want to get into and do they want to capture entire mind/market shares? The truth is, it’s not just travel; they could disrupt multiple industries that are the biggest revenue generators for them as advertisers at some point, and the guys at Google need to think about you know, do they want a client where advertising revenue is their biggest income generator or do they want to try and do it themselves as a disruptor and own that piece of the market?

Travel is so huge and such a big part of the ecosystem. I could see why they’re making strides into the world of travel, and I get it and it makes sense. But the dichotomy they’re going to have to face is all of a sudden Booking and Expedia and all these guys who spend billions on them in advertising, that tap is going to dry up pretty quickly. So, I have no doubt that some interesting conversations [are] happening in the boards of Expedia, Booking, and Google as Google gets closer to eating Expedia’s lunch and Booking’s lunch and vice versa. So watch this space and we’ll see how it plays out.

Amazon’s really interesting, right? I’ve been a huge fan of Jeff [Bezos, CEO of Amazon] and what he’s managed to do by using innovation and scale. I think very few companies have managed to disrupt multiple industries and drive innovation at that scale, and he’s really pioneered it.

I think voice is very interesting, if you think about it. I mean, I’m a huge data geek. I get really excited about data, and I get particularly excited about voice. I imagine a world in the not-so-distant future where I’ll come to my office and I’ll speak to this little gadget that’s on my desk and I’ll say, Gadget tell me about pickup last night.Or, Gadget tell me about our P&L or Gadget, how are we tracking against forecast or What’s our business in the books?

And I think that’s not a trend, but that’s going to come very, very quickly. So I think voice is going to be a larger share of people’s daily lives. You’ve already seen that with Google System and Siri and what have you.

But I think using voice, both from a customer perspective and from a business perspective, is only going to increase. I would love to rock up to work and speak to a digital assistant that gives me real-time data. And it’s already starting, both in our business and with our customers frankly.

We set up an innovation lab a year ago. I was inspired by Bezos because, you know, I was listening to an interview of his, and when somebody asked him and said Jeff you had an amazing quarter, your company’s now a gazillion dollars and you’re a trillionaire, he said, “Well, what you really mean is we had an amazing quarter three years ago, because frankly I don’t work on any projects that are this quarter. All the projects I’m working on are two, three years out.”

That really inspired me because we’re designing spaces that are three years out, even as we speak. And at the time, we didn’t have too many people in the business looking at [the questions] what is the future of travel or what is the future of the check-in desk? Do you need the check-in desk in the future? How will work spaces change? How will restaurants, bars, and coffee shops change?

We put together a small innovation team, led by a futurist. Somebody who focuses purely on trend forecasting, what’s happening in the future, [a] creative director, and an insights director. And that small team of ours, all they do is work on projects two to three years in advance.

And with part of the work that they’re doing, voice is a big part of it. We’re really starting to think about how we can integrate voice in guest experience. Of course, there’s the paranoia of having a digital assistant there listening to everything we’re doing and what that means. And there’s not a day that goes by that there’s not some article about one of the big social media giants having issues with safety and security. So people are worried about it.

I don’t know at what point that bridge will be kind of connected, where people are comfortable to have a digital listening device in their room and feel comforted about their ability to capture data safely. So we’ll see.

Skift: What else is the innovation lab working on at the moment?

Pasricha: We’re spending a lot of time on technology generally. I’m spending 30 percent of my time as a CEO on technology. I think the hotel industry suffers from being sandwiched between a lot of archaic systems — legacy systems and technologies that frankly, at times, look like MS-DOS from the 1980s.

And you know, we’re in the guest servicing business, but we don’t know anything about our guests, frankly. We know nothing about our guests. And yet we’re in the guest-knowing business. Sometimes I’m amazed that our hotels run at 90 percent occupancy without us really knowing about our guests’ habits and preferences, and our guests gladly share information with us provided we do something about it in a positive way.

Of course, there’s GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] across Europe and different rules and laws in the U.S., but to try and really provide a true single customer view of your guests’ preferences and habits, doesn’t exist in the way that I would like.

We’re spending a lot of time investing in technology. Five years ago, we were hiring graphic designers and interior designers and digital designers in our business. Today, I’m hiring software engineers. And these engineers are busy knitting together some of the systems that we have, to provide a true single customer view. But they’re also innovating and disrupting to think through how we can use the power of AI [artificial intelligence] and Big Data and analytics to help provide a seamless and amazing guest journey.

I think we provide an amazing guest experience in some of the most exciting neighborhoods with design and storytelling and amazing restaurants and bars, in some of the most exciting cities in the world. To amplify what we already do well, using technology is going to be an essential part of our future.

Photo Credit: Sharan Pasricha, the CEO of Ennismore, is speaking at the upcoming Skift Forum Europe in London on April 30. Ennismore

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March 21, 2019 at 05:07AM

Forget Gimmicks, Relationships Matter to Event Planners

Forget Gimmicks, Relationships Matter to Event Planners

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As destinations compete for the attention and dollars of meeting planners, some have turned to technology gimmicks or splashy marketing campaigns to differentiate themselves.

Many, though, are more focused on building relationships and partnerships to appeal to the planners they need. Check out our story below on how North American cities big and small are dealing with shifts in the sector.

We’ve also got the latest on how wellness has become a South by Southwest staple and Marriott’s ambitious growth plan, which seems even more ambitious than usual considering it has fallen short of its expansion goals lately.

If you have any feedback about the newsletter or news tips, feel free to reach out to me via email at as@skift.com or tweet me @sheivach.

— Andrew Sheivachman, Senior Editor

The Future of Events and Meetings

Destinations Still Rely on Relationships to Attract Events: Some convention and visitor bureaus have turned to technology gimmicks and other new methods to highlight their destination’s finest attributes, but personal relationships and experience remain vital. Relationships really do matter.

The Rise of Wellness at South by Southwest: The dramatic uptick in companies that want a space at South by Southwest’s Wellness Expo reflects the rise of the industry and shows how brands are increasingly trying to reach this wellness-minded audience.

How Marriott Plans to Supercharge Growth Starting With 1,700 New Hotels in 3 Years: Marriott says you really can have it all when it comes to a hotel company — both scale and quality. But can you really do that without sacrificing one for the other? Guess we’ll find out over the next three years.

Around the Industry

What a Breakup of Big Tech Could Mean for Travel: Going down the rabbit hole and considering the effect of a big tech crackdown in travel, Google and global distribution systems have perhaps the most to lose. It’s likely, though, that few, if any, of Elizabeth Warren’s proposed restrictions will ever become U.S. law.

Mexico’s Mystifying Tourism Move Leaves Competitors Ready to Pounce: Mexico’s new government has priorities for tourism, but that doesn’t include a tourist board. Will other destinations seize the opportunity?

Ireland’s Tourism Success Is Under Threat by Brexit: Whatever happens over the next few weeks, months, and years, Brexit has brought back some unpleasant memories and risks damaging the very united tourism that the north and the south in Ireland have worked so hard to build.

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Skift Senior Editor Andrew Sheivachman [as@skift.com] curates the Skift Meetings Innovation Report. Skift emails the newsletter every Wednesday.

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March 21, 2019 at 04:32AM

Does British Airways Have Its Mojo Back?

Does British Airways Have Its Mojo Back?

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The Skift Airline Innovation Report is our weekly newsletter on the business of airline innovation. We look closely at the technological, financial, and design trends at airlines and airports.

Brian Sumers writes and curates the newsletter, and we send it on Wednesdays. You can find previous issues of the newsletter here.

Is British Airways back?

I can think of only one other major global carrier — ahem, United Airlines — that has received as much criticism over the past five years. Loyal customers have complained as British Airways’ new CEO, a veteran of two low-cost carriers, gutted some of what made the airline special.

The new CEO, Alex Cruz, said he had no choice. He was hired in 2016 to ensure British Airways could compete against low-cost carriers and to make the century-old company more efficient and innovative. That meant shaking things up.

Cruz removed free food and reduced legroom on short-haul flights. He also added seats to some wide-body aircraft, reducing shoulder space for many passengers. His reputation further took a hit as the airline struggled through technology issues, including a massive 2017 computer system outage and a significant data breach last year.

But British Airways is getting some swagger back. The airline is making money, and it is investing in its onboard and airport product. This week, the airline announced a new business class seat with a sliding door for privacy.

Not all is perfect. The airline has alienated loyal customers and employees who want to know why the carrier cannot regain some of its past magic. A former CEO even tweaked Cruz to the Financial Times, saying the airline “has slipped quite substantially down the rankings.”

But maybe British Airways no longer needs to be the World’s Favourite Airline. Instead, it probably should have two priorities. One, to compete with European low-cost carriers on price, while providing a slightly elevated product. And two, on long-haul routes, to provide a consistent premium service, like Air Canada, Delta Air Lines, and Lufthansa.

What do you think?

— Brian Sumers, Senior Aviation Business Editor [bss@skift.com, @briansumers]

Best of Skift

Skift Forum Europe: British Airways CEO on Remaking an Iconic Company: I’ll interview British Airways CEO Alex Cruz on stage next month at Skift Forum Europe in London. We previewed the conversation here, and I asked him if the airline is getting its mojo back. I also asked him why customers are so hard on the airline. Want to come to the conference? Ticket information is here.

The Ethiopian Boeing 737 Max Crash Leads to One of the Strangest Weeks Ever in Aviation: The Boeing 737 Max dominated the news last week. My newest colleague, Madhu Unnikrishnan, explains why the FAA’s process for deciding whether to ground the airplanes was so unusual. “This is the first time the FAA has used third-party data alone in grounding a commercial fleet,” he wrote.

TUI Group Sells Its Only Non-Charter Airline: TUI’s charter airlines remain an essential part of the overall tourism business, but Corsair has never been a good fit. The German tourism giant has tried to sell the carrier before and has finally found a buyer. Skift’s Patrick Whyte has the scoop from London.

Does a Tour Operator Really Need Its Own Airline? European tour operators like to have their own airlines, but Skift’s Patrick Whyte asks whether it is necessary. “I think our aviation operation is essential but it’s very tough,” TUI’s CEO told Whyte recently.

Emirates: The Media Company That Happens to Fly Jets Too: When you dig into how much it invests in its in-flight entertainment, Emirates is actually a flying media company, Skift columnist Colin Nagy writes. He notes the airline can make money by selling advertising so brands can reach a captive audience. I am not sure I buy his argument, but he makes a persuasive case. What do you think?

Lufthansa Now Drives More Than Half Its Bookings Directly: When Lufthansa Group reported its earnings last week, it said that in December it sold 52 percent of its tickets directly, Skift Travel Tech Editor Sean O’Neill writes.

Best of the Rest

British Airways Updates Its Business Class Seat and Adds a Privacy Door: British Airways was the first airline to create a lie-flat business class seat. But its design had not been updated in years, and it has not been competitive for a while. The airline needed an upgrade. The bad news? It’ll take a long time before a good portion of the fleet has new seats.

Boeing 737 Max Design Certification Comes Under Scrutiny: Federal Aviation Administration employees warned as early as seven years ago that Boeing Co. had too much sway over safety approvals of new aircraft, prompting an investigation by Department of Transportation auditors who confirmed the agency hadn’t done enough to “hold Boeing accountable,” Bloomberg writes in this story.

Meet the Route Planners Mapping United’s Future: How does United Airlines choose new routes? It’s both an art and a science, Patrick Quayle, a vice president who picks international routes, told Crain’s Chicago Business. “I’m looking at global GDP, but also what do I think the competition is going to do? It’s a lot of game theory,” Quayle said.

Contact Me

Skift Senior Aviation Business Editor Brian Sumers [bss@skift.com] curates the Skift Airline Innovation Report. Have a story idea? Or a juicy news tip? Want to share a memo? Send him an email or tweet him.

Photo Credit: The new British Airways Club suite. British Airways is investing in its passenger experience. British Airways

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March 21, 2019 at 04:11AM

There Are Legit Ways to Avoid Airline Bag Fees — Your Foot Isn’t One of Them

There Are Legit Ways to Avoid Airline Bag Fees — Your Foot Isn’t One of Them

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Airlines make billions of dollars per year on fees alone — yes, that’s billions with a ‘b.’ Those $35 bag fees, $19 seat assignment fees, $150 change fees and more all add up to a very real percentage of revenue for most airlines. Given all those billions in fees that travelers around the globe pay (in addition to the cost of the tickets themselves), it comes as no surprise that some travelers try and get a bit creative to avoid or minimize their portion of those fees.

Recently, a traveler on Interjet (an airline headquartered out of Mexico City), was caught on camera using a bit of physics to his wallet’s advantage when checking in a bag. By surreptitiously supporting a bit of the bag’s weight with his foot, the odds are high that the full weight of the bag did not register on the scale for the agent. While this sneaky approach wouldn’t have saved him from a checked bag fee altogether, perhaps he was trying to avoid an overweight bag fee.

While he might have been successful in saving a few bucks, his idea is actually a bad one. There are much easier (and, frankly, safer) ways to avoid checked bag fees than misleading the airline about your bag’s true weight (and hoping no one notices your foot underneath).

Here are non-scammy TPG-approved ways to avoid airline bag fees:

Bottom Line

TPG supports the quest to avoid airline bag fees by choosing the right airline, leveraging elite status or having the right credit card — but please don’t be the guy relying on a foot to sneak a few pounds by the agent.

Featured photo by Image Source/Getty Images

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March 21, 2019 at 01:12AM

How to Check Your Hotel Room for Hidden Cameras

How to Check Your Hotel Room for Hidden Cameras

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In the age of surveillance, its not uncommon to feel like someone is always watching you.

Now imagine having that feeling in a hotel room.

It’s a sinister thought, sure, but unfortunately it’s not unfounded — especially if you’ve recently stayed at a property in South Korea.

On Wednesday, CNN reported that approximately 1,600 hotel guests in South Korea were being illegally live-streamed through hidden cameras in their rooms. Police found that the scandal involved 42 rooms across 30 accommodations in 10 different cities in the country. The cameras were hidden inside digital TV boxes, wall sockets and hairdryer holders. The illicit footage of guests streamed on an underground website with 4,000 members — 97 of which paid a $44.95 monthly fee for “extra features,” like the ability to replay certain feeds.

While the use of spy cameras is a serious issue endemic in South Korea (in 2017, more than 6,400 cases of illegal filming were reported to Korean authorities), hidden cameras have been found in hotels and vacation rentals — including Airbnbs — across the globe.

There was even an instance in 2018 when a couple aboard a Carnival cruise ship found a hidden camera in their stateroom, pointed directly at their bed.

Mike O’Rourke, cofounder and CEO of the Washington-based global security consultancy, Advanced Operational Concepts, said the use of spy cameras in hotels does seem to be a growing problem.

“The CNN story is, of course, disturbing,” said O’Rourke in an email to TPG. “Korea is a hotbed for this, and other nefarious activity directed against hotels and travelers. Hidden cameras in hotels and vacation rentals are, in my opinion, on the rise.”

O’Rourke also warned that not all hidden camera plots are used specifically for revenge porn purposes. There are other factors that might motivate someone to secretly record you.

“The reasons vary from the prurient to economic espionage,” said O’Rourke. “For the latter, China and Russia pose the greatest threat to the international business traveler.”

And if you get that creepy, hair-raising feeling that someone is watching you — how do you stop it? O’Rourke, who is an expert on global security, said there are a few ways you can ensure your room is totally spy camera free.

“Generally speaking, there are three ways to check for hidden cameras and other concealed electronic devices,” O’Rourke said. “These are: lens detection, radio frequency (RF) detection and physical inspection. For most travelers, lens detection and physical inspection are their best bets. However, when an untrained person undertakes Technical Surveillance Countermeasures (TSCM), negative results are no guarantee of a camera free hotel room. In fact, the task can become overwhelming without training in systematic search methodology and the proper technical equipment.”

O’Rourke said there are a number of inexpensive (under $100) devices designed to detect hidden camera lenses.

According to Techlicious, these gadgets work by either seeking out a “glint” from the lens (a similar effect can be rendered by using a flashlight or smartphone), or they detect RF broadcasts from a wireless camera.

As for physical inspections, hotel guests should look for anything in the room that appears abnormal. Small holes in the walls or other objects; random wires in unexpected places; and any blinking or flashing lights are all good indicators a camera might be hidden somewhere in your room. However, O’Rourke said there are no “typical” spots in which people hide illegal recorders.

“Light fixtures, smoke detectors, clock radios, coffee pots and electric sockets have all been used to hide cameras. I’ve seen cameras in the air conditioner vents in hotel rooms. The shorter answer is where haven’t cameras been hidden,” he explained.

But some areas are more likely to be targeted than others, O’Rourke added. “Sleeping areas and bathrooms are common places if blackmail or pornography is the criminal goal. When economic espionage is on the menu, cameras will be placed near in-room desks where they can capture keystrokes entering passwords, and where they can see your computer screen.”

So, you check into your hotel, enter your room, conduct a camera search and — in a stroke of terrible luck — actually discover a hidden recording device. Now what?

O’Rourke said you get out of that hotel.

“Immediately contact hotel management,” he said. “Then, do not change rooms — change hotels. If changing hotels right away is not possible, of course change rooms. But after finding a camera, I would not trust any space in that entire facility. Depending upon what country you are in, you may also want to contact law enforcement. In some countries, the cameras are probably government property.”

Featured photo via Getty Images.

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March 21, 2019 at 12:10AM

Surprise: You Can Earn and Burn AAdvantage Miles on China Southern Starting Wednesday

Surprise: You Can Earn and Burn AAdvantage Miles on China Southern Starting Wednesday

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In November, American Airlines and China Southern announced an expanded codeshare partnership with the intention to launch reciprocal frequent flyer benefits and lounge access. And now, this partnership is live as of Wednesday evening. Here are the details:

Earning Miles

Starting March 20, American Airlines AAdvantage members will be able to earn AA miles on China Southern-marketed flights at the following rates:

Cabin Fare Class Base miles Cabin bonus
First F 100% 50%
Business J, C 100% 50%
Business D, I 100%
Premium Economy W 100% 10%
Premium Economy S 50%
Economy Y 100%
Economy P, B, M, H, K 50%
Economy U, A, L, E, Q 25%
Economy V, Z 10%

Note that AAdvantage members will not earn Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) and Elite Qualifying Dollar (EQD) for China Southern-marketed flights. However, you’ll still be able to earn elite-qualifying activity when flying on China Southern flights as long as you book the flight with an American Airlines codeshare flight number:

Travel ticketed as an American Airlines marketed flight (booked as an AA flight number) and operated by China Southern Airlines will earn AAdvantage award miles, Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs), Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs) and Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) according to the American mileage accrual chart.

Spending Miles

Effective March 20, AAdvantage members can also redeem miles for China Southern award flights. However, this partnership is currently being restricted to only economy and business class awards. American Airlines notes that “award travel in First will be available later.”

Award flights between the US and Asia will be the most relevant options for US-based travelers. Since China Southern redemptions follow the standard AA partner chart, award flights between the US and China on China Southern will cost:

  • Economy: 37,500 AAdvantage miles each way
  • Business: 70,000 AAdvantage miles each way

However, you aren’t limited to just flying between the US and Asia on China Southern. AAdvantage miles can be used for “travel on China Southern Airlines within Asia and between Asia and Africa, Canada, Europe, Indian Subcontinent, Mexico, Middle East, South Pacific” — as well as the US. The full award chart for these redemptions can be found here.

While award flights are supposed to be bookable with AAdvantage miles now, no awards are showing on AA.com quite yet.

For reference, here are China Southern’s trans-Pacific routes:

  • Guangzhou (CAN): Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO) and New York Kennedy (JFK)
  • Wuhan (WUH): San Francisco
  • Shenyang (SHE): Los Angeles

As part of this expanded partnership, American Airlines is now selling codeshare flights on these international routes — as well as a number of routes within China:

Featured image via Pascal Pavani/AFP via Getty Images

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March 20, 2019 at 11:43PM

A Comprehensive Guide to United Airlines’ Same Day Flight Change

A Comprehensive Guide to United Airlines’ Same Day Flight Change

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Not boarding the flight you paid for can sound like the start of a travel disaster — unless you use “SDC” as a verb.

That’s short for “same-day change,” an airline option to replace your original reservation with a new, confirmed reservation on a different itinerary to the same destination. Most airlines allow some form of this, often free to elites, and it is worth learning their rules. But United Airlines’ implementation stands out for its flexibility — especially if you know how to look beyond its app’s SDC suggestions.

Today we’ll go through the ins and outs of what to expect the next time you need to make a last-minute adjustment to your United reservation.

In This Post

General Rules

United’s documentation is breathtakingly short by airfare-rule standards. The key parts:

  • The flights of you and everybody else on the reservation must be on a domestic or international United ticket (with a number starting “016”) and solely on United or United Express aircraft (although on my last international flight, United’s app offered alternate UA-metal flights to get me to the same connection to a Brussels Airlines flight).
  • That includes award tickets, but not Basic Economy fares or certain bulk, group and consolidator tickets.
  • You can SDC starting 24 hours before your scheduled departure.
  • You must pay the fare difference if your original fare class isn’t available. MileagePlus general members and Premier Silver elites also owe a $75 fee, but SDCs are free to Premier Gold, Platinum, 1K and Global Services elites — making this a non-trivial advantage of even mid-tier United status.
  • Origin and destination airports must remain the same, but you can add or remove a connection.

Those rules already grant more choices than American (which yokes you to the original routing) and Delta (which doesn’t let you drop a connection and limits SDCs to flights within the U.S., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Canada). United also allows you to keep your confirmed upgrade if you’ve already received one on your original flight, another big boost over its competitors’ policies.

What United’s site doesn’t spell out — but which a FlyerTalk wiki does — is that you can usually avoid eating a fare difference. UA opens up many previously-closed fare classes by the time the SDC countdown starts, and if you wait until a few hours prior to departure, even the cheapest fare buckets often reappear.

Searching for Availability

(Photo by Jason Leung via Unsplash)
Finding an available United flight for SDC is relatively simple. (Photo by Jason Leung via Unsplash)

United’s app will usually offer SDC options when you check in under a “Switch to another flight?” banner. That will reveal alternate routings departing in the next 24 hours, with links to their seat maps and flight status that suggest your upgrade odds. This works after check-in, too; tap the “Trip Details” button on the home-page frame for your flight.

You can run the same search at United’s desktop site (click the “Change flight” link on the reservation page), but the interface is uglier and often incorrectly shows change fees. You can also explore SDC possibilities at a check-in kiosk, but please don’t if you’ll make other travelers wait.

You can standby for a flight through the app and site, but you shouldn’t have to — because they often don’t capture the full cloud of SDC probabilities. Instead, consult United’s info-dense flight-status reports: Punch in your departure and arrival cities, then check seat maps and standby lists on each flight listed to find routings that should be available.

If you want to take it one step further, familiarize yourself with United’s fare classes. While it may feel like you need a PhD. to do so, it’ll come in handy when you’re trying to utilize the carrier’s SDC benefit. By enabling Expert Mode on United’s website, you should be able to see if your originally-ticketed fare class is available. If that flight option isn’t offered in the app or online, you can be armed with that information when you call to request a change (see below).

Remember also that the 24-hour SDC time frame moves: If you want to stay an extra night somewhere, wait until that bracket shifts to include the next morning’s flights. But time can be your enemy too: UA flights routinely fill up in the closing hours, helping contribute to a load factor that hit 85.4% for domestic flights in 2018.

How to Request a Same Day Change

United
Requesting a SDC at check-in is likely the least efficient and least effective method. (Photo by Chris Sloan)

If United’s app or site doesn’t offer your preferred routing, call its reservations line, tell the representative that you want to make a same-day change, and provide the flights you picked out when checking flights for your departure and arrival cities. If the agent says they can’t make that work, thank them for their time, then hang up and call again.

If the representative says you’ll owe a fare difference, thank them for their time, then hang up and call again in a few hours. Be aware that may not work on popular routes like EWR-SFO nonstops, unless you’re okay with a middle seat; on the other hand, last year I cleared a short-haul SDC for my family and I about two hours before our original departure on Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.

You can also try United’s Twitter account; you’d send your flight info in a direct message, and you’d best do so while you still have at least an hour before your flight.

Finally, FlyerTalk and other reports suggest that requesting an SDC from a check-in counter agent is your least successful and slowest option, so I’d use this as a last resort.

Useful Scenarios

The traditional use case for making a same-day change involves a meeting wrapping up early and a desire to get home to your friends or family. It’s also a nice security policy if a meeting runs late or you get stuck in traffic en route to the airport. However, mastering this opens up helpful possibilities beyond simply getting an earlier or later flight.

  • On city pairs with multiple daily flights (think DCA-ORD) you can book a cheaper flight at a non-ideal time, then take your chances on SDC-ing to the flight you really wanted.
  • You can change to an aircraft with more legroom or better upgrade odds — from a cramped Embraer 145 regional jet to an Embraer 175 with Economy Plus seats and a first-class cabin, or from a 737 to a 767 offering lie-flat seats up front and seatback video throughout.
  • You can drop a connection to save time — or add one to stretch your elite-qualifying mileage.
  • You can change your day’s second flight while on your first flight–for example, if a westbound transatlantic flight will get into Newark or Dulles enough ahead of schedule for you to grab an earlier domestic connection.

Finally, since you can SDC from a flight for which you’ve already SDCed, you could theoretically repeat the exercise over multiple days. But we don’t advise making this a daily habit.

Bottom Line

United’s same-day change policy contains a number of quirks that makes it unique among the major US legacy carriers, but it’s worthwhile to learn them. While the SDC fee is waived for mid-tier (and higher) United elite flyers, there are many instances where it’s worth incurring $75 and adjusting your trip within 24 hours of departure.

Featured photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy

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March 20, 2019 at 11:11PM

“The Act,” Reviewed: A Juicy True-Crime Drama That Deconstructs Soapy Tropes

“The Act,” Reviewed: A Juicy True-Crime Drama That Deconstructs Soapy Tropes

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The central setting of “The Act,” now on Hulu, is a humble home in Springfield, Missouri. It’s a bungalow with a Pepto-Bismol tint. Its owner, Dee Dee Blanchard (Patricia Arquette), brings her daughter, Gypsy Rose (Joey King), into the little pink house by pushing the girl, in a wheelchair, up a ramp. Posts on the ramp’s railing evoke a white-picket fence from one angle and a fortified barrier from most others. By the end of the first episode, a yellow barricade of police tape further cordons off the building—an “American Gothic” showpiece.

Created by Michelle Dean and Nick Antosca, “The Act” adapts Dean’s 2016 true-crime story about the Blanchards into a semi-fictional exploration of emotional truths. To know that the title of the article was “Dee Dee Wanted Her Daughter to be Sick, Gypsy Wanted Her Mom Murdered” is not to have the plot of the series spoiled. The virtues of “The Act” are often distinct from the details of its dramatic arc. It’s more a ready-made parable of toxic parenthood or a mass-cultural case study than a thriller.

The action begins, in 2015, with a concerned neighbor climbing through a window of the little pink house and encountering a hoard of kitsch: mounds of stuffed animals, given to Gypsy by strangers who were moved by the plight of a sick child. The action shifts back, seven years earlier, to a scene of Dee Dee and Gypsy skillfully delivering their own human-interest story to a local-news camera crew, shortly after moving onto their cozy cul-de-sac, into a house built by Habitat for Humanity volunteers. Arquette’s voice is an overripe Louisiana drawl—the Blanchards’ displacement by Hurricane Katrina is a convenient excuse for their missing paperwork and an easy prod for further pity from others—and there’s a generous dash of Blanche DuBois in Dee Dee’s wanton maundering and her dependence on the kindness of strangers.

In Dee Dee’s accounting, Gypsy suffers from epilepsy, paraplegia, heart murmurs, anemia, and significant developmental delays. But Dee Dee is running a scam, and she is running a prison. The child is not as sickly as the world—and she herself—has been led to believe. Before long, the child begins to question whether she is, in fact, a child. Her eyes—framed by oversized glasses that play up her kitsch-urchin Keane-painting look—cloud with confusion, fire with resentment, and moon with desire for freedom.

“The Act” sketches its themes with a heavy hand. Or maybe it’s America itself that lacks delicacy, and the series, taking its excesses as its subject, is just responding with commensurate force. Coca-Cola, forbidden to Gypsy on the grounds of her alleged allergy to sugar, exists as a symbol of national values, of finding community in consumerism and popularity through sickly sweetness. Her favorite Disney princesses, the objects of her frequent adoration and occasional cosplay, are poisoned apples, icons of a venomous feminine ideal. Many pointed references to fairy tales, vampire fantasies, and their subtexts add up so that “The Act” simultaneously plays as a juicy domestic drama and a dry deconstruction of soapy tropes.

I’ve seen five of its eight episodes, and, though I suspect that five episodes, total, could have done the trick of conveying the story, I appreciate the stretches where the show’s slow pace heightens the suspense and tightens the screws on the horror in this story about Munchausen syndrome by proxy. “The Act” follows last year’s “Escape from Dannemora” as an excessively spacious venue for Arquette to do first-rate work. Where her earlier performance, in “Escape,” as a sallow prison employee who talks herself into aiding a jailbreak, showed how an extremely ordinary woman might make some felonious wrong turns, this one gives human dimensions to a grotesque con artist. Arquette’s Dee Dee combines vigilant motherhood, complicated victimhood, and complete monstrosity. The character will be remembered as an icon of our era of grift, alongside the antiheroes of “Fyre Fraud,” “The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley,” and “The Apprentice.”

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March 20, 2019 at 11:10PM

“Growing,” Reviewed: What Amy Schumer Won’t Expose

“Growing,” Reviewed: What Amy Schumer Won’t Expose

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In one promotional portrait for “Growing,” Amy Schumer’s new Netflix special, the comedian is a Photoshopped giantess, too big for her stage, too big for our world. Physical excess is Schumer’s ethos. As our national bachelorette, she has drained a wine glass the size of a bucket and distributed digit-shaped snacks called “finger blasters” to teens, on her Comedy Central sketch show, “Inside Amy Schumer.” It does not suffice simply to inform an audience of the depth and size of her vagina; Schumer needs you to know its scent. (“On its best day,” she muses in “The Leather Special,” her first standup show for Netflix, “my pussy smells like a small barnyard animal.”) But, as the promotional poster’s visual metaphor unsubtly suggests, Schumer’s comedy of self-humiliation is going through changes. Her boyfriend, the chef Chris Fischer, who once nursed her through a bout of diarrhea in Paris, has graduated to husband. Schumer is pregnant with their first child, and also pregnant with an indistinct ruefulness. The dirtbag sexual nihilism of early Schumer thaws out in “Growing,” leaving her with little solid ground.

“Growing” has a sleepy volubility; the erstwhile bar hound is now reminiscing with girlfriends about her wilder days over a nice but very long brunch. “I used to do something a lot of comics do,” Schumer begins the show by saying. “I would blame my disgusting behavior on the city I was in. . . . ‘Denver, you made me fuck that stranger—no condom. You’re crazy, Denver!’ ” The joke’s rearview construction hints at some potential self-disclosure to come. The paradox of Schumer as an artist is that, though she does not think twice about showing us her pink parts, she is nearly conservative when it comes to exposing, or not exposing, her private mind. At the opening of “Growing,” Schumer perfectly tees up to challenge her own impersonal mode of heterosexual grievance. But then she closes the aperture, too busy now setting up the special’s single beat of non-doggy-style choreography: she lifts her dress to show her protruding stomach, her navel bandaged to protect the crowd from seeing how pregnancy has deformed it.

Before the audience has a chance to consecrate their entertainer, she tells them, “I’m contractually obligated to be out here, guys,” adding, “I’m not, like, ‘I don’t care. The show must go on.’ I’m, like, ‘I will be sued by Live Nation.’ ” The real talk is a toss-off; if it has a purpose, it is to rustle up briefly a trendy sense of worker solidarity, between the millionaire and those at home. But, intentionally or not, the comment braces because it conveys a raw annoyance. I hate to compare automatically Schumer in “Growing” to Ali Wong, who recorded her two Netflix standup specials while heavily pregnant. But their common use of gestation as comic body horror warrants a moment. (In a recent interview with the Times, Schumer, who has been accused of joke stealing, admits that she asked her friend John Mulaney to cross-check Wong’s specials for unintentional similarities.) The grand payoff to “Baby Cobra,” Wong’s début special, actually came two years later, in her follow-up, “Hard Knock Wife.” During the second go-around, Wong never comments on the fact that she’s pregnant again, elevating her torso to a gag both visual and philosophical. For Schumer, pregnancy is intrusive and foreign—she suffers from hyperemesis, meaning she vomits nearly every day. (During the Times interview, the reporter witnessed Schumer throw up twice.)

Schumer’s knee-jerk overshare here aspires to more than the quick, gross-out response. But her exhibitionism does not amount to real confession. Schumer talks of yeast infections and drinking while pregnant, and, in an extended musing on the topic of menstruation, raves about Thinx “period-proof” underwear. Much of her material angles away from her actor persona and her celebrity power, a decision that burdens the performance with a preposterous unreality. In recent years, Schumer has starred in as many network comedy specials as Hollywood films.

Toward the middle of “Growing,” Schumer does an am-I-right-ladies riff (perhaps women should respond to unsolicited dick pics with their own “favorite dick pics”!) that made me think of the faux-empowerment propaganda of her 2018 film “I Feel Pretty.” In it, Schumer, whose movies always turn on the trope of the unruly woman, is a cog at a makeup company who requires a head injury in order to think herself attractive and professionally capable. “I Feel Pretty” chastises those who consume images of female perfection for being vulnerable to the influence of advertisement; it ends with Schumer’s character preaching over a grid of multi-ethnic faces. The movie’s trailer, which basically gave away the entire treacly plot, did not receive a warm welcome when it was released online. Women do not need more content telling them that beauty standards are all in their heads, many pointed out. Schumer attempted to deëscalate, saying, “I don’t want anything keeping women from living up to their full potential, and this movie’s about that.” That’s an O.K. line on the red carpet, but, now that the millions have been made, I expected Schumer to address the backlash against the film, which she didn’t write, or her weird and furtive gender optimism—something. But, in “Growing,” there is nothing except a lingering friction between Schumer the comedian and Schumer the actor, the latter threatening to undermine the former’s jokes.

Reticence, and the unwillingness to acknowledge reticence, stunts “Growing,” but I think that I understand Schumer’s detachment. The comedian has earned some of the criticisms of her white-girl naïveté, which evidently still rankle her—“You look around,” she says, while miming how women stealthily solicit extra tampons, “like you’re gonna say something racist. And, whatever race you thought I meant, that’s your problem.” But the fair critiques have inadvertently sanctioned plain and simple misogyny. Reminding the audience that one in three women will be assaulted in her lifetime (and that the frequency is higher for trans women of color) and channelling the Margaret Atwood quotation about women fearing death and men fearing ridicule, Schumer seems to be seeking to armor herself against reflexive distrust. At one point in “Growing,” she says, “It’s tough to stay confident as a girl.” What transmits, as in “I Feel Pretty,” is a Hallmark ventriloquism, though one story she tells feels deeper than truism. Last October, she and three hundred others were detained at the Hart Senate Office Building, in D.C., during a protest of Brett Kavanaugh’s impending Supreme Court confirmation. In a subsequent riff, Schumer links concerned-citizen hope with frat-girl cynicism—a balance, that, if deeply developed, might be the key to the maturation of her standup. “I want to be able to tell this kid I did everything I could,” she says. “And D.C., I heard, has the best cocaine.”

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March 20, 2019 at 10:56PM