36 Hours: What to Pack for a Trip to Sacramento

36 Hours: What to Pack for a Trip to Sacramento

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What to Pack for a Trip to Sacramento

Sacramento has it all — natural beauty to explore, art and theater to enjoy and delicious food on virtually every corner. You’ll want to spend some time outdoors, so grab these essentials for your trip.

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Capitol Park in downtown Sacramento.CreditDrew Kelly for The New York Times

From craft beer and taco stands to art, theater and enough coffee shops to keep you fueled up while you bike around town, Sacramento has tons to offer. We walk you through all of it in our local guide, but before you go, grab these essentials for your visit.

We’ve shared packing essentials for any 36-hour trip in previous lists, so we asked Freda Moon, who wrote our guide to Sacramento, to name a few items she was glad to have on her last visit — or wished she had packed.

Then we turned to Ria Misra, an editor at Wirecutter, for the best products to fill those needs as well as her expert suggestions for other things to pack to make the most of your trip. Here are their picks.

Don’t Forget Your:

  • Picnic supplies. “Sacramento has a lot of really lovely parks and outdoor spaces, so I recommend picnicking whenever possible,” Ms. Moon said. “For that, I like to carry one of those insulated lunchboxes/bags.” If you’re in the market for one, Ms. Misra suggests the Coleman 9 can soft cooler with hard liner, which will hold a couple of drinks, plus a nice snack selection or light lunch for two. A comfortable blanket with a waterproof lining, like this Nemo Victory Blanket, works for picnics as well as lounging by the lake at Capitol Park. Go ahead and toss a flying disc in your bag (Wirecutter suggests the Discraft UltraStar) too, for an impromptu game.

  • Sun protection. “Prepare for heat in summer,” cautions Ms. Moon. Ms. Misra suggests a pair of polarized sunglasses (like the Gamma Ray Polarized UV 400 Classic) to protect your eyes, sunscreen for your skin and a sun hat for the trail, like the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure Hat, which shields both your face and neck from rays. Also, Hydro Flask’s 24 ounce insulated water bottle kept Wirecutter testers’ drinks frosty all day long, even when temperatures rose.

  • Bike helmet. Ms. Moon noted that Sacramento is a super bike-friendly city, and one with a newly launched bike-share program that’s convenient enough for locals and tourists. If you plan to use it, it’s worth toting your own helmet along. This Schwinn Thrasher is light, comfortable, and affordable.

  • Swimming gear. Although Asha Urban Baths offers towels for rent, you can bring your own too — the Packtowl Personal comes with a pouch and dries quickly between uses. Bring a pair of flip-flops as well, both for the shower and for walking around. Ms. Misra said that Wirecutter tests found the Havaianas Top (available in men’s and women’s sizes) to be both comfortable and grippy against wet surfaces.

  • Go-anywhere carryall. Finally, perfect for carrying all of these essentials around town, the Baggu Duck Bag comes in a variety of colors and prints, and is a great, stylish tote. It also has an adjustable strap that lets you use it as a messenger bag while you’re riding a bike.

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May 31, 2018 at 04:42PM

Flash Sale: JetBlue Flights From $34 One-Way, $72 Round-Trip

Flash Sale: JetBlue Flights From $34 One-Way, $72 Round-Trip

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Want to see the latest flight deals as soon as they’re published? Follow The Points Guy on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to text message alerts from our deals feed, @tpg_alerts.

Airfare deals are typically only available on limited dates. We recommend you use Google Flights to find dates to fly, then book through an online travel agency, such as Orbitz or Expedia, which allows you to cancel flights without penalty by 11pm Eastern Time within one day of booking. Remember: Fares may disappear quickly, so book right away and take advantage of Orbitz or Expedia’s courtesy cancellation if you’re unable to get the time away from work or family.

JetBlue’s giving you the chance to book your summer getaway on the cheap. The “Sale Into Summer” sale is offering fares as little as $34 one-way, with both domestic and international destinations available. In order to score a ticket at these discounted fares, you must book by May 31, at 11:59pm ET or local time. Eligible travel dates are between June 6 and June 20, 2018, with blackout dates varying by route.

Note that the dates included as part of this sale are for peak summer travel time — a great opportunity to book a summer vacation with cheap airfare. We’re seeing plenty of availability throughout much of June, with some dates even extending into July. Because so many cities are part of this sale, it’ll be best to check out JetBlue’s page in order to find out exactly which ones are included. The best way to find availability is to search Google Flights for the routes and dates and then click through to JetBlue’s website to book. Act quick! These fares won’t last long — they’ll be available through Thursday only.

Airline: JetBlue
Routes: Domestic and international routes
Cost: $34+ one-way, $72 round-trip in economy
Dates: June 6-20 2018
Booking Link: Orbitz or Expedia
Pay With: The Platinum Card from American Express (5x on airfare), Chase Sapphire ReservePremier Rewards Gold Card from American ExpressCiti Prestige (3x on airfare) or Chase Sapphire Preferred (2x on travel)

Here are a few examples of what you can book:

Worcester (ORH) to New York (JFK) for $34 one-way:

Worcester (ORH) to New York (JFK) for 1,800 TrueBlue points + $5.60 one-way:

Atlanta (ATL) to Orlando (MCO) for $43 one-way:

Boston (BOS) to Nantucket (ACK) for $64 one-way:

Worcester (ORH) to New York (JFK) for $72 round-trip:

Long Beach (LGB) to San Francisco (SFO) for $76 round-trip:

Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Mexico City (MEX) for $87 one-way:

Boston (BOS) to Atlanta (ATL) for $102 round-trip:

New York (JFK) to West Palm Beach (PBI) for $156 round-trip:

Maximize Your Purchase

Don’t forget to use a credit card that earns additional points on airfare purchases, such as the American Express Platinum Card (5x on flights booked directly with airlines or American Express Travel), Chase Sapphire ReserveAmerican Express Premier Rewards Gold or Citi Prestige (3x on airfare) or the Chase Sapphire Preferred (2x on all travel purchases). Check out this post for more on maximizing airfare purchases.

Featured image by Dasar / Getty Images.

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May 31, 2018 at 04:16PM

Labor Unions Threaten a Las Vegas Strike That Might Cost Casinos Millions

Labor Unions Threaten a Las Vegas Strike That Might Cost Casinos Millions

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The two largest resort operators in Las Vegas would lose more than $10 million a day combined if housekeepers, cooks, and others go on strike, a possibility starting Friday, the union representing thousands of casino workers said Wednesday.

The Culinary Union detailed how it thinks a one-month strike would impact MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment, which operate more than half the properties that would be affected if 50,000 workers walk off the job. Workers last week voted to authorize a strike as disputes over workplace training, wages and other issues have kept the union and casino operators from agreeing on new contracts.

The union conceded that it is difficult to estimate how the strike at more than 30 casino-hotels would affect Las Vegas overall because the last citywide strike took place in 1984, when the city had 90,000 fewer hotel rooms and only about 12.8 million annual visitors. Last year, more than 42.2 million people visited.

But it says MGM and Caesars would see a 10 percent reduction in revenue because of the loss of group and independent travelers. A strike also could happen as fans head to Las Vegas for the Stanley Cup Final.

“Furthermore, one might assume a 10 percent worsening of operating margins due to the use of less experienced and less skilled replacements … to keep the doors open, rooms cleaned, food cooked, and cocktails served, not to mention other factors such as the disruptions to management staff’s regular work,” the union wrote.

Using the companies’ earnings reports for the first three months of the year, the union’s estimates show a one-month strike could reduce MGM’s earnings before interest, taxes and other items by more than $206 million and Caesars’ by over $113 million.

Contracts expire at midnight Thursday for bartenders, housekeepers, cocktail and food servers, porters, bellmen, cooks and other kitchen workers at properties on the Las Vegas Strip and downtown Las Vegas, including Caesars Palace, Bellagio, Stratosphere, Treasure Island, The D and El Cortez.

Dealers are not part of the Culinary Union. Casino-resorts that would not be affected by the strike include Wynn Las Vegas, Encore, The Venetian and Palazzo.

MGM, which employees 24,000 of the workers, said it met with union negotiators Monday and has more talks scheduled this week. The company says it remains confident that it “can resolve the outstanding contract issues and come to an agreement that works for all sides.”

Caesars said it “expects to agree to a new 5-year contract with the Culinary Union on or about June 1 when the current contract expires.” About 12,000 of its workers are part of the negotiations for new five-year contracts.

The union said it is asking for training on new skills and job opportunities as the companies adopt technology that can displace workers. It also wants an independent study to analyze the workload of housekeepers and contract language that would protect workers if properties are sold.

“What is going to happen to my position?” said Fernando Fernandez, a guest runner at Caesars Palace. “I think they are going to be disappearing it, because robots are going to be available to deliver everything.”

He said he wants training to fix or program the robots that he believes could eventually replace him.

The union says it has asked MGM for average annual wage increases of 4 percent for each of the five years. A document says the company has countered with an approximate 2.7 percent increase.

Caesars workers are asking for an increase of 4.2 percent effective Friday, and annual increases of about 4 percent thereafter. Another document shows the company has offered an approximate 2.8 percent increase for each of the five years.

The average hourly wage of union workers is $23, including benefits such as premium-free health care, a pension and a 401(k) retirement savings plan and $25,000 down-payment assistance for first-time homebuyers.

 

Copyright (2018) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 

This article was written by Regina Garcia Cano from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Photo Credit: In this May 22, 2018 photo, volunteer Jenifer Murias yells into a megaphone as Culinary Union members file into a university arena to vote on whether to authorize a strike in Las Vegas. The union representing thousands of Las Vegas casino workers says the two largest operators would lose more than $10 million a day combined if housekeepers, cooks, and others go on strike. The Culinary Union on Wednesday, May 30, 2018, released documents explaining how it thinks a one-month strike would impact MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment. Isaac Brekken / Associated Press

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May 31, 2018 at 04:02PM

Booking American Airlines Award Flights Through British Airways Just Got Even Harder

Booking American Airlines Award Flights Through British Airways Just Got Even Harder

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It’s been difficult to search American Airlines awards using British Airways’s website for a while now. And, just as we figured out a work-around, the situation got worse.

On May 22, British Airways added a warning to the top of its award search page alerting travelers of “a technical problem with American Airlines’ reward flight availability which American Airlines is currently working to identify and resolve.”

Image courtesy of @T_Waits_4NoOne on Twitter.
Image courtesy of @T_Waits_4NoOne via Twitter.

That message has been softened since to take some of the blame off of American Airlines and generally reference “a technical problem displaying American Airlines reward flights.”

We were hoping that this was a temporary issue, but it’s stretching on into its second week. When I tried to book an American Airlines award with British Airways Avios on Wednesday, there were 10 nonstop flights — and 40 total itinerary options — available on AA.com:

But no options were showing on British Airways’ website:

As the website directed, I called British Airways to book the flight. An agent picked up after less than a minute of wait time. The agent patiently went through the whole booking process before the AA-BA situation came up. Without me saying anything about the issues I had trying to book on BA’s website, the agent said that he was waiving the phone booking fee as this was an American Airlines award flight.

How Long Until We See a Fix?

Since he brought it up, I inquired about the status of the situation and how long it would take to fix. Noting that the problem was “completely dependent on American Airlines,” the agent grimly noted that there was “no end in sight.”

Next, I checked in with American Airlines about this issue and when it’s going to be resolved. An spokesperson responded that AA is aware of the technical issue that’s causing British Airways to not accurately display available award seats, and AA is working diligently with its partners to fix. After speaking with AA, I came away with the impression that this is a temporary, resolvable issue that’s just the result of trying to get multiple systems to work together.

Unfortunately, we still don’t have a timeline for when the issue will be resolved. Until it’s fixed, you’re going to need to call British Airways to book AA award flights. Hopefully you’ll be as lucky as I was to have no phone wait time, and luckily it seems that the BA phone agents are fully briefed on the situation and will waive fees accordingly.

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May 31, 2018 at 03:47PM

EyeforTravel San Francisco Summit 2018 Round-up

EyeforTravel San Francisco Summit 2018 Round-up

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May 31, 2018 at 03:28PM

Southwest Flight Makes Emergency Landing After Passenger Caught Reportedly Smoking Marijuana in Lavatory

Southwest Flight Makes Emergency Landing After Passenger Caught Reportedly Smoking Marijuana in Lavatory

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A Southwest Airlines flight was forced to make an emergency landing at San Jose International Airport (SJC) on Wednesday after a passenger was caught smoking in the aircraft lavatory.

Southwest Flight 1250 had departed from San Francisco (SFO), bound for Los Angeles (LAX) at around 3:30pm local time on Wednesday, according to flight-tracking website FlightRadar24 — one hour later than its scheduled departure time of 2:30pm.

However, after about 15 minutes in air, the aircraft began descending after a man was reportedly caught smoking in the aircraft’s lavatory. The smoke triggered an alarm, forcing crew to make the decision to divert. The Boeing 737-700 (registration N7858A) eventually made an emergency landing at San Jose (SJC) at about 4:05pm.

According to NBC Bay Area, another passenger, Edmund Lo, reported that the man in question boarded the aircraft in a wheelchair. Once in-flight, Lo said the man got up and walked around before going to the restroom once the plane reached cruising altitude. Moments later, the alarm sounded and when the man returned to his seat, he smelled like marijuana, Lo said.

Southwest released the following statement: “Southwest Airlines Flight 1250 with scheduled service from San Francisco to Los Angeles landed safely after diverting to San Jose following indications a customer was allegedly smoking in the aft lavatory. The flight landed without incident where it was met by local law enforcement, and the customer in question was turned over to local authorities. Our employees in San Jose are working to accommodate the remaining 32 customers on other aircraft to continue their journeys.”

No one was injured in the incident, and no delays were reported at the airport as a result, Southwest said.

TPG reached out to Southwest for an updated comment but did not immediately hear back.

In 2000, the US government prohibited smoking on all US flights. Now, smoking is banned on all commercial flights. In 2014, the US Department of Transportation prohibited the use of e-cigarettes on planes. However, on some international carriers, passengers have reported flight crew smoking in the cockpit. On a China Eastern flight from New York to Shanghai, TPG reported that the stench of smoke could be smelled from the first class cabin.

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May 31, 2018 at 03:15PM

United Airlines Accused of Using TVs To Bash Unions

United Airlines Accused of Using TVs To Bash Unions

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The huge installations United Airlines uses to prepare and cook inflight food recently got a new addition: some television screens. But rather than just providing news or talk show chatter, they broadcast messages explaining why workers shouldn’t unionize.

Employees at all five of United Continental Holdings Inc.’s kitchens in the U.S. said the screens, installed this year, broadcast a company line urging opposition to hospitality union Unite Here, which is seeking to organize its workers, or touting United’s achievements. Among the messages are warnings about the cost of union dues, the potential for workers to lose benefits if they unionize and the difficulty of getting rid of a union once it’s been voted in. The last point, the workers said, is illustrated with the image of a forearm with a “Together Forever” tattoo.

“It’s driving people crazy,” said Maria Villaroel, a 12-year employee who does safety and security inspections at United’s kitchen at Newark International Airport. She said TVs have been broadcasting anti-union messages in the cafeteria, the loading dock and the food production area. “They’re trying to wash people’s brains.”

Now, the union is fighting United’s use of TVs (as seen in the background of a Twitter post featuring airline President J. Scott Kirby) and its allegedly broader campaign against the union—the latest move in an escalating war between them. In a complaint filed Thursday with the National Mediation Board, Unite Here alleged United has illegally prevented employees from engaging in pro-union activity and subjected pro-union employees to surveillance, harassment and retaliation. The complaint, which claims support by 58 sworn employee declarations, also alleges that United officials conveyed “threats, promises, and misinformation through postings and electronic messages in the workplace,” such as the TV screens, and in small group and one-on-one meetings.

United called the union’s allegations “baseless,” saying it “respects our employees’ rights to decide whether they want to be represented by a union.”

On May 23, when confronted by employees at a shareholder meeting, Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz said United’s job was to “educate” employees about their benefits and how, under collective bargaining, those could be subject to negotiation. “I think it’s important, as you and your fellow peers make decisions around that decision, that you’re aware of the things that do come up,” he said.

Unlike its competitors, United directly employs 2,700 kitchen workers who prepare and transport food for flights. They are the only group of frontline United employees who, unlike flight attendants, pilots, baggage handlers and mechanics, don’t have union representation. Pro-union kitchen workers said they sought to organize to address issues including what they see as the company’s overly restrictive attendance policy, which workers claimed causes them to report to work when they’re sick.

United countered that its kitchen workers get more paid vacation days than their counterparts at contractor Gate Gourmet. A spokesperson also alluded to the possibility of jettisoning in-house kitchens, inherited from its merger with Continental, altogether.

But if United were to turn to Gate Gourmet or LSG Sky Chefs for inflight food service, it would also find Unite Here: The union represents employees at both of those companies.

Unite Here filed its unionization petition in January with support from three-quarters of the United kitchen workforce, which would usually trigger a National Mediation Board-supervised election. United, however, responded by filing a complaint with the NMB alleging fraud and misrepresentation by the union. In a rare move, the board, which is led by a 2-1 Republican majority appointed by President Donald Trump, chose to indefinitely delay the union vote while investigating the airline’s allegations, all of which Unite Here denied.

Democrats in both houses of Congress and legislators in five states where United has kitchen facilities sided with the union, urging Munoz to instead examine alleged misconduct by his own managers.

In the past, union leaders including Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, supported Munoz, who has weathered repeated public relations crises, many tied to the mistreatment or physical assault of passengers. In a January letter to Munoz supporting Unite Here, leaders of the AFA, the Air Line Pilots Association, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the Teamsters credited the CEO with building “positive labor relations” since taking the helm in 2015. The unions told Munoz in a joint letter that the catering workers’ campaign for collective bargaining “is an important opportunity to lift up thousands of United’s lowest-paid employees.”

But United has been under acute pressure from investors to boost profits, and last year nixed plans for Munoz to ascend to the post of chairman. In October, after he asked during an earnings call for “more patience” from investors, United’s stock fell the most in eight years, and analysts reported queries from investors about whether it was time for new leadership. And the bad news is still rolling in: This week United finished last among traditional carriers in J.D. Power’s 2018 airline satisfaction study for North America.

“The investor base is really looking for United to close their profit gap with Delta and American,” said George Ferguson, a senior aerospace analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence. “So anything that would work against that, like higher wages to any labor group, is going to be difficult.”

A United spokesman said the airline’s push for an NMB investigation of the union’s behavior wasn’t related to bottom line pressures. The kitchen facility televisions, meanwhile, are part of a standard practice to share information with all employees, he said. “United Airlines is committed to treating all of our employees fairly,” the company said, whether or not they are represented by a union.

Pro-union employees disagree. They argue that by resisting their organizing efforts, United is trying to deprive them of the benefits their co-workers in better-respected jobs already enjoy. “United treats us almost as an unwanted stepchild,” said David Guerrero, a 55 year-old driver for the airline’s Houston kitchen who said he makes about $14.75 an hour.

Guerrero said he felt intimidated working in a facility with a trio of TV screens displaying anti-union messages, including warnings that if workers unionized they might not keep getting discount flights. His counterpart, Annich Sperlich, said that in the facility where she works in Cleveland, a TV screen in her small break room blares anti-union audio and visuals. “There were days that you would be sitting in there and that’s all you could hear,” she said.

Teresita Felix, a pro-union United food production worker in Denver, said she has been fielding questions from co-workers who, after seeing the anti-union TV screens, asked her things like “why are you really fighting for this, when they’re going to take away our benefits?”

–With assistance from Julie Johnsson and Justin Bachman.

 

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

 

This article was written by Josh Eidelson from Bloomberg and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Photo Credit: The United kitchen workers, who prep food for flights like the one pictured, say the airline is conspiring to keep them from joining a union. Bloomberg

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May 31, 2018 at 02:38PM

“The Americans” Finale Was Elegant, Potent, and Unforgettable

“The Americans” Finale Was Elegant, Potent, and Unforgettable

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Were you craving a bit more bloodshed from the finale of FX’s “The Americans”? Some tooth-pulling ultraviolence, or maybe another corpse crunched into a briefcase, on the long road to Moscow? If so, you were clearly watching the wrong show. Rather than provide the viewer with bright-red catharsis, “The Americans” went out, after six seasons, in gorgeous shades of asphalt gray and snow white—a dry-eyed tearjerker to the last, leaving behind a chord of moral unease.

In the end, the bad guys (the Jenningses, Russian spies who were somehow also the show’s protagonists) got away with their crimes. A hero went to jail. Two children were left alone. Certain mysteries would never be solved: for one thing, we’ll never find out if Renee was a Russian spy. But if you squinted and ignored the pile of corpses, and the F.B.I. agent whose life was hollowed out for good, “The Americans” was, in its final moments, a portrait of a successful marriage. It was about a life spent raising kids and working long hours, entering a new stage: retirement and an empty nest. “It feels strange,” Philip says, gazing out at the glittering vistas of the country he hasn’t seen for more than twenty years. “We’ll get used to it,” Elizabeth says, although she speaks to her husband in Russian.

A fair amount happened before that Russian denouement, although the crucial sequence began twenty-two minutes in, with a hilariously arch greeting between old friends. “Hey!” the F.B.I. agent Stan Beeman says, cheerfully, to his neighbors, Philip and Elizabeth and their daughter Paige, as they enter a parking garage, preparing to flee the country. “Hi, Paige!” “What . . . What are you doing here?” sputters Philip to Stan, as if they’d all conveniently bumped into one another running errands. Stan holds one finger up and says, calmly, “That’s a great question.”

It was the last moment that Stan would be in control, during a clash of perspectives that should have, by all narrative logic, led straight to prison or, if not, to a shootout, a car chase, or something worse. Instead, ten minutes later, the Jennings were coolly driving away to freedom, as Stan stood by silently, as if paralyzed, watching them go. How did they pull that off?

Six seasons of sharing a beer at the end of the day, that’s how. Thanksgiving together; conversations during Stan’s divorce; watching each other’s children grow up. “The Americans” has always been a show about intimacy, not simply as a human need but as a dangerous vulnerability, the crack that lets the light in. When we first met the Jenningses, they were posing as a family, but were also, after decades, married strangers, raising two children together, just as their Russian handlers had intended. (It’s easier to control your spies when they can’t trust each other.) Then, a crisis—Philip found out that Elizabeth had been raped during her spy training, and then killed her rapist, and by doing so, lost his own chance to defect—changed them, nearly chemically, inspiring a radical leap of faith. Like many more ordinary middle-aged couple facing a midlife crisis, they re-committed, even renewing their marital vows. The rest of the show became the story of this evolving intimacy, a connection that deepened, year after year, despite the Jennings’s radically opposed politics and periods of estrangement—a marital success that came at the expense of many other lives, including those of their own children. “The Americans” would be a romantic story if they weren’t such murderous sociopaths.

In the garage with Stan, Paige, who is only a novice spy, improvises a cover story, which falls apart. Stan gets angry, brandishing his gun. “We had a job to do,” Philip said, acknowledging the truth at last. “We had a job to do.” And then Stan makes his great mistake. “You were my best friend,” he says to Philip, wounded, unable to believe that their relationship wasn’t real. He offers a bridge that Philip crosses. And Philip, who is a master at such moments, transforms, like a werewolf, his eyes softening, into the most powerful form of himself: the tender, honest, authentic, connected Philip—the sensitive modern man, hurt and confused, a persona that he uses to damage others. (Philip might have been sincerely seeking help when he went to EST, but he only ended up sharpening his tools.) He quickly creates, for Stan’s sake, the illusion of an authentic surrender—and he begins to tell the truth. He’s like the world’s best crisis negotiator, except that he’s trying to get the other man to jump.

When Stan tells him that their friendship has made his life into a joke, Philip mirrors the emotion back, “My life was the joke, not yours.” And then the gaslighting begins in earnest, as they negotiate what was real and what was not: Was Matthew, Stan’s son, ever part of the scam? What about all those people that the Jenningses killed? At the mention of murder—a crime that Philip knows Stan won’t accept, which would burst the illusion of trust—Philip grimaces, establishing the first big lie: that the Jenningses are idealists who never, ever killed anyone, let alone left two parents bleeding to death in front of their own child. Philip’s daughter nearly ruins this scheme, apologizing, saying, “I’m sorry—” “We don’t kill people! Jesus,” her mother cuts her off, briskly. “We wouldn’t,” Philip says.

It’s too late for Stan anyway, who has lost his ability to read such nuances, and who opens the door for Philip to deliver the aria of a con man: a confession that lets Stan move toward what he really wants, to feel closer to his friend, then help him escape. “I kept doing it, telling myself it was important,” Philip tells Stan about the horror of his job. He shows regret, and then self-disgust, at who he’s finally become: “I’m just a shitty, failing travel agent.” Matthew Rhys runs through all of his most effective facial expressions: the wince, the frown, the toothy half-smile flashed beneath guilty-dog eyes. It’s an act of domination that’s camouflaged as an act of submission. Only Elizabeth knows Philip well enough to admire his craft.

Stan swallows every sedative, especially the mention of Henry, the Jennings’s innocent son, who Stan desperately wants to protect. Finally, improvising, Philip finds the wedge that works: he tells Stan about the Jennings’s scheme to expose the enemies of Gorbachev, which offers Stan the opportunity to see them not as enemies, but as allies. Philip tells enough of the truth for Stan to buy the lie. In plenty of ways, this finale is the exact opposite of “Felina,” the last episode of “Breaking Bad”—an hour that was full of cathartic violence but was also mechanically designed to satisfy the viewer’s bloodlust, to give smooth closure at all cost. Yet this scene with Stan has definite echoes of one of the most interesting moments in “Breaking Bad,” when Walter White visited his ex-wife, Skyler, then owned up to his own selfishness, to committing crimes for his own pleasure. Walt told Skyler what she needed to hear, so that she would do what he wanted her to do: take his blood money and not ask questions. In each scenes, the trap was built in the shape of candor, an irresistible shape for a person who wants to believe.

There was nothing especially flashy about the sequence, which was mostly a set of closeups, with Philip and Stan rarely in the same frame. This was typical of “The Americans” at its best—the show had plenty of beauty and several thrilling action sequences, but it also grew bleaker with the years, willing to deny us escapist pleasures in order to intensify our longing for a little release. (Rewatch the pilot if you’re interested in seeing some nineteen-eighties pink and blue—it’s joyful in comparison to what comes after.) The power is in the performance: “You should hate me—you should,” Philip says, pleadingly. “You should probably shoot me.” And then, after that escapist fantasy of violence, a moment of near-hypnosis: “But we’re getting in that car. And we’re driving away.” Then, after a deep sigh, he adds a manipulative kicker. “I wish you’d stayed with me in EST,” Philip tells Stan. “You might know what to do here.”

I laughed out loud at the line, cruel as it was. Without lifting a finger or pulling a gun, Philip used his legendary eagerness to talk, the emo dampness that often drove his wife crazy, his sincerity, his New Man charisma, to undermine this lonely macho G-Man entirely—a cop who spent many years undercover himself, who should have known all about nurturing the needs of one’s asset. At the line about EST, Elizabeth shoots Stan a flabbergasted side-eye. “You have to take care of Henry,” Paige says, as they leave. “He loves you, Stan,” Philip says, his eyes ringed in red, overwhelmed, for real, at losing his son. “Tell him the truth.”

Then, just before he gets into the car, Philip tosses off a comment that only a best friend could make—the one that would destroy Stan’s life. “I don’t know how to say this, but I think Renee may be one of us”—Stan’s wife, he was implying, might be a Russian spy. Or maybe not. Philip shrugs, then blurs it further: “I’m not sure.” In seventeen words, he saves his marriage and ruins Stan’s. Now Stan has no one that he can trust: his best friend is leaving, he can never tell his co-workers that he let the Jenningses escape, and Stan’s own wife, Renee, will be a stranger to him, forever. The lovely final shot shows Stan receding, growing smaller, and finally shadowed only in silhouette, as his destroyers drive toward freedom. When we see Stan again, he’s moving through the altered world (his office, where he no longer belongs) in shock, as Dire Straits’s “Brothers In Arms” plays, a song about friendship in wartime.

The rest of the episode is equally elegant. Oleg goes to prison, his family abandoned in Russia—a tragedy, but a morally sound one, which makes Oleg into the show’s rare heroic figure, along with poor Martha and the tragic Nina. There’s a showdown with the priest, revealing that even holy men have petty status battles. Henry ends up safe, thank god, with Stan. The Jenningses do make one phone call to their son, on the road, on their way to Canada—“I just want you to be yourself,” his father tells him—and it was the one scene I couldn’t buy. Surely even Henry, innocent as he is, would recognize something sketchy about a phone call in which his iceberg of a mother told him, with a catch in her voice, that she loved him.

The other showpiece moment was the gorgeously paced last-act scene on the train to Canada, a model of suspense designed to lead us to all the wrong conclusions. At first, the scene appeared to be about which of the Jennings would be recognized by the train porter, who was checking an F.B.I. sketch against their passports. Maybe Philip would get caught. Maybe Elizabeth. The most likely victim seemed to be Paige: if she were arrested, and then thrown into prison, her parents would be forced to suffer the repercussions of their actions, at last: chickens coming home to roost.

Instead, the police don’t catch any of them. It’s only as the train is sliding away from the station that Paige’s parents recognize, with shock, exactly what is happening: Paige has abandoned them, to stay in America, without them—and she gazes from the platform as they roll away, unable even to wave.

To me, the saddest, loveliest, and most unusual moment in the finale of “The Americans” was Elizabeth’s dream, which followed that abandonment, as she flew back home to Russia. At first, it’s disguised as reality, until we realize that Elizabeth is in bed with Gregory, her old lover, who died decades before. In the dream, she’s young again, a hardened sophisticate, a chain-smoking true believer in a negligee. “I don’t want a kid anyway,” Elizabeth tells Gregory, confidingly, as he pats her belly. Then she senses that something is wrong. Her room is filled with art—paintings and prints that cover the wall, as if her bedroom was a gallery. On the bedside table, there’s a picture in a frame: it’s her children, Paige and Henry, who are younger, too. Their faces look sad, abandoned. When the camera pulls back, their portrait is echoed by an enormous painting, of a woman’s unreadable face, concealed by a veil of sorrow, or falseness, or maybe just distance. It’s the painting she got from Erica, the angry artist, dying of cancer, who had refused to accept Elizabeth’s stubborn insensitivity—the one who forced her, finally, to look at the world so closely that it changed her.

“The Americans” was a show that didn’t traffic in dreams much, or in wish fulfillment. There was a subtle softness to the finale, however: after all, the viewer knows, even if Philip and Elizabeth don’t, that the Cold War is about to end. Those children they think they lost forever might not be gone for good. (Unlike, I keep thinking, the many people whose families they left bereaved.) And I’m not going to get too histrionic about the end of my current favorite drama, because “The Americans” got to end at the right time—a lucky thing. “There’s a weakness in the people,” the young Elizabeth Jennings observed in the show’s pilot, about the United States, where she was about to spend most of her life. “I can feel it.” The show always knew just how to find ours.

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May 31, 2018 at 02:33PM

Partnerships, the bedrock of the travel ecosystem

Partnerships, the bedrock of the travel ecosystem

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For both OTAs like Expedia and hotel chains like NH Group, partnerships can expand the opportunities for business, while meeting the needs of the traveller

“Partnerships are the bedrock of the travel ecosystem. Whether it’s airline alliances or distribution relationships, partnerships expand the possibilities for the traveller,” says Brandon Ehrhardt, Director, Strategic Initiatives & Research, Expedia Lodging Partner Services (LPS).

In the past 18 months Expedia LPS has announced partnerships with companies like Vacations by Marriott, MGM, Omni Hotels & Resorts, and many others, that enable these brands to use Expedia’s white-label products. According to Ehrhardt, ‘package white label’, one of the products in the Expedia Powered Technology toolkit, was a test-and learn solution for hotel partners looking to grow their business through the powerful package path. “But ‘product development for Packages’ has grown to now offer Expedia’s best-in-class dynamic packaging technology to other multi-property partners and we’ve observed some very promising results,” says Ehrhardt, who will be speaking at EyeforTravel North America in October.

The good news is that travellers who would previously not have considered a package holiday are now rethinking their approach. That’s because package holidays have shed their largely fuddy-duddy image and now cater for a much broader audience – from those looking for a boutique and design type experience, to responsible travellers, thrill seekers, foodies and more.

Industry myths and millennials

One of Ehrhardt’s areas of focus has been on millennials and their travel preferences. “We spend a lot of time discussing generational trends as both GenZ and Millennials overwhelmingly prefer to save time and money while shopping,” says Ehrhardt. So, if, as Expedia’s research finds, 87% of GenZ and 80% of Millennials find it helpful to book travel in one place, then clearly “we want to make sure they’re coming to us”.

That’s not great news for hotels going all out to get the traveller to book direct but Ehrhardt is keen to stress that there is“an industry myth that OTA guests do not spend as much on property as guests who booked direct”. 

There is an industry myth that OTA guests do not spend as much on property as guests who booked direct

After collaborating with Oxford Economics to study 98,000 travellers, “we can confidently say that is not true”. In fact, OTA guests spend about 17% more on property than those who booked through other channels.

This view is one also held by Tim Hentschel, CEO of HotelPlanner, a provider of online services to the global group hotels sales market. “For every dollar spent on a hotel room, our groups are spending $2 to $4 in the hotel on F&B, conference spaces, AV equipment and other ancillaries. So, the revenue generation of the group is so much greater than just the room spec.”

While many hotel groups do want to drive direct bookings wherever possible, they also acknowledge that partnerships are crucial, and this is especially true for those working in the B2B arena. One important area of focus for Nicola Accurso, VP Business Development, NH Hotels, who will be speaking at EyeforTravel Europe next week, is to build so-called ‘preferred partnerships’ with travel management companies, meetings & events agencies, as well as some high-end intermediaries. NH has also negotiated long-term win-win agreements with over 30 airlines to drive business in destinations where there is room for growth.

Delivering value

Like Expedia, NH Hotels believes in delivering added value to all parties in the travel value chain, and sets clear targets to incentivise its preferred partners to drive business in markets where it is needed. In Spain, for example, where NH has high brand awareness, new preferred partnerships are not a priority.

“We have a unique value proposition in that we offer 10% commission on rooms, meetings/events and food & beverage but, to be clear, it’s not just a matter of commission. Agreements are often much more complex and we really try to understand how partners can add value, and what the mutual benefits are. There is always a set of parameters and most of our partnerships are tailor made. It’s not just about selling,” he says.

There is always a set of parameters and most of our partnerships are tailor made

One example of how NH incentivises partners, is to offer incremental commissions if targets are reached.

That’s a different approach to what is happening in North America where some of the big chains – Marriott, Hilton and IHG – have moved to axe commission for groups by 30%.

Hentschel, who has called the commission cuts of the big chains in North America shortsighted’, says that the European market, which is quite different, hasn’t been affected. “European hotels always had a lower commission rate of 8%. The European group market has several very large third-party agencies and tour operators, as well as a healthy group of regional independent hotel operators [like NH!]. So, we don’t see the European market being affected by the North American changes moving forward,” he says.

Partnerships will be a hot topic at next week’s EyeforTravel Europe where Nicola Accurso will address a Day 2 keynote panel along with Anthony Price, Director Marketing & Customer, BMI, and Dan Christian, Chief Digital Officer, The Travel Corporation

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May 31, 2018 at 02:31PM

Connecting with top-of-mind travel tech trends

Connecting with top-of-mind travel tech trends

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Sponsored by EyeForTravel.

In the run-up to EyeforTravel’s flagship European show next week, some of the high-level executives and innovators speaking at the event share their thoughts on the current travel tech state of play and what’s round the corner.

Blockchain – hip, hype or a delivering an ‘Internet of Value’?

 A force for real change, says Day 1 keynoter David Brillembourg, CEO of Brillembourg Group.

Blockchain and its underlying cryptoeconomic models will bring true innovation to the online travel space in three fundamental ways” he says.

  1. By truly connecting the travel community to hotel owners, and significantly reducing the premium charged by the OTAs
  2. Allowing the future selling of room nights or other travel services through the use of ‘smart contracts’ between travellers and hotels, thus opening a new model for the trade of services—and possibly of financing for providers
  3. Creating a true interconnected ecosystem of loyalty via connection between tokens.

Brillembourg believes that “as the world of travel becomes tokenised, and it will, more and more services will be able to be bundled and exchanged by providers, aggregators, and travellers”.

Blockchain is, however, still a nascent technology, and scalability remains one of the major challenges. Maksim Izmaylov, CEO of Winding Tree, which raised $16million in its February initial coin offering, says the team is currently working towards solutions that accelerate transaction times. Winding Tree has signed partnership deals with firms that include Lufthansa, Air New Zealand and Nordic Choice Hotels and now the industry is watching to see what happens next.

Applications for blockchain are emerging daily, but Roland Berger consultant Joerg Esser, who is running a blockchain workshop on June 6, warns that while the technology can fuel fundamental transformation in business models and organisations, it will take time to prepare.

His view is that companies think seriously about the possibility for blockchain to deliver an ‘Internet of Value’ as the technology matures.

Mobile becomes mainstream but investment continues

Not that long ago mobile was top of mind but thanks largely to Google, that shift is almost complete. A few years ago, the search giant changed its algorithm to boost the rankings of sites that displayed well on a mobile device and recently has gone a step further – linking to the mobile site rather than the desktop version of many websites.

Trainline, a platform for train journeys, has made significant investments into mobile which now accounts for 80% of visits, says CEO Clare Gilmartin. She will be discussing the future of the $250 billion rail and coach market rail at EyeforTravel Europe.

It continues to innovate in mobile, making around 200 changes a week, “some small, some big”, although data and voice are now another strategic focus. The firm launched a voice app late last year, and has leveraged data from the 9 billion entries in its data lake to launch features such as Busybot, which informs travellers where there are empty seats on a train.

Voice and data – the new mobile?

From GDPR, to watching Mark Zuckerberg’s awkward appearance at the congressional hearing about the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data-sharing scandal,  via Amazon Alexa coming under fire for secretly recording and inadvertently sharing a user’s private conversation – AI, voice and data could not be more topical.

Everybody may feel that they have heard enough already about GDPR, which came into force last week and has been clogging up inboxes across Europe, but it will remain an important issue.

Looking ahead, Keith Dewey, a GDPR whizz and cybersecurity expert says:

“Now that the 25th May frenzy has passed, we’re looking forward to seeing companies taking a measured approach to data protection, aligned with the evolving laws and driven by management accountabilities. Hopefully the new legislation will create a real world improvement for data subjects’ privacy and security.”

However, while data protection may be the new mobile, many agree that voice search is going to fundamentally change everything. “When you are in a vehicle that has no steering wheel or pedals it is incredibly important that you can easily specify precisely where you want to go. You have got to have an address system that is built for voice,” says Giles Rhys-Jones, the chief marketing officer of what3words, the winner of EyeforTravel’s Start-up & Innovation in Travel Awards in Europe last year.

Bot power and other shiny new travel tech

New technologies, including virtual and augmented reality, which depend heavily on reliable data are also talk of the town. Doing more that talk about it is German hotel management company GCH Hotels. Daniel Wishnia, a digital marketing consultant at GCH Hotels, is a strong believer in what new technologies can deliver and especially in the power of 360-degree video.

Working with Isreali startup Gooster, GCH launched Emma, an AI-driven chatbot to deliver value to the customer at all stages of the traveller’s journey, and is seeing “amazing results”. GCH also plans to create a virtual reality sites using VD Room technology for every one of its hotels, as it has done at Germany’s Wyndham Duisberger Hof.

Distribution, partnerships and brand power battles

No EyeForTravel show is complete without the usual discussions about how to survive in a world dominated by heavyweights. Tom Magnuson, CEO of the world’s fastest growing independent hotel chain Magnuson Worldwide, believes partnerships are the answer to some of the pressing challenges facing hotels – not least the rise of Airbnb. “At our count, Airbnb supply would equal about 22% of UK hotel stock,” says Magnuson, who relocated the headquarters of his company to the UK.

Magnuson represents around a thousand hotels and has recently signed a distribution partnership with China’s state-owned hotel group Jin Jiang, which owns Europe’s Louvre Hotels. This makes the company the world’s biggest hotel alliance with over 8,000 hotels and 800,000 rooms worldwide.

Through this partnership Magnuson Worldwide is working to develop a common global platform. “The aim,” says Magnuson, “is to have something a bit like a hotel version of an airline marketing alliance, where the three groups sell inventory across their respective territories”.

NH Hotels is another that relies heavily on preferred partnerships, particularly in its B2B operations, says keynoter Nicola Accurso, the company’s VP of business development. NH Hotels operates what it calls the 10-10-10 value proposition – 10% commission for rooms, meetings & events and food & beverage. However, agreements are often far more complex than this. Says Accurso: “There are always a set of parameters and most partnerships are tailor-made. We really try to understand the mutual benefits and provide incentives by, for example, offering incremental commissions when targets are met”.

This article by EyeForTravel appears as part of the tnooz sponsored content initiative.

Image from Pixabay

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May 31, 2018 at 02:03PM