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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Batter Up!

Talk about home field advantage. While members of the Philadelphia Phillies weathered a 40-hour World Series rain delay (which started Monday night) in the comforts of their homes, the Tampa Bay Rays were booted out of their hotel on Tuesday morning and relocated to another state. Because no Philadelphia hotel worthy of hosting the American League champions had 85 rooms available on Tuesday night, the Rays had to move 25 miles out of town. Of course, they did get to stay at the historic Hotel DuPont in Wilmington, Delaware. But the upheaval obviously didn't help, as the Phillies quickly disposed of their Florida foes when play resumed on Wednesday.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Europe's on Sale (and so is Australia)

In a previous post, I discussed the growing strength of the U.S. dollar against the Icelandic krona. Well, the greenback is also gaining ground in other countries. So, between off peak rates and the strengthening dollar, this winter will be the cheapest time to travel overseas in quite awhile.

Let's play the exchange game. The dollar has strengthened nearly 50 percent against the Icelandic krona since a year ago. It's gone up nearly 20 percent against the British pound during the same time period. In Romania, the dollar will buy you 15 percent more lei than a year ago. Most European countries, of course, are in the Euro zone. Since last October, the dollar has increased 10 percent in value against the Euro.

While the dollar will buy more in Europe this winter, it's still cold on the Continent. If you are hankering for a bit of sun and fun, head to Australia, where December through March is summertime. The U.S. dollar is 20 percent stronger against the Aussie dollar than one year ago, so it might be a fine time to go Down Under.

One other factor in the winter traveler's favor this winter--soft demand. Airlines, cruise operators and hotels are predicting low numbers for the upcoming quarter. To entice travelers, plenty of good deals on overseas airfares and tour packages are likely to be on offer.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sky High Fuel Surcharges Mean Profits for Airlines

If anyone doubts that the airlines are making money on fuel surcharges, take a gander at an article on international travel in the October 3 issue of USA Today's Money section.

The article quotes aviation consultant Michael Boyd, who says at $94 a barrel, about $80,000 of fuel is consumed on a one-way flight on a Boeing 777 from Newark to Shanghai. Now, given that a 777 can carry around 400 passengers, a $200 per passenger fee would completely cover the cost of filling up. So how can a carrier possibly justify a fee upwards of $200? And why should passengers cover the entire "tankful", anyway? After all, fuel surcharges were designed to have passengers cover the extra cost of fuel, given recent price increases. So, in reality, the fee shouldn't cover the entire fuel bill--just the additional expense created during this last year of price increases.

Fuel surcharges vary (randomly) by destination. FareCompare.com has compiled a chart of average international fuel surcharges based on data from nearly 620,000 round-trip airfares between the USA and foreign cities.

According to FareCompare.com, the highest average round-trip fuel charge from the U.S. to an international destination is $500 to Tel Aviv, Israel. Next on the list is Tokyo ($474), Hong Kong ($465), Sydney ($448), Dubai ($440) and Beijing ($409). Fuel surcharges for most European destinations fall within the $330 to $360 range.

Given the discrepancies in fuel surcharges among international carriers (American's fuel surcharges vary on each route depending on flight length and competition, while Air France has a standard $165 fee and Lufthansa has a standard $105 fee on one-way flights to the U.S.), it's important to consider more than the base fee when comparing the cost of international tickets.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum Part VII

Oh, Canada. American airlines could learn so much from you. Here's why.

As of this week, Canada's two major airlines have adjusted their baggage fees and fuel surcharges to reflect the recent drop in oil prices. Air Canada has dropped its $25 fee to check a second bag on North American flights (there was never a charge for a first bag). Canada's largest carrier has also reduced its excess baggage fees for oversized and overweight pieces.

Meantime, West Jet has stopped assessing fuel surcharges on its North American flights. Those fees had ranged between $20 and $45 for a one-way flight.

How very Canadian to be fair about all of this. After all, there's logic in the idea that if airlines impose surcharges when costs go up, they should drop them when costs go down. But somehow, I doubt American carriers will take a cue from their Northern neighbors. Instead, after having used the fuel price increases of the summer as an excuse to tack on extra fees, the U.S. airlines will somehow find justification in continuing those fees, even after fuel prices have dropped.

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Seeing Stars in Hollywood: Olympian Tips for Conquering Jet Lag

I was in Hollywood yesterday for a series of interviews, via satellite, about planning vacations during hard economic times. More on that in another post. This post is about that favorite Hollywood activity--star-spotting.

After my seven-hour (2 AM to 9 AM) gig in the studio, I was chatting with some people in the green room when Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin wandered in. Given my prospensity for play-by-play sports commentary (I was a sports broadcasting major back in college), I noted her mount (as they would say in the gymnastics world) by saying, "An Olympic champion has entered into our midst." No sooner did the words come out of my mouth (while shaking her hand) then a second gold medalist, the perky Shawn Johnson, appeared on the scene. Both young ladies are composed (as one might expect from girls who can fling themselves high into the air and still land straight up on a four-inch balance beam), well-mannered, and cute as can be.

Being quick-witted, I immediately donned my journalistic hat to ask the girls a few questions. You see, I have written several stories on how top athletes, from tennis players to baseball stars, deal with jet lag during their respective seasons. After all, if world-class athletes can perform at top levels while circling the country or the globe, the average person might be able to pick up a good tip or two for conquering jet lag.

And so I asked how the two teenagers managed to overcome jet lag. Liukin immediately asked the question with one word. "Water," she said declaratively (meaning drinking lots of it--as opposed to swimming in it, a la Michael Phelps). Johnson concurred, while also stressing the importance of setting one's watch and mindset to local time right away, and then putting in a full work day starting on Day One. Being able to arrive in Beijing ten days before the gymnastics competition was also crucial to achieving peak performance levels.

So, while most of us will never win an Olympic medal, nor take a spin on the uneven parallel bars (heck, I can't even manage to hoist myself to the upper bar), we can certainly learn the lessons of international top performance from the two Olympic champions. Whether you are heading overseas for work or pleasure, drink lots of water and adapt yourself to local time ASAP. You won't win a gold medal for your efforts, but you will likely find it easier to maintain your equilibrium on the road.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum: Part VI

United Airlines has a very special present for its passengers, right in time for the holiday travel season. Just when people are most likely to be loaded down with baggage, the airline is doubling its fee for checking a second bag. The $50 one-way charge kicks in November 10. The fee applies to coach passengers traveling within the U.S. or to Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Passengers who purchased tickets prior to September 15 may be exempt from the charge.

But here's some good news for United customers. The airline has decided that feeding the masses is a good idea after all. The airline has backed off of its much-criticized plan to stop serving free meals for transatlantic coach passengers. But United continues to tinker with its onboard menu. Starting October 1, business class customers flying on any of the airline's domestic routes with three-cabin service will find there's no longer a free hot meal. Instead, business class customers will be treated with a tasty box lunch. Upgrading to a hot meal, even for a price, will not be an option. As for those in the back of the bus, cold box lunches will be available only for those willing to pay cold cash.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Read Me

Greetings one and all. It's back to school time. For me, it's back in print time.

Check out my special Going Green section in The Washington Post on September 3. It's filled with interesting eco-information and all sorts of ways you can save money on energy bills while reducing your carbon footprint.

In the October issue of National Geographic Traveler, look for my brief on Albania.

And if you are in the mood for a chuckle, check out the Jane Air archives at www.wyndhamworldwide.com/women_on-their_way/jane-air/archives. The most recent post deals with how hotel guests can green their stay. Sense a theme here?