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Monday, April 27, 2009

EU Advises Against Travel to the US

In a case of what's good for the goose is good for the gander, the European Union has announced a travel advisory against visits to the United States.

Today, the EU health commissioner urged Europeans to postpone nonessential travel to the United States and to Mexico due to the swine flu outbreak. The move is sure to raise some hackles among those in the U.S. travel industry, one that is already suffering a huge decline from the European market thanks to unfavorable exchange rates and the worldwide economic crisis.

The United States State Department frequently issues travel advisories or warnings (at http://travel.state.gov) that are questioned by the countries affected. Sometimes the argument is that an advisory is political in nature, while at other times foreign governments argue the warnings are unneccessary, or are issued about matters that are confined to a small region. Methinks that the EU, by lumping the United States in with Mexico, is going to get a complaint or two from this side of the pond.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum XI

US Airways will begin charging an extra five dollars a bag for passengers who don’t go on-line to check-in and prepay for checked luggage. The fee will be in addition to the $15 for the first checked bag and $25 for the second that US Airways already charges. The extra per bag fee will be assessed to passengers who pay to check their bags at the airport beginning July 9.

Perhaps the new fee is being put into place to make up for the revenue lost from US Airways’ ill-advised foray into charging for non-alcoholic beverages. On March 1, the airline dropped its unpopular two dollar charge for soft drinks and one dollar charge for coffee and tea. As no other airline had copied the idea, US Airways realized that the fees had become a competitive disadvantage.

Not so incidentally, last week, the carrier posted a first-quarter net loss of $103 million, or 90 cents a share.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Hotel Rates Plummeting in the Big Apple

New York may still be the most expensive place in the country to stay overnight, but it's getting cheaper. Hotel prices in the Big Apple have been consistently dropping for the last six months. According to PKF Consulting, average room rates in Manhattan dropped 11.5 percent in January from the year before, while occupancy for the same month was down 16 percent. Anecdotal evidence suggests rates and occupancy are down for February and March as well.

With business travel slowing, international visitors staying away, and 38 new properties opening in Manhattan this year, the downward spiral is likely to continue.

Lodging Development Group's 2009 Manhattan Lodging Development Report notes that there are "17 properties comprising 3,074 rooms that are now in permitting or the final states of entitlement." This new supply is in addition to the 12 properties with 1,732 rooms that came on the market in 2008. Interestingly, the bulk of those hotels are midprice and limited-service brands like Hampton Inns & Suites, Four Points by Sheraton, and Hilton Garden Inn.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Rental Rants

If you plan to rent a car during your next trip, there are certain cities where renting off-airport will save you big bucks. That's because, in addition to federal and state sales taxes, many municipal governments also charge fees at airport car rental outlets to fund local development projects like stadiums or convention centers. And most airports charge rental agencies a concession fee, which is then passed along to the consumer.

According to the National Business Travel Association, the places where airport taxes and fees add the most to the car rental bill are Cleveland, Dallas and Phoenix. Cleveland’s airport charges add up to 27.08%. In Dallas, the number is 24.77%, while in Phoenix, it's 24.42%. Chicago, at 23.59%, and Charlotte, at 21.17% round out the top five. In terms of the airports where fees are lowest, St. Louis comes out on top at 7.83%. Detroit is second lowest at 8%, while Honolulu is third at 8.08%. Both Fort Lauderdale and Fort Myers in Florida come in fourth, at 9.17%.

So what's a consumer to do? Consider renting elsewhere, particularly if you are in town for several days. Take a shuttle, public transportation, or a taxi to your hotel and then rent a car from a central location. Some hotels actually have car rental agencies located in the lobby. If your hotel is not convenient to a rental outlet, consider working with Enterprise or other companies that are willing to pick you up and drive you to their rental offices for free.

If you are only in town for a day or two, do weigh the inconvenience, the extra time, and the cost of additional transportation to get to another location against the cost of the ancillary rental fees charged at the airport.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum VIII

A new year, a new fee. US Airways, the only airline that serves up a fee with its soft drinks, is now charging $7 for a blanket and a pillow. Yes, US Airways has managed to become the only U.S. carrier to charge for the two things that miff passengers the most--soft drinks and blankets. Now it should be noted that, among the country's major carriers, JetBlue is also charging for blankets and pillows. But at least JetBlue serves its soft drinks for free. Plus, that airline gives its passengers access to a free in-flight satellite television system.

I wonder if it's any coincidence that US Airways quietly announced the new fee just days before its heroic Flight 1549 crew was to make its victory lap around the media. After all, what grinch is going to say bad things about the airline that is providing us with the feel-good story of the year? Still, despite having a CEO who keeps insisting that passengers just love these fees, I can't help feeling that US Airways is sullying its reputation by constantly being at the forefront of the in-flight fee fiesta.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Laura Does The LA Times

With Valentine's Day coming up, LA Times reporter Hugo Martin called to get my thoughts on romantic places to propose. See the results at http://travel.latimes.com/articles/la-trw-propose5-2009feb05.