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Nov 022012
 

Happy first anniversary to the 787, now marking one full year in commercial service with ANA.

Good morning

I hope you had an abundance of treats and very few tricks on Wednesday night.  Of course, many readers suffered a cruel trick at the hand of Mother Nature earlier in the week – either as a result of living in Sandy’s path, or as a result of having travel plans disrupted due to airport closures and flight cancellations.

One reader, after giving interesting updates during the week about life in his NYC apartment, being forced to drink water stored in the bath and climb the stairs due to the elevator being out, eventually found it all too much.  I asked him, with a genuine level of perplexedness, on Thursday morning, why he was choosing to tough it out/rough it out, when I knew he had more comfortable options open to him.  His answer was rather amusing

Well, I wouldn’t particularly mind it; as a preparedness geek [he means me], you can appreciate the satisfaction of thriving in adversity.  But as it happens, I’m writing to you from a comfy seat in a G200 headed to Rancho la Puerta in northwestern Mexico.

So, for those of you who don’t have a Gulfstream G200 at your beck and call, and in particular, those of you who didn’t have the foresight to fill up your bathtub with emergency water, I do hope things return quickly back to normal for you.

2012 Annual Fundraising Drive – Week 3 Report

Our 2012 Annual Fundraising Campaign is moving appreciably closer to its target of 545 Supporters.  Thank you very much to all 178 of you who added your support during this last week, bringing us now up to a total of 287 supporters.  We are happily now more than halfway to our target, and also are getting closer to parity with last year (we were at 310 supporters at the end of the third week last year).

In particular, we had more Super Supporters (people contributing three figure sums) this week, namely :

Ken W, James P, Morris W, Gregg A, Susan W, Paul F, Bob R, Dudley S, John M, Lynn M, Mike T and Rudy M.

Several people have written very gracious notes apologizing for being ‘late’ sending in their support.  That is absolutely not something that requires anything like an apology at all!

If you are like me with the newsletters we subscribe to, you probably don’t read every newsletter, every week (as best I can tell, only about 40% of these newsletters are read each week), and so quite likely you missed the first week or two’s mention.  Plus, if you’re again like me, you might be ever so slightly a procrastinator, and haven’t yet got around to responding.

What really counts is your actual decision to help support The Travel Insider, not when you choose to do so.  If it makes you feel better, a decision to help out today is a decision made well in advance of 98% of all other readers, so you’re still very much at the front of the pack.

Best of all, it only takes you a couple of minutes to make good on the decision to assist.  Please interrupt your reading of the newsletter and now simply click on over to How to Support the Travel Insider and respond with an instant online credit card type payment; either a single one-time payment or a decision to start sending in automatic help every month or quarter.  If you prefer, you can of course send in a check the ‘old fashioned’ way too.

I mentioned, a couple of weeks ago, that it might be a thought to redirect some of the money that might otherwise go to political support, and gift it to The Travel Insider instead.  I read earlier this week that both Presidential campaigns are now experiencing a ‘problem’ with unspent money and no prime advertising opportunities available for them to spend the money in the key battleground states, which would seem to further underscore the diminished need to send in last minute support to your preferred candidate, and hopefully encourage you to send in a similar amount here.

There is actually a similar paradox as between voting and supporting The Travel Insider.  I know that my vote, in reality, doesn’t count at all.  It doesn’t count because what am I, one person in 300 million – how can I influence the outcome of the election?  And I also know my vote doesn’t count because my state is firmly in the definitely supporting Obama category; if I were to vote for Obama, it would be voting for a pre-ordained outcome, and if I were to vote for Romney, my vote would be overwhelmed by the preponderance of Obama votes.  Indeed, a report on Thursday indicated that the only people with votes that actually matter are the 30% of people in the ‘swing states’.  The other 70% of us matter little.

But – here’s the thing.  I’m still going to vote, and you probably are too, and somehow, with everything all stirred together in the messy magic of democracy, we end up with a more or less popularly elected government and president.  Our individual votes matter little, but in the aggregate, they do.

It is the same with the Travel Insider.  You and I both know that your contribution – whether $5 or $500, by itself does not guarantee the future of The Travel Insider.  But the thing is, if you choose to contribute, no matter at which end of the scale, somehow in total, the same magical process occurs as with voting, and combined with every other Supporter’s help, I end up being able to survive another year.

So my request to you is to please help and contribute, not just to the magic of our political process next Tuesday, but to the magic of The Travel Insider, today, too.  Please give any amount that is comfortable and convenient for you, and please realize that in conjunction with your fellow Travel Insider readers, you can and will make a meaningful difference.

Don’t Forget the Supporter Bribe!

Oh yes, quite probably the reason for a rush of $15 contributions in the last week was due to the very kind offer from UsingMiles.com.  If you send in $15 or more of support in our Fundraising drive this year, they will give you a lifetime premium membership to their service (normally $30 every year, but yours for life for free).

I’m hearing back from people who took advantage of this special deal over the last week, and they seem uniformly delighted with the service and the support provided by the people there.  If nothing else, try out their free service, which has many of the same features as the premium service.

And now, please read on for lots more, including four following articles about the very exciting and impactful launch of new Google Nexus tablets and smartphones.  Plus, immediately below, there are items on :

  • Naughty Air France
  • World’s Longest Nonstop Flights Become a Bit Shorter
  • Happy Anniversary, 787
  • Heathrow Becoming More Multi-National
  • Which Airline Fees are Worth the Money?
  • A Surprise $7 Fee at a Doubletree
  • (Pedi)cab Fares Gone Berserk
  • The Passing of a Taxi Icon?
  • E-Readers Shortly to Become Obsolete?
  • Apple’s Pricing Problems
  • The Airport Security Guessing Game
  • And Lastly This Week….

Naughty Air France

The Department of Transportation announced an $85,000 fine levied against Air France, due to their violating rules regarding how fares are described and advertised, and in particular, some obfuscation whereby the airline described its own for profit fees as being taxes.

Details here.

One has to wonder whether these are innocent mistakes by the airlines, or deliberate attempts at dishonesty.  Which do you think?

World’s Longest Nonstop Flights Become a Bit Shorter

The longest regularly scheduled nonstop passenger flights are currently operated by Singapore Airlines, between Singapore and Newark, a distance of about 8,300 nautical miles.  The second longest flight is also an SQ flight, between Singapore and Los Angeles (7,400 nm).

As part of its purchase of additional A380s, Singapore Airlines will be trading in the ultra-long range A340-500 planes used on these routes, and will therefore be discontinuing them.  SQ will still offer service between its Singapore hub and the US, where it will continue to offer service at JFK, LAX, IAH and SFO; but all these flights will have a stop somewhere between the US and Singapore; generally in Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Frankfurt or Moscow.

When the LAX and EWR nonstop flights end, the new longest nonstop flight will be that operated by Qantas between Dallas and Sydney (7,400 nm) and Delta’s service between Atlanta and Johannesburg (7,300 nm).

The reduction of stage length and addition of extra stops seems counter-intuitive.  Progress is a funny thing, isn’t it.

Happy Anniversary, 787

Thursday marked the one year anniversary of Boeing’s ‘Plastic Fantastic’ 787 entering commercial service, which it did with ANA in Japan on 1 November 2011.

During the year, ANA has added 15 more planes to its 787 fleet, and has in total operated 8,409 commercial flights with its 787s.  99.3% of the flights actually operated as scheduled (compared to ANA’s fleetwide average of 98.8%), and the flights have been more full than other ANA flights (73.2% compared to 66.4%).

98% of people who flew on an ANA 787 said they would like to fly on a 787 again.

More details here.

While I’m still a bit nervous at the thought of taking a 787 on an extended over the water flight myself, there’s no denying that the plane’s first year has been a success and that most of the disclosed problems that have occurred have been engine rather than plane related.

Heathrow Becoming More Multi-National

For a long time now Heathrow (as well as other airports in Britain) have been owned by a company that until recently called itself BAA, and before that, British Airports Authority.  But, notwithstanding the name, the company is actually essentially Spanish, with its largest shareholder being Spain’s Ferrovial Group.  Other shareholdings are owned by the Government of Singapore and the Quebec public pension fund.

Heathrow is now selling 20% of itself to Qatar Holdings (subject to government approval) and another 10% to the China Investment Corp.

But will that mean fewer delays?  Almost certainly not – Heathrow’s problems are unrelated to its ownership, but instead are a result of government restrictions on its desire to add another runway.

Which Airline Fees are Worth the Money?

Here’s a disappointing and simplistic article in USA Today which claims to address the relevant question of which airline fees are worth the money they cost.

It is clear the article is a nonsense when it opens up with a quote from someone who says ‘every extra is worth it’.

So which extras actually are worth the money?  Even the question itself is poorly phrased.  Some fees can’t be avoided (particularly if you are flying Spirit, or if you’re checking a bag), no matter if they are high value or low value.

It does touch on one interesting issue, however.  While the airlines bemoan the lack of passengers paying for their onboard Wi-Fi services, there’s a reason for that.  For those of us back in coach class, the cramped seating has made it almost impossible to deploy and use a regular laptop sized computer any more.  The convenience of Wi-Fi access is balanced by the inconvenience of trying to use our computers.

In related fee news, this article says that world-wide, airlines will earn $36.1 billion in fee revenue.  But not all that revenue is in the form of new fees we’re struggling to accept as fair and reasonable.

In the US, for example, half the ‘fee’ income airlines earn and report comes from selling frequent flier miles to their partners.  There is an interesting pie chart in the article showing the different categories of where US airlines get their fee income.

A Surprise $7 Fee at a Doubletree

Talking about fees, I got an email from reader Kora, who writes

I am currently at a Doubletree hotel in Sacramento, CA and was advised by a fellow conventioneer, that he was charged $7 for a package to be sent to the hotel, material that he needs to be a presenter here.  No, it was not delivered to the room, just handed over at the registration; no it was not a big package either.  Have you heard other hotels to be charging fees of this nature?

This is in my opinion, just another onerous fee – we need to protest such gouging. Just thought you might want to address such a situation.

I wrote back to her

 Yes, I have heard about this outrageous fee before, but I didn’t realize it would be as much as $7, nor did I realize it didn’t include the ‘cost’ of it being sent up to one’s room – but perhaps it is a blessing that it wasn’t, because that way, at least one doesn’t have to also pay the bell boy more for the delivery service!

I’d refuse to pay it, pointing out that the fee was not disclosed prior to it being incurred, and I bet the hotel staff would give in.  I’d ask to speak to the General Manager if they didn’t quickly reverse out the charge, and express my outrage, and tell him that I was going to post a zero star review on Trip Advisor – see if that maybe causes him to change his mind.

A  lot of these fees are ‘try-on’ fees.  If you complain, they get removed faster than you’d think possible, although the front desk staff show no hint of embarrassment at having tried to rip one off so severely.

The other point is that if everyone complains, they stop trying to charge these fees.  If only a few people weakly complain then capitulate, the fees become rigidly ensconced in place; and in the future, other guests are told ‘Don’t be unreasonable, no-one else ever complains’.

She took me up on my advice, and replied

Well the hotel quickly retreated for me personally – however I did not have a package delivered.  I did inform the manager, that there was a huge issue of non-disclosure, and I told all the other fellow conventioneers to complain.

Beyond complaining on an individual basis, and to the Hilton Corporation (which I did, so far no reply from them) do you have any other suggestions, how to fight such outrageous charges in general?

My further reply to her, and of course to you too :

I’m delighted that, as expected, the hotel quickly backed down from that fee.

There’s not really anything much more that can be done, as an individual, other than to complain vociferously when encountering such fees, and doubly so of course when they are ‘ambush’ type fees – charges for things that used to be completely for free and which, on the face of it, should still be free today.

I sense however you were at some type of group/convention.  If this hotel was an official convention hotel, you should also complain to the convention managers.  It is perfectly acceptable for convention managers to negotiate, line item by line item, every last little (and big!) fee that may be imposed or waived on their attendees, and as part of their upfront negotiation they usually have a fair amount of power to get fees waived.

The people managing this convention were a bit lazy not to have done a better job of quality controlling the event and all the obscured ‘below the line’ costs associated with participating in it.  Sometimes convention planners only really care about their own costs and the ‘visible’ costs to attendees, other times they are more conscientious and try to do a better job for attendees as well as for themselves.

The same ability to negotiate also applies if you are a corporate traveler and have a ‘real’ corporate rate type contract with a hotel chain.  Your travel manager should include such things as part of their annual rate negotiation process; where the objective should be to zero out as many of the fees, and to include as many of the optional extras as possible.

These days negotiating hotel rates (or air fares too) has become a great deal more than just asking for a 20% discount off the published fares or whatever.

Due to the suppliers coming up with ever longer lists of ever more expensive fees, travel managers need to diligently work through the entire list of fees and get as many as possible zeroed out.

(Pedi)cab Fares Gone Berserk

There are more ways to get around big cities these days than just in a traditional taxi.  When I was in Beijing last month, I enjoyed a ride on the back of an open battery powered tricycle – by being able to drive along the service lanes (and even on the footpath) the journey time was much less than the time a regular taxi would have taken, and the experience in the fresh air was invigorating and fun.  Even better, the battery powered tricycle was silent and non-polluting (almost all motorbicycles and tricycles in Beijing these days are electric rather than gasoline powered).

When in Beijing, I negotiated a fee prior to accepting the ride (there was no meter on the tricycle, of course).  But alternative (and typically non-metered) transportation services in some cities aren’t quite so straightforward when it comes to fares; and I’m not talking about third world corrupt cities, but New York City.

Here’s an article reporting about how a 12 minute pedicab ride in NYC cost a family $442.  I guess I’m still innocent enough to have an overwhelming sense of outrage at such an appalling rip off.

Unsurprisingly, many pedicab drivers are opposing new city regulations which would cause the fare for such a journey to drop down to about $20.  Read the article and consider yourself forewarned.

The Passing of a Taxi Icon?

Perhaps underscoring the shift from traditional taxis for central city transportation services, the company that has been making London’s iconic black cabs since 1948 has gone broke and is in ‘administration’ – Britain’s equivalent of Chapter 7/11.

This is an outcome that is far from unanticipated, but still very sad to see.  Will the company be saved?  Here’s the latest update I could find about its chances, and here’s an interesting video report.

To my mind, the London black cab design gives the most practical solution and the most comfortable ride of any taxi anywhere in the world, for both passengers and drivers alike.

Although the most modern models have been plagued with reliability problems, the longevity of some of the earlier models is legendary, with cabs running up many hundreds of thousands of miles of heavy use with very few problems (the engines are typically good for half a million miles or more), and being fastidiously maintained in and out to look as new as the day they were driven off the lot.

Surprisingly few cabs have been sold to individuals, although they can be purchased by anyone and used for any purpose.  Here’s one person’s take on the joys of owning a London cab as a personal vehicle.

More on Destination Marketing

I regularly point out the nonsense that passes as ‘destination marketing’ by tourist boards around the world (most recently here when I express dismay at the idiocy represented by branding Suffolk as ‘The Curious County’ in England).

Here’s a well written article that makes similar and additional points to those I’ve touched on in the past, this time using the example of South Korea to illustrate its concepts.

E-Readers Shortly to Become Obsolete?

Here’s an interesting article that points to the collapse in eInk type screen sales.  The eInk screens are the black and white screens that used to be featured in original eReaders, before more fully featured tablet devices with color screens started to displace less versatile devices that could ‘only’ read eBooks, and only in black and white.

It is certainly true that the eReader market has evolved rapidly.  The first Kindle went on sale exactly five years ago, and was a clunky eInk device, priced at $399.  Today, eInk type readers can be had for as little as $69, and a full featured color tablet is yours for $199.

This is of course making huge changes to the mix of products that are being sold as eReaders, and the dedicated eReading device does indeed seem to be something that one day will seem as quaint as a phone which can only make phone calls.

With one exception.  If eReaders today cost $70 or less, and eBooks cost anything up to $20, with 30% and greater margins to the retail companies selling them (eg Amazon and Barnes & Noble) how long will it be before entry level eReaders are given away for free?  Perhaps deals like ‘Buy the entire seven volume collectors special edition Harry Potter set and get a free Hogwarts eReader included’.

Apple’s Pricing Problems

I compare Apple’s iPad mini to the Google Nexus 7 in this article, and point out that in some configurations, the equivalent iPad mini unit costs more than twice as much as the same Nexus 7 device.

Now you can argue about the relative merits of the two units as much as you like, but when you consider that smaller tablets are a price sensitive market to start with, the stark reality is that few people will pay twice as much money for an Apple branded product as they would for a comparable non-Apple product.

The solution, for Apple, might seem obvious.  Drop its iPad mini price.  But, alas, it can’t do that, without a range of other flow-on problems arising.

Apple already has a price floor below which it should not go.  The least expensive 16GB iPad mini, at $329, is already uncomfortably close in price to a 32GB iPod Touch, with only a 4″ screen, and a $299 price.  If the iPad mini is priced much lower than it is, it will start eating in to its iPod Touch sales.

There’s another problem, too.  It is already being estimated that about half the iPad mini sales will be to people who would have otherwise bought a full sized iPad.  If the iPad mini drops much lower in price, then Apple will be scoring own goals, and will be losing out even more on profitable iPad 4 sales to price sensitive people who choose to buy a lower priced and less profitable iPad mini instead.

But, if Apple keeps its price high, people will buy Nexus 7 devices (and other competing 7″ tablets too) for massively less money than the overpriced iPad mini.

There’s no easy solution for Apple to adopt in response to this problem, other than to lower its iPod Touch and iPad 4 pricing too.

Perhaps this is really why Apple was reluctant to add a 7″ screen type device to its product line-up.  There is just not a win-win product feature/price point position for it, due to the way Apple has its products currently ranged along the price/features chart.

This is one of the reasons why we feel the gloss is permanently being lost from Apple.  Sure, it had a well deserved ride, pretty much from its initial iPhone launch in mid 2007 until late last year (the $199 Kindle Fire was probably the ‘beginning of the end’), and my guess is we’ll see Apple drop from its sky high stock price and financial performance.

Here’s an interesting related article which points out the outrageous rip-off that is the $100 upcharge Apple levies to add extra memory to an iPad.  The cost of the extra memory, to go from 16GB to 32GB, or from 32GB to 64GB, is estimated to be $15 or $33.50 respectively.

That leaves Apple with an 85% or 65% profit margin on its $100 upcharge.

There’s only one way Apple’s pricing and profitability can go.  Hint :  It’s not up.

The Airport Security Guessing Game

At some airports you can take a bottle of duty free wine onto a plane but not an unopened bottle of water, even though both were purchased in the secure part of the airport.

This absurdity is one of several pointed out in an excellent article that, while very good, doesn’t really get aggressive at questioning the TSA’s standard response when confronted with inconsistent idiocies, which is ‘We deliberately vary our security procedures so as to keep the bad guys guessing’.

This is a nonsense response, but usually accepted without question by most reporters.  Why is it nonsense?  Because if there is a vulnerability, then surely the TSA should be testing for that vulnerability all the time.  On the other hand, if a particular procedure is not needed, why do it at all?

And Lastly This Week….

Political correctness now comes to ….. passports?  If you have a relatively modern US passport, you’ll know the pages have lightly screened images of instantly recognizable US icons, ranging from the Statue of Liberty to Mt Rushmore to a steam loco to farmers in the field.

Canada has now decided to copy this concept, but its proposed images are attracting a firestorm of criticism as not being sufficiently diverse.  Read this story and weep at the serious infection of political correctness being suffered by our northern neighbors.

Even more surprising – the vague background images seem to be attracting more controversy than a related feature of the new passports – the cost of a passport is increasing from C$87 up to either C$120 or C$160 (for either a five or ten year passport).  That is some expensive printing.

New Zealand in general, and Air New Zealand in particular, continues to dine out on its association with the Lord of the Rings movies, and most recently, The Hobbit.

Air NZ has also created some distinctive safety videos over the last few years – most notably, one featuring staff members totally nude, other than for painted on uniforms (I wonder how that works for the men…..).

Here’s Air NZ’s latest safety video.  Sorry, no nude staff members, but nonetheless, definitely distinctive.

And, to finally close off this week’s roundup, please spare a thought not just for what you’ve been reading, but for the fact that you’ve been able to do so.  If you read the newsletter (4550 words) and the four other articles (another 2600 words) in full, then at an average reading speed of 200 – 250 words/minute you’ll probably spend – well, way more than half an hour; you’ll probably run out of time first!  And if you click over to some of the linked articles, your experience is enrichened still further.

If you go to the movies, you pay $10 for a ticket, maybe more to drive there, park, buy popcorn and a drink, arrange a babysitter, and so on.  Heck, even if you equate the value of your weekly Travel Insider to no more than a tub of popcorn, that’s still a $5/week value, isn’t it.  Or the same as a cup of coffee – $2.50+.  Or a single issue of USA Today – $1.50, which still equates to $78/year!

Bottom line, and it is, alas, all about the bottom line.  I need your financial help so as to keep The Travel Insider coming to you each week, the same into the future as it has been for 11+ years into the past.  So, whether you have one of these extraordinary credit cards, or a more normal one, please become a Travel Insider Supporter – it takes no more than a couple of minutes, right now, to click the link and send a modest contribution along.

Many and most sincere thanks for doing so.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels

 

 

David.

 

 

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