October again, already. And to celebrate the start of my birthday month, which is also the start of our 15th year of continual service, and my (ugh!) looming 60th birthday due to occur near the end of October there’s a lot of special stuff for you this morning. What first?
Would I be self serving if I chose to start with, excuse me, myself.
It is two years since we last held an ‘annual’ fundraiser drive – our PBS style fundraising drives. After some challenges with the administration of the 2013 drive, and then being unhappily silent for part of last year with my broken ankle (yes, I know that saying ‘I have a broken ankle so I can’t do a weekly newsletter’ sounds only slightly better than ‘the dog ate my homework’ but the four surgeries, painkiller narcotics, pain, immobility, and everything associated really had me struggling for a while) and the outcome being I didn’t feel able to fairly ask for a fundraising appeal last year; may I now return to the topic after a two year silence, in the hope, ahem, that you will now choose to be twice as generous!
Long time readers already know the ‘social contract’ between us. I provide all the millions of words of content on the site and blog entirely for free. I send you something over a quarter million words of original content every year, and now we have an extra free service as well, our daily news curation service. If you’ve not yet already visited and not yet already signed up for the daily summary of interesting travel related news items, please be my guest and do so now. Click on the ‘Free Daily Email Update’ tab at the top.
In the ‘good old days’ it was possible to give this all to you because I was generating good income from the advertising on the website, and from the sale of cell phone unlocking services. But times pass and things change. These days, the advertising revenue is less than one tenth what it once was, and with the rise of advertising blockers, that income is expected to fall still further (not that there’s much left for it to drop!). As for cell phone unlocking, the chances are you can now get your phone unlocked for free by your wireless carrier, or maybe you even bought an unlocked phone to start with. My unlocking business ended three years ago.
So, and here’s the other part of our ‘social contract’. I rely upon and need your support, more so now than ever before. Please.
The Travel Insider is just now entering its 15th year of publication – wow, a quarter of my life. That’s close on 750 weekly newsletters, plus probably another 1000 – 1500 feature articles, and, oh, probably the high side of 4 million words of content (about the same as 70 hardback books). Plus several dozen Travel Insider tours, invariably featuring special deals and values (keep reading for more on that!).
Over the years, and over the last year, I’ve offered any number of money saving tips and ideas, I’ve pointed you in the direction of some fun and fascinating gadgets, and warned you off others. I’ve helped hold the airlines’ feet to the fire and keep them hemi-demi-semi accountable (we know they really don’t care, but at least we can force them to pretend they do). And, hopefully, most of all, I’ve given you enjoyable and useful content to read, most Friday mornings.
So what is that worth to you? I like to equate the newsletter value to that of a companion cup of coffee you might choose to buy and drink while reading through the newsletter and associated articles each Friday, and depending on whether that is a basic small drip coffee, or a super-excelsior mega-grande concoction with multiple flavors and sprinkles and whatever else, there’s obviously some value associated.
But here’s the funny thing. We don’t blink twice at paying Starbucks $5 for a coffee that we’ve finished even before we’re done reading the Travel Insider newsletter, but multiply that cost by 50 and then consider sending in a voluntary $250 on an annual basis to The Travel Insider – that’s a heart stopping amount of money (as much as a six-pack of the new Amazon Fire tablets – see below!), and only a very few very special people do that.
Perhaps it would help to think of contributions not on an annual basis, but in more digestible sized amounts every month or quarter, and that is also possible. You can choose to become a ‘voluntary ongoing subscriber’ (and you’re always no more than one click away from unsubscribing whenever you choose to). Or, simply and straightforwardly, send in any modest amount of support as a one-off, right now.
To make it very simple and to minimize the interruption to your morning’s reading please, here are links you can click on to almost immediately/instantly send in whatever level of support you feel appropriate and conveniently within your budget. Most people seem to contribute between $25 and $50, and a sainted few send in over $100, But sometimes it is the more modest sums that mean the most – I recall one year a gentleman who was long-term unemployed, but still sending in a contribution at much greater personal cost/hardship to himself than that experienced by some of the much more generous contributors.
Please, don’t go to any hardship at all. Only help out at a comfortable and convenient level, but please do indeed help out at some level. My bank manager and I would both be very appreciative.
One more comment before we get to the links. Every year, when I start this ‘PBS style’ fundraiser, I have a bunch of people unsubscribe. If you can’t (or simply don’t wish to) send in even a very modest amount of support, that’s okay too. This all truly is free. Everyone is welcome. Don’t feel you need to leave if you’re not paying. Please stay.
Four Ways to Contribute to The Travel Insider
1. Simply click this link now to send in any one-off amount via secure credit card/Paypal payment. Any amount, and any currency – all is welcome!
2. If you’d prefer, email me (or fax to 206 338-3381) your credit card number, expiry, code on back, billing zip code and the amount you’d like to contribute and I’ll process it through Square rather than Paypal. If you’re concerned about security, by all means send the details split over two messages.
3. For ongoing ‘voluntary subscriptions’ please visit this page.
4. Yes, there’s a place for ‘the old fashioned’ way too! Simply mail a check to The Travel Insider, 17321 NE 31st Ct, Redmond WA 98052 – and be sure to enclose your email address so I know who to email and thank.
Our target for this year is 500 subscribers. Please choose to be one of them.
Thank you very much.
And now, after that extended ‘interruption’ (and if you quickly contribute, I can more quickly end the appeal drive!), what else do we have this week? Lots!
You will have received on Monday night the special newsletter about the December Rhine River Christmas Markets Cruise. A $1000 – $1500 saving per person off the Amawaterways cruise fare, plus another $100 shipboard credit from me, plus other benefits and bonuses too, and a low Euro exchange rate to help with your in-country costs make this one heck of a deal, and a lovely itinerary with a great group of fellow Travel Insiders is hopefully the deal clincher to encourage you to join us.
I secured a ten cabin allocation from Amawaterways for this cruise, and already have five of them snatched up. All the people traveling so far are repeat Travel Insider Tourers, and all are people I am delighted to have traveling with me again, making for the kernel of another wonderful group. One lady is now on her sixth Travel Insider tour (and another on her fifth). Not only that, three people are on their second or third Christmas cruise with me – and as for me, this will be my ninth Christmas cruise (and, yes, each one is better and more enjoyable than the one before!).
This really is a marvelous experience, no matter if you celebrate Christmas or not (indeed, if Christmas isn’t a big part of your lives, all the more reason to escape the insincere forced jollity of the ‘holiday season’ back here!).
I hope you can manage to find time between your Thanksgiving and your Christmas/New Year to take a break and treat yourself to this magical marvelous cruise along the fabled Rhine river, a river of myth and legend, and lined with the loveliest of towns and cities, castles and countryside.
Last week’s release of Apple’s latest generation of cell phones went by almost unnoticed by me, but this week’s release of Amazon’s new Fire tablets had me eagerly awaiting the man in the big brown truck on Wednesday. I had first ordered one of the stunningly bargain priced $50 7″ tablets the day they were announced, and then after thinking about it some more, decided I really wanted one of the upgraded 8″ tablets ($150 or $170) and knowing you would be wondering too if you should get the $50 or $150 tablet, I ended up ordering one of each to do side by side testing.
I started to write up my findings, and then realized I first needed to explain some of the confusion about how to evaluate screen quality on tablets, so wrote an explanatory article about that, and then, with that underpinning things, completed an article covering the entire range of Amazon’s tablets. Both articles are at the bottom of tonight’s roundup.
But if you don’t want to read through the entire 6000 words of helpful commentary and advice, the quick executive summary is : The 7″ Fire at $50 is a heart-stoppingly wonderful value, and truly does now transform tablets into disposable throwaway items. Taxi drivers, hotel maids, and flight attendants all know about the countless tablets that travelers forget and leave behind – now it no longer matters if you forget, particularly with Amazon even offering them in six packs for only $250 per set of six.
The 8″ tablet is three times more expensive, but at $150 or $170 is still an extraordinary value. The screen sounds like it is only an inch bigger, but it actually has 36% more screen area and 67% more picture quality on it. You will see an improvement, particularly if watching HD video. If you can afford an extra $100, by all means get it. Otherwise, perhaps get three of the $50 tablets instead!
Both devices make use of Amazon Prime’s wonderful new offline video streaming service, and that, combined with the Micro SD card slot in the tablets to allow you essentially limitless video storage, is perhaps the strongest reason of all to get one of these tablets in addition to whatever other tablet you already have.
And also this week? Please keep reading for :
- Reader Survey Results – Wi-Fi Devices
- Crazy Airline ‘Logic’ for Bumping Passengers
- Sleeper Pods for Coach Class?
- Amtrak Goes Over to the Dark Side
- New Device Captures Free Electricity from the Air Around Us
- Beware the Bahamas Flag of (In)Convenience on Cruise Ships
- Beware the Cruise that Doesn’t Go to the City it Promises
- And Lastly This Week….
Reader Survey Results – Wi-Fi Devices
Last week I asked you how many Wi-Fi connectible devices you typically have with you when staying in hotel rooms. One study had suggested the average number of devices was three per traveler – I thought that to be slightly high. Most people have a Wi-Fi capable cell phone, and many people have either a tablet or a laptop, and some have both. But that explains answers for 0, 1, 2 or 3 devices. To get an average of 3 devices per person, every 0 device answer needs a matching 6 device response, every 1 answer a 5 device response, and every 2 device a 4 device to balance. I struggled to see how that would be possible.
As it turns out, we average 2.5 devices.
We had one intrepid soul who travels with six devices, no-one with more than that (except, on rare occasion, me!), almost ten with nothing, and as you can see, most people had either two or three.
Many thanks to all who participated. Stay tuned for a really fun survey next week.
Crazy Airline ‘Logic’ for Bumping Passengers
I’ve written a bit recently about your rights if bumped off a flight, and also about the levels of compensation volunteers can hope for.
Here’s an article that opens with a bit of a non-story – a suggestion that just because a passenger has a Nobel prize, he should somehow have enhanced rights to travel on flights compared to everyone else. The more interesting part of the story is when it is revealed that the reason he was taken off the plane as an involuntarily bumped passenger is because not enough other people volunteered to accept ‘bribes’ to take other flights, forcing the airline to then do the involuntary bumping.
Okay, perhaps that’s not the most surprising thing either, but the twist in the story is this : The airline (poor old United, seemingly incapable of doing anything right these days) was offering volunteers less money to volunteer than it ended up paying the people it bumped involuntarily!
Where is the sense in that? Wouldn’t it be better to offer the same amount to volunteers, or even slight more, so as to end up with a win-win. Some people would be thrilled at being richly rewarded for volunteering to take a later flight, and other people would be relieved to be on a flight they absolutely had to take.
United neither saved money nor won itself any friends. Another classic own goal by an airline that is all too good at doing such things. No wonder the new United CEO is starting off his tenure with a grand apology tour to employees, saying that previous management had allowed them to become “disengaged, disenchanted and disenfranchised”.
That is all very true, but here’s a newsflash to new CEO Oscar Munoz. While it is true that a fish rots from the head first, United’s problems are not solely the fault of former CEO Jeff Smisek. It is the result of multiple layers of institutional and management indifference, combined with minimal accountability of front-line customer facing staff for their poor service and rudeness. Changing CEOs at United is a bit like changing Presidents of the United States. The line at the Post Office doesn’t get measurably shorter or longer, your passports aren’t processed any faster or slower; the bureaucracy remains disconnected from the executive branch in both cases.
If Munoz sincerely wishes to change this, he needs to aggressively weed out non-performers at every level of United, and to make all employees accountable. Apologies are good, but actions are better.
Sleeper Pods for Coach Class?
Perhaps I’m the wrong person to write about this concept. I’ve never found lie-flat sleeper bed seats to be as comfortable as the reclining first class seats they replaced. Often they are too short, many are on a slight angle so that you keep slipping down while in flight, and those that don’t have you slipping down to your toes seem to be even worse, with your feet elevated above your head. These days I usually choose to not recline them all the way, preferring a slight upward tilt.
Anyway, a new Airbus patent filing shows a possible design for squeezing notionally coach class passengers into sleeping pods. The pods are tiny – about 31″ wide and 31″ high, and would be stacked three high. They could not fit in narrow body planes, but they would in wide-body planes.
Narrow sleeping compartments stacked three high is not out of the ordinary for, eg, crew accommodation on a submarine, but whereas normal bunks have access on a ‘long’ side and a curtain on that side rather than a hard wall, it seems from this patent that you’d have to somehow crawl/wriggle in and out of these from the tail end of each one and be surrounded by rigid sides. Claustrophobia, anyone?
Not only would you sleep in these pods, you’d also be given your food and drinks in them, too (but with no way to sit up to eat/drink). Oh, inside each pod would not only be an air vent and light, but also a video camera so the flight crew can ‘monitor you’ during the flight.
Yes, I’ll be rushing to try one of those out. Not! Give me a ‘nice’ middle seat any day! Or, perhaps, this.
Amtrak Goes Over to the Dark Side
Amtrak’s management committed an appalling blunder this week. They looked at the airlines, and noticed how the airlines have been increasingly charging fees for passengers’ luggage. And so they decided they would do the same – ‘if it is good enough for the airlines, there’s no reason we can’t do it too’ is presumably what they thought.
But in instituting baggage fees for Amtrak travel, Amtrak totally fails to appreciate that its major strength to many patrons is that it is not like an airline. If it starts to ape airline (mis)behavior, it will lose those people who avoid the airlines and seek out an alternative. They’ll start driving instead, or will simply cut their discretionary travel still further back.
There’s also the big difference – on Amtrak, you’re probably humping your own bags on and off the train. At least most airlines aren’t yet charging for carry-ons.
New Device Captures Free Electricity from the Air Around Us
Here’s an interesting article about a device that isn’t as revolutionary as it sounds, and rather than delighting us all at the thought of something for free, should horrify and concern us.
The device uses a ‘rectenna’ – a concept first perfected 50 years ago – a radio antenna that converts the radio waves it receives into DC power. Such things are already commonplace – the RFID chip you have built in to your passport or perhaps your company ID badge or your credit card uses one too.
Normally, rectennas need to either be fairly large in order to ‘suck in’ enough radio energy to be useful, or else need to be ‘excited’ by a specific beam of radio energy directed at them. But this new device is compact and works pretty much anywhere and everywhere, generating about 100 microwatts of power.
Before you get excited at the thought of something for nothing, do I need to explain that 100 microwatts is not a lot of power? It would take 11.6 days of operation for this device to generate enough power to illuminate a 100 W light bulb for one second.
But, think also of this – this small credit card sized device is drawing (barely) measurable power from the continual presence of radio waves all around us, all the time. If it can harvest 100 microwatts from a couple of square inches of antenna, how much power is our body absorbing, every second of every day, every where we are?
Consider also the steady increase in frequency of these radio emissions, from low frequency long wave radiation (eg AM radio around 1 MHz) to higher frequency/higher energy (FM around 100 MHz) to early cell phones (around 1 GHz) and now to modern cell phones and Wi-Fi (2 – 5 GHz) and new products appearing even higher up the energy spectrum (10+ GHz).
Some people worry about living close to cell phone towers, and some people claim that some studies support their concerns by showing clusters of unusual cancer outbreaks around cell phone towers or associated with heavy cell phone use. But we’re all now trapped, wherever we go, by omnipresent Wi-Fi (see the reader survey above, for example – we typically have three Wi-Fi devices close to us much of the time, and remember they are transmitting as well as receiving radio energy) and wireless signals.
There’s now so much of these radio waves and so concentrated – quite literally, bouncing off the walls – that we can start to harvest the energy from them. Is this really something we should feel good about?
Beware the Bahamas Flag of (In)Convenience on Cruise Ships
If you have a dispute with a cruise line, you’re only slightly better off than if you have a dispute with an airline. Most airline disputes require you to file in federal court rather than in a local district court, a more costly and complex process (although there’s no apparent reason why that should be so, even though it seems to be the case).
At least with a cruise line, you’re not stuck in federal court, although the cruise lines of course attempt to require you to file such cases in a location of their choosing – usually Miami, sometimes Los Angeles (Princess) or even Seattle (Holland America Line).
But a retired Supreme Court Justice in the Bahamas is reported as suggesting that if a cruise ship has a Bahamian registration, then a condition of that registration should require passengers to have cases tried, by arbitration, in the Bahamas. He says that would bring in considerable business for the Bahamas (and no-one can deny the accuracy of that statement!).
Would this be a plus or minus for us as passengers? Probably a minus, although it is unclear if arbitration in the Bahamas would require personal attendance or if it could be conducted, as is commonly the case in the US, by correspondence rather than in person. But whether a Bahamian arbitrator, while possibly striving to be fair, would also be as sensitive to passenger service issues and compensation entitlements as a jury in the US might be – well, that’s another story entirely, isn’t it.
More details here.
Beware the Cruise that Doesn’t Go to the City it Promises
The cruise industry is booming, and in some locations, the local ports are slow to build out their infrastructure to respond to the influx of cruise ships.
One astonishing example of this is Sydney, with an enormous expansive and magnificent harbor, but insufficient cruise ship facilities. All available facilities are now booked years in advance, and cruise lines who wish to add additional port calls in Sydney are being forced to relocate to ‘nearby’ alternate harbors. Such as Wollongong and Newcastle.
We’re used to airlines that fly to ‘nearby’ airports close to the cities they claim to fly to, and so this development would also seem like no big deal.
Well, no big deal until you decide to travel into Sydney from either location – respectively 95 minutes or more to the south and 5+ hours to the north. Ooops.
I wonder how much Uber charges for that ride?
High Joining Fee for Membership in the Mile High Club
Interesting news this week about the flight attendant working for an unnamed Middle Eastern carrier who supplemented her regular earnings with another $2000 on most long haul flights by, ahem, initiating passengers into the Mile High Club.
The story suggests she collected over $1 million in ‘membership fees’ before being caught out. The airline apparently sacked her, although it seems very clear that none of the passengers she admitted to the club complained.
And Lastly This Week….
The Europeans are renowned for having a more relaxed attitude to attire (or lack thereof) on their beaches. But apparently, not so much when it comes to their fountains. As these six tourists found out in Rome last week.
What better way to end a newsletter than with a
joke true story involving a Scotsman, an airplane, and a toilet.
The Scotsman (sobriety state unknown) is said to have tried to leave his KLM flight, via the emergency exit, and while the plane was flying at 30,000 ft. He says that he was trying to go to the toilet and mistook the emergency exit for the toilet – a mistake which adds an entire new meaning to the term ‘long drop’.
Finally, a reminder and repeated request, if I may. If my plea at the top of the newsletter didn’t move you, please think again now that you’ve made your way to the bottom and consider becoming a Travel Insider Supporter. A quick click here and you’re only a minute or two away from achieving that worthy deed, and your help would be truly appreciated. Thank you.
Until next week, please enjoy safe travels