Weekly Roundup, Friday 5 February 2016

Butter wouldn't melt in Sophie's mouth (but only because it would be gulped down very quickly!).
Butter wouldn’t melt in Sophie’s mouth (but only because it would be gulped down very quickly!).

Good morning

I nearly had to say ‘the dog ate my homework’ – my lovely German Shepherd, Sophie, shifted at my feet under the desk a short while ago and in doing so, caused the power plug that runs to my computer to come out of the wall.  Ooops!  But as good fortune would have it, I’d backed up mere minutes before.

I use a laptop as my main computer, and I keep the battery out of it while it is connected to the mains power at home.  Even the sophisticated modern Dell laptop I have, and its ‘enhanced life’ battery still seems to cause the battery’s life to steadily degrade if left permanently in the laptop and with a charger feeding in to it.  That is a nuisance – the infrequent times I need the battery and as much life as possible, I see less battery life every time, and so with the latest battery, I only plug it in prior to traveling somewhere.

But that does render me vulnerable to the dog either treading on the switch on the power strip and turning it off, or causing the plug to be pulled out of the wall entirely.  A small price to pay for a lovely pet, perhaps.

Last week saw four more people choose to come on our New Zealand tour this coming October, and another gentleman has indicated he’ll be joining us for the French river cruise in the Bordeaux region in July.

If you had to choose only one of the two events, which should you choose?  They’re both set in beautiful parts of the world, and in respectively wonderful times of the year, but are also so different that probably you immediately know which is the better choice for you.  And if the choice proves too difficult, you could also be like at least one person and do both!

We are currently offering generous discounts of up to about $1000 per person on the Bordeaux cruise; but these discounts end at the end of February.  We hope they might be extended, but at this stage, the official ‘word’ from Amawaterways is they will end at that time.  So if you’ve been thinking about this lovely cruise, please do get your paperwork in place to qualify for the $1000 of discounts (discounted cruise rate, on-board credits, gratuities included, and some other exclusive Travel Insider perks) before they go away.

As for the New Zealand tour, the constraint there currently is getting good hotel rooms in Napier for the Food and Wine Classic Festival.  I’ve got ten hotel rooms set aside, and seven already have names penciled in against them, so please do let me know as soon as you can about your plans to come down for this wonderful tour of my home country.

Also this week, a review of an updated series of travel books from publisher DK (formerly known as Dorling Kindersley).  Is there still any reason to have an old fashioned travel book with all the electronic tools at our disposal?  The answer is in the article after this week’s roundup.

And now, please continue reading for :

  • American Airlines Outlooks No More Airfare Rises This Year
  • When Competition is a Good Thing
  • More Good Competition
  • Our New Frenemy Blesses Europe with its Airplane Order
  • Boeing’s 737 MAX Program Ahead of Schedule
  • Canada :  Syrian Refugees, Yes; British Tourists, No
  • Cruise Line Pricing Policies – What’s Old is New Again
  • SS United States to be Restored and Returned to Service
  • And Lastly This Week….

American Airlines Outlooks No More Airfare Rises This Year

Expressing dismay, AA’s President Scott Kirby said he doubted there would be any increases in fares for the balance of this year, due to ‘continuing US fare wars and a strong dollar that’s damping demand abroad’.

Ummm – about those fare wars.  Haven’t seen much of them up here in Seattle!  I did see a system-wide airfare increase get accepted with unsightly haste, but, Scott, point me to the fare wars.

It is true that the US has become a more expensive destination to visit due to the stronger US dollar, but does anyone really believe that ten dollars on an airfare makes any difference to a person’s choice of where to travel to (especially for business purposes) when their total travel budget is perhaps $5000?

Surely the real reason there are unlikely to be fare increases is due to AA’s extraordinary profitability at present, thanks to the collapse in jet fuel costs (down 40% from the already lowered levels of a year ago) and the high fares currently in place.

When Competition is a Good Thing

Barely a week ago, Qatar Airways announced plans to start nonstop flights between its hub in Doha and Auckland, New Zealand, a flight which would become the longest in the world.  The exact details aren’t yet confirmed, and given the mercurial nature of their CEO, Akbar Al Baker, it is always wise to wait until ‘the fat lady sings’ before considering Qatar’s plans to be actual realities.  Here’s one of the many articles that appeared after the airline’s comments, including some interesting statistics on current lengthy nonstop flights.

Barely a couple of days later, arch-rival Emirates says that it too will start nonstop service between Auckland and its hub in Dubai.  And rather than being a bit vague on exactly when, and rather than the typical lengthy lead time between announcing a new nonstop flight and its commencement, the first flight is scheduled for barely a month from now (2 March).

Am I the only one to see a bit of a grudge match between Qatar and Emirates?  One also has to wonder where Emirates found the planes to operate the new route – surely every plane they have and every plane they plan to receive already has a planned allocation.

International competition.  A wonderful thing.

Not that we know all that much about it in the US, with Norwegian Air’s 2+ year ago application still on indefinite hold.

More Good Competition

United has resumed providing free snacks on all flights within the US and to Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America.

By amazing coincidence, the same day UA started serving free snacks, AA said it would do the same, but in a little while rather than right now.  Delta never discontinued snacks, and Southwest has also continued to hand out peanuts and pretzels on its flights.

Will full meals come next?  Not in our lifetime.

Our New Frenemy Blesses Europe with its Airplane Order

Our new and good friends in Iran have rewarded our country’s decision to lift the sanctions while essentially looking the other way about anything to do with nuclear programs and compliance policies (whatever happened to ‘trust but verify’?) by spending some of the money we are releasing back to Iran (estimates ranging from $25 to $150 billion) on new airplanes.  Quite a few – 118, in total.

So what was Boeing’s share of that windfall?  Zero.  All planes were ordered from Iran’s even better friends in France and Germany, from Airbus.


Amazingly, while US carriers still baulk at the concept of the A380, even Iran feels able to order them, with 12 ordered as part of its 118 plane shopping spree.

Boeing’s 737 MAX Program Ahead of Schedule

In extraordinary news for just about any airplane manufacturer, it seems Boeing’s new 737 MAX series of planes are proceeding ahead of schedule.  Well, while ahead of Boeing’s schedule, it is also 17 months behind the first Airbus A320neo flight, and that’s probably the more relevant measure of the plane program’s success.

An unnecessary delay in launching the new plane, and a longer development time have both helped Airbus gain and retain a decisive edge in narrow body airplane orders.

The 737 MAX had its first flight last Friday.  Details here.

Canada :  Syrian Refugees, Yes; British Tourists, No

Canada’s government is boasting of its decision to admit 25,000 Syrian refugees into its country.

These ‘Syrian refugees’ are people usually with no documentation as to who and what they are or where they are from or how old they are or anything much at all, and about the only thing that is documented is the abuse of the refugee acceptance programs around the world.

At the same time, Canada has decided that British visitors, traveling on bona fide British passports, must apply for pre-clearance electronic travel authorizations – a new measure designed to prevent ‘high-risk travelers entering the country’.

Ummm, am I the only one to spot a small inconsistency in these two policies?

Cruise Line Pricing Policies – What’s Old is New Again

There was a time, when the cruise lines were going through one of their gluts of ships and the market was soft, that discounting was rife, and the closer to departure, the more desperate the cruise lines became, with increasingly generous discounts.

Word got out, and people learned to hold off on booking cruises until the last minute, when fares were sure to drop.  After a while, the cruise lines realized that they were creating the very problem they were trying to solve, and so they all decided to flip their discounting policy around – instead of discounts increasing as the cruise departure date approached, the discounts would decrease.  Their solemn promise was that whatever a person paid for a cruise would always be the best fare, with no better fares appearing later.

But, surprise surprise, the temptation, when staring at empty cabins, to sell them at any price at all, slowly started to become compelling and impossible to resist, and the cruise lines have been becoming steadily more ‘creative’ in their pricing.

They first started some tiny exceptions – to travel agents for example, and for other special groups and associations – special deals they hoped wouldn’t ‘leak’ out into the general marketplace.  Then there were some regional deal, again, offered in the hope of limiting the ‘damage’ from the discounting.

But in this very connected world (Facebook now tells us we’re only 3.5 connections away from any other Facebook user in the US) the discounts did leak out, and so, guess what?

Yes, the cruise lines are now starting a ‘no last minute discounting’ policy again.  Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd has said it won’t offer any new discounts in the last 30 days of a sailing.  Let’s see how long that lasts for.

SS United States to be Restored and Returned to Service

We probably should have added a question mark to that exciting heading.

On Thursday, Crystal Cruises said it has signed a purchase option on the ship, giving Crystal nine months to do a feasibility study about restoring the ship to her former glory and returning her to service.

The economics of such an action already look dubious – the cost of restoring the ship would be more than twice the cost of building a new ship, and it is unclear if those costs would involve re-engining the ship and if so, with what form of propulsion (the ship holds the Blue Riband record for fastest cruise ship crossing between the US and UK, and was improbably said to be capable at traveling at speeds in excess of 50 mph).

Our concern is not just the much greater capital costs to restore the ship rather than build a new one, but also what the ongoing operational costs would be, and how readily the ship could pass those on in the form of higher fares.

And our anxiety about the reality of a plan that we hope may come to fruition is underscored by the many failed similar schemes in the past.

We’d love to see the lovely old lady returned to service, but we’re not going to celebrate this as a done deal.

Details here.

And Lastly This Week….

We all sometimes realize that we’ve forgotten to pack something prior to heading off on our travels somewhere.  Maybe it is something inconsequential, and hopefully it is something that we can manage without or simply buy a replacement for.

But what about the people who leave their common-sense behind?  An all-too-common scenario, alas, as evidenced in this article.

Talking about silly tourists, with the bad weather the last little while, and mid-winter in general, you could be forgiven for thinking that a trip somewhere warm and sunny would be lovely about now, and dreaming about lying out in a comfy deck chair, soaking up some rays, on a sandy beach somewhere tropical, while sipping fruity drinks with umbrellas in them.

By all means do so, but if that is your plan, be aware of this cautionary tale.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





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