Weekly Roundup, Friday 2 March, 2018

Believe it or not, this is the interior of a new sleeper-bus that travels overnight between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  Discussed in final item, below.

Good morning

And greetings from Pahrump, NV; an unincorporated locality best known for having a concentration of ‘houses of ill repute’.  Although they are widely spread apart, through some mystery of the maps, each claims to be the closest to Las Vegas (Clark County, where Las Vegas is situated does not allow such places).

We wouldn’t know about that, but what a small group of Travel Insiders do know is that Pahrump is also the home to the world’s largest firearms training facility, with 50 ranges training sometimes 1000+ people every week with various two and four day programs.  We are attending such a course this weekend.

So, a short newsletter this week.

  • Airplane List Prices Up, Discounts Up Even More
  • You Don’t Get Much for Your Vegas Hotel Resort Fee
  • Travel Goods Show Overview
  • Monthly EV Sales
  • Another Problem with Lyft and Uber
  • And Lastly This Week….

Airplane List Prices Up, Discounts Up Even More

Boeing and Airbus have just published their pricing for 2018.  Some businesses have a price list, and you know that the posted price is the price you pay.  Whether it be Walmart, Costco, or the local supermarket, you know there’s little chance to negotiate from that price.

Other businesses have published prices that mean very little, and are more like a Turkish rug seller’s opening ‘very good price’ on the rug he wishes to sell you.  If you can’t get the price down, perhaps to one quarter the asking price, perhaps even lower, then this does not mean his opening price was fair, it means you were out negotiated.

When it comes to motor vehicles, we know we can surely get 5%, sometimes 10%, off the sticker price.  Maybe even, in rare situations, more.  But what about airplanes?

It seems that airplane prices can go much lower than car prices, if you succeed in driving a hard bargain.

It used to be an open secret that most of the time, airlines could negotiate 30% off those list prices without much struggle at all, and good deals would see prices dropping by 40%.  Then over the last decade or two, with a steady rise in the airplane list prices, the negotiated net prices airlines have been getting planes for have been moving further and further from the published price.

Now it seems that just about any airline can expect at least 40% and perhaps even 50% off list price, and good deals can see as much as two-thirds sliced off the list price.  What is the point of a list price if no-one ever pays it; particularly for a specialty type product that is sold into a very small market where everyone knows everyone else.

This year, list prices rose by between 2% – 4% compared to last year, but it is understood that discounts increased by even more.  So, list prices went up, real prices went down.  Is it only me who thinks that slightly strange?

Here’s an article with an interesting table of list prices for most current passenger jets.  The most expensive plane (list price)?  The A380, at $446 million (but I bet you could get that reduced to about $200 million), followed by the 777-9 at $426 million (also very neg).

You Don’t Get Much for Your Vegas Hotel Resort Fee

Talking about strange pricing policies, and like most Vegas hotels these days, the one I was staying at this week charges a resort fee.  The nightly rate is $65, and the resort fee is $34.01.  And that is before tax, which when added, takes it to $39.68.  Oh, it allows me to connect two devices to the internet simultaneously.  I’m almost giddy with gratitude!

The really bad news?  It seems that the going rate for resort fees in Vegas is in the process of increasing 10% for this year.

Some good news to offset the fee – the hotel sent me an email telling me they were giving me a courtesy upgrade to higher speed premium internet service.  The puzzling news – no-one at the hotel knew what that was, and there was no apparent way to get anything but a standard speed connection.

But, more good news.  The standard connection promised 20Mb speed, which is brilliantly fast for most normal purposes.

And now, for the final part of this good news/bad news story.  The 20Mb promise was, alas, about as real as the promise of riches at the gambling tables.  Although at times it was running at what should be a still reasonably fast 4 Mb (and occasionally much faster) web sites would fail to load, connections would be dropped, and video streaming would stop.

After half a dozen calls to the internet support line over the two days I was there, and various “fixes” that did nothing, and multiple resets of the internet Wi-Fi routers, I finally learned the truth.  Even though the hotel is charging a hefty $34 resort fee for internet and exercise room access, their internet service is plain and simply overloaded.  When I lucked upon a straight talking support person, he said “Currently we have 7,000 connections through our service, and it is rated for 6,200 maximum; there is nothing I can do to improve things”.

Eventually the hotel agreed to remove the internet portion of the $34 daily charge, which turned out to be $20.  But if I had to choose between saving $20 or being able to actually do work, I’d probably prefer paying the $20!

Thursday night was spent at the unassuming Best Western in Pahrump.  Internet is both free and fast there – 32Mb down and the same up.  If they can do this for free, why can’t the LINQ hotel do the same or better for $20 extra?

Travel Goods Show Overview

Earlier in the week I was at the Travel Goods Show.  It was a good show with an interesting mix of new products, ranging from the potentially exciting through to sad products that beg the question ‘what on earth are they thinking of’ without providing any hint as to an answer at all.

This year saw quite an exciting range of new types of ‘travel pillow’ – things to substitute for the ineffective typical saddle/collar type travel pillow that many people use but no-one finds useful.  I’ll be testing some of these on my flight back to Seattle next week and more later, and may possibly come up with some contenders to rival the Caldera Releaf pillow, my current favorite.

Something else that I really liked was being demonstrated in prototype form – it is a type of foam sheet that you place over an airline seat to make it more comfortable.  With airline seats getting thinner and thinner, sometimes it almost seems I’m sitting directly on aluminium tubing, and another inch or so of padding would be most welcome.  The guy developing this product (who, as it happens, is a New Zealander, and originally a carpet layer, now applying his knowledge of carpet underlay to develop this product) also has an interesting type of neck support/travel pillow at the top of the foam sheet, giving a second reason to like his product.  I hope it makes it to market soon.

There was an interesting new type of backpack that has stretch elastic in the straps so as to give it a sort of spring suspension.  And another product was a backpack in the form of side-saddle bags that you wear on your sides.  Apparently this relieves the imbalance of weight on your neck and spine.

Another interesting product was a luggage handle that opens up to become a coat hanger.  Use it as a normal luggage handle while pulling your bag through airports and elsewhere, and then, when you’re sitting waiting at the gate, you can open up the handle and it becomes a nicely shaped hanger for your jacket.  The guy developing this product (not a New Zealander, but instead a Scot, which is almost as good) has developed a range of carry-on rollaboard bags which are fairly ordinary and normal, but his real focus is to license the product to all the luggage manufacturers.  Let’s hope your next bag from anywhere has a convertible hanger handle.

Talking about adding new features to a bag, as always, I marveled at some of the nonsense being offered.  In particular, it seems that if you take a modest carry-on or suitcase ($100 or less at Costco) and add a battery charger ($20) and a digital weighing scale to it (also $20), the $100 bag can now be sold for $300 – or even, in one extreme case, $600.

But the one thing these expensive bags don’t have?  A no questions asked lifetime warranty, like the Briggs & Riley bags.  This is the deal breaker that sees me walking away from stand after stand, slowly shaking my head at warranties that exclude ‘wear and tear’ and doubly exclude airline caused damage.  What type of warranty claim remains that isn’t either fair wear and tear, or unfair airline abuse?

Most of all, it isn’t just the warranty coverage that is a benefit of a Briggs & Riley bag.  It is the implied confidence in the robustness of their bags, and that’s important too because the last thing you want is a broken suitcase at the start of your travels.  I’ve had (other, not B&R!) bags crack and start spilling their contents all over the street, I’ve had wheels break and fall off, reminding me of how terrible it used to be when you had to carry rather than wheel a 50lb bag, and I’ve had handles and catches also break.  Try managing a bag with a broken handle, and what do you do if the fasteners don’t keep the bag closed.

Needless to say, such problems never happen on the last leg of a journey, just as you reach home!  So the peace of mind and reliability of the Briggs & Riley bags continue to beat just about every other bag out there.

Other nonsensical things at the show included the growth of ‘ride on’ luggage – a suitcase with a battery and electric motor inside, so you can have your own mini-motorized wheelchair type conveyance for traveling around the airport.  Sounds like a good idea?  Well, maybe, but there are a couple of issues, quite apart from the many thousands of dollars cost involved.

The first is that they seem to be too large for carrying onto planes.  Most of the walking in an airport seems to be after checking your bag, so from that point of view, the bags are almost useless.

The second problem is they are so heavy that there’s not much (if any) remaining weight for your belongings.

Monthly EV Sales

February EV sales data in the US has been released.  The Tesla Model 3 has progressed to now be the biggest seller in the country, with 2,485 vehicles sold.  That’s an average of 620 sales a week and its best month yet.  But still a long way short of its December goal of 5,000 sales a week – a goal now shifted to June this year, and at odds with Tesla’s boast that towards the end of January it was producing 1,000 vehicles a week.

The Tesla S is massively down on its sales in Feb 2017 (1750 last year, 1125 this year).  This is the third month in a row in which the Tesla Model S was down on its sales the same month a year ago, which makes one wonder why its sales are cratering so badly.  Lack of demand, or production problems going unresolved while the Tesla 3 takes all the focus and attention?  The Model X at 875 cars was modestly up on last year’s 800 units sold, after drops the three months previously.

The Chevy Bolt is going up the scale again, becoming the second most popular pure battery driven car for February, with 1424 units sold (952 last year).  And it seems the new Leaf is now starting to be delivered to customers, with 895 units sold.  We expect to see this number to continue to increase.

Another Problem with Lyft and Uber

It really is a shame that neither of these new ride sharing services have ‘taxi stands’ with vehicles ready to accept passengers instantly.  At airports, it seems either the airport authorities or the business models of the companies prohibit such convenience, and it is the same at hotels, too.

I realized another problem on Thursday.  I was wanting to go collect my rental car, so I went to the designated place at the hotel, and then tried to call for a car, only to find that the space had poor cell signal and no data service!  How can you call for a Lyft or Uber if you can’t use your phone’s data service for the app to call for a car.

Eventually I found a spot in the middle of the road where I could get one bar of signal and call a car.  It took ten minutes to call for a car and for it to arrive, whereas at the front of the hotel, there was a line of taxis waiting for passengers.  The journey itself to the airport was less than ten minutes, making the ten minute wait quite disproportionate.  While there was probably a modest saving, having the journey take twice as long is an unfortunate tradeoff.

Talking about airports, it is unfortunate that airports seem to sometimes attempt to deliberately obscure the location where Uber and Lyft are allowed to operate.

And Lastly This Week….

A couple of weeks ago Airbus got headlines around the world for the first test flight of its new flying car.  This week Boeing tried to get a share of the ‘flying car’ coverage too by announcing that it too has plans to sell flying cars, as passenger taxis.

Well, good for Boeing.  But whereas the Airbus headline was for the success of its first prototype test flight, Boeing’s headline was for announcing plans for a flying car/taxi, perhaps ten years into the future.  Details here.

Sometimes it is easy to overlook a more ordinary type of travel – by bus.  Not all buses are the same these days, and here’s an article about a lovely new bus with tiny sleeping pods to take you between Los Angeles and San Francisco on an overnight sleeping service.  $85 one way.  See picture at the top of the newsletter.

Until next week, please enjoy safe travels





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