Travel tips

Updated list: Travel Deals for Black Friday/Cyber Monday

Looking for Black Friday/Cyber Monday travel deals? Of course you are!

Check here for what I’ve found so far for airlines deals and here for deals on hotels, rail, travel books and other travel-related options.

I’ll keep updating through Monday – so send me notes about anything that looks really great to you.

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Thanksgiving travel forecast: challenging for fliers

[My story about Thanksgiving travel first appeared on Today.com]

Whether your family will make its way over rivers and through woods or race across town to catch a plane, traveling during the Thanksgiving holiday can be hectic and stressful.

That will certainly be the case this year, as a record 28.5 million holiday travelers are expected to fly on U.S. airlines, an increase of 3 percent over Thanksgiving 2016, according to airline trade group Airlines for America.

A4A pegs the increase to a strong economy and low airfares. But while airlines are adding seats to accommodate the spike in demand, crowded airports, full airplanes and bad weather can easily turn the holiday weekend into a travel turkey.

The data teams at Google Flights and Reward Expert confirm that the busiest days to fly over this holiday will be (no surprise) Friday, November 17 and Wednesday, November 22 – before the official holiday – and Sunday, November 26, when everyone tries to make their way home.

Google Flights expects airports in 10 cities – New York City, Boston, Chicago, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Honolulu – to be the busiest this holiday, while Reward Expert crunched Department of Transportation data from the past five years to predict which airports might give Thanksgiving travelers the most problems this  year.

While the Honolulu, Atlanta, Charlotte Douglas, Southwest Florida and Salt Lake City airports had the best on-time performance during Thanksgiving over the past five years, if you’re traveling through Sacramento, Houston Hobby, Oakland, Newark Liberty or San Francisco airports this year, the statistics says you’re likely to encounter delays.

Here are some tips that might make traveling during this holiday a bit smoother.

  1. Breeze through airport security

Some airport websites now have tools that report wait times at their security checkpoints, but assume lines will be longer than usual. Your best defense: get a good night’s rest and head for the airport extra early.

And keep in mind: If you haven’t yet signed up for TSA PreCheck you may still have access to some form of expedited lanes screening if you are 75 or older, 12 years or younger, in the military or a disability or medical condition.

  1. Pack for success

Thanksgiving is more about family (and eating) than showing off the latest fashions, so lighten up what you bring along and try traveling with just a carry-on.

Flying with food? Turkey (cooked or frozen) is permitted in carry-on and checked bags but check with your airline if brining a live turkey. Cakes, pies, bread, fruits and vegetables are also permitted in carry-ons, but gravy (a liquid) is not. TSA’s “Can I bring..?” tool can offer advice on other items you may want to bring along.

  1. Bring an emergency kit

Flares aren’t necessary (or allowed) in your carry-on bag, but a kit with some emergency supplies in case of a delay are advised.

Bring snacks (good options include fresh or dried fruit, nuts, energy bars and sandwiches), a refillable water bottle, charged gadgets and rechargers, books and magazines, toys for your kids and a print-out of the reservation information and phone numbers for your airline, car rental company, hotel and the friends or family members who have volunteered to pick you up.

Stash some “mad money.” If a delay gets especially infuriating you can use that cash to buy you and your traveling companions a massage, a fancy cocktail, chocolate or some other frivolous, stress-busting treat.

  1. Delights in the delays

Most people would rather get to their holiday destinations as soon as possible. But those who end up spending extra time waiting for their flights will find many airports offering holiday entertainment and many airport restaurants serving special Thanksgiving-themed dishes and full meals. And in dozens of airports there will be teams of therapy dogs and their trainers on duty to help calm jittery nerves.

Trump slump in travel? Maybe, maybe not

 

(This is a slightly updated version of my story about the Trump Slump in Travel that appeared on NBC)

 

Is an unwelcoming political climate really creating a “Trump Slump” in the annual $250 billion international inbound business and leisure travel industry in the United States?

“Yes,” “No,” and “Maybe So,” say travel industry experts and number crunchers who point to a variety of hard and soft data points to measure the travel impact of initiatives such as President Donald Trump’s efforts to impose a travel ban barring inbound travelers from some predominantly Muslim countries and the recent ban on electronic devices in the airline cabins of U.S.-bound airplanes from certain countries.

On the up side, international visitors spent more than $20.8 billion on travel to, and on tourism-related activities within, the United States in January 2017, according to a recent report from the National Travel and Tourism Office.

That represents a one percent ($220 million) increase compared to 2016.

Looking back a bit longer, in the 60 days before Trump’s first travel ban was announced (November 29 to January 27, 2017) ForwardKeys, a company that analyzes air travel bookings, found international bookings for visits into the U.S. increased 2.2 percent in comparison to the same period last year.

But right after Trump issued the first travel ban, search engines such as Hopper saw a serious slip in flight searches into the U.S. and in the eight days following January 27 (the day the travel ban was first imposed) ForwardKeys saw international bookings to the U.S. fall by 6.5 percent.

Since then, there’s been a continued slow-down in U.S.-bound air travel bookings.

From January 28 to March 25, bookings were essentially flat, up just. 0.1 percent over the same period last year, according to ForwardKeys.

“When one bears in mind that as a general rule air travel grows consistently ahead of inflation, this is not a particularly encouraging statistic for the USA,” ForwardKeys CEO Oliver Jager told NBC.

The World Travel & Tourism Council agrees. Its data predicts that visitor exports, which is money spent by foreign visitors in the country, will decrease by 0.6 percent in 2017.

Though also attributable to the strength of the U.S. dollar, the dip is predominantly due to “the negative sentiments of the U.S. as a destination created by some of the new policies of President Trump’s Administration,” said Helen Marano, WTTC’s Senior Vice President Government Affairs. “Already, there have been clear signs and data that international visitors are rethinking booking their holidays to the U.S.”

But in a Travel Trends Index report released Tuesday, the U.S. Travel Association said that international travel to the U.S. “defied growth expectations” and actually grew faster than domestic travel during February.

But the group warns of a drop-off in international travel going forward.

The February TTI data — which factors in trips that involve a hotel stay and/or air travel — captures the first full month after President Trump’s first travel ban order was issued, but the U.S. Travel Association economists say that data fully doesn’t fully reflect the impact of the currently-on-hold ban’s impact on demand for international travel to the U.S.

“It’s important to remember that there’s a significant lag time between searches for international trips and when they’re actually taken — typically a matter of months,” said David Huether, the U.S. Travel Association’s senior vice president for research.

“There’s a lot of data out there purporting to show a drop in international travel to the U.S. because of President Trump’s executive order,” said Huether, but “the reality is we do not have a definitive data picture of the order’s impact yet.”

While we wait to get more data and find out whether or not the Trump administration’s travel ban go into effect, “the United States has already sent a message to the global community,” said Ian Jeffries, Vice President, Group Director at public relations and marketing firm Edelman, “We are counseling clients that there is an opportunity for the travel industry to lead and roll out the welcome mat. Tourism business leaders have the responsibility to let the world know that their cities, their hotels, their attractions are still open for business – – and that all travelers are welcome.”

 

Where to go in 2017? Somewhere with an airport

If one of your New Year’s resolution is to see the world in 2017 – or at least to visit more cool parts of it – there are plenty of places to consider and lots of advice from travel experts.

Consider Canada

There will be partying up north as Montreal celebrates the 375th anniversary of its founding and Canada celebrates the 150th anniversary of Confederation across the country. The festivities kick off New Year’s Eve with major celebrations in 19 cities  and continues throughout the year with free admission to all Parks Canada locations and a wide variety of local, regional and national celebrations.

The U.S. dollar is still quite strong against the Canadian dollar, so a trip to Canada also offers a good travel value.

Catch America’s Eclipse

The path of the first solar total eclipse to be visible from the continental United States since 1979 will take place August 21, with viewing opportunities for the less than three-minute minute event stretching from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina (weather permitting).

The “point of greatest eclipse” has been identified as Hopkinsville, KY and “Eclipseville” has planned a long of pre and post-eclipse events, including the Summer Salute Festival (August 18 – 20).

More 2017 Hot Spots

AFAR put together a somewhat overwhelming list of 100 places to consider visiting next year, including 16 cities in the USA, but created a 25-question quiz to help you narrow down which locations might be a good match for you.

Travel + Leisure polled its travel specialists to come up with its list of the 50 Best Places to Travel to in 2017, giving the nod this year to Bermuda; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Belgrade, Serbia; and Angra dos Reis, Brazil as well as Columbus, Ohio; Honolulu, Hawaii and Indianapolis, Indiana.

And Lonely Planet editors shared a list of the top 10 places in the United States they urge travelers to visit this year.

At the top of the list is Asheville, North Carolina.

 “It’s one of America’s most vibrant and eclectic small cities, with a welcoming, creative spirit, a thriving artistic community and music scene, and now world-class dining,” said Lonely Planet magazine managing editor Rebecca Warren.

Western Washington takes the #2 slot on Lonely Planet’s list.

“We were excited that iconic locations like Snoqualmie Falls and North Bend will once again get the spotlight in the Twin Peaks comeback in 2017,” said Lonely Planet’s Western US destination editor, Alex Howard, noting that “Seattle is a perennial favorite and a great springboard for exploring the area’s national parks. The San Juan Islands are also emerging, with new openings and farm-to-table restaurants next year.”

Other cities on the list include Lincoln, Nebraska (#3), which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year; Palm Springs and the southern desert area of California (#4), and Montana’s Flathead Valley (#5), which encompasses one of the largest wilderness areas in the contiguous states.

Atlanta, Georgia, home to The BeltLine and new state-of-the-art sports stadiums, sits at #6 on the Lonely Planet list, while New York’s Adirondack Mountains, which have 42 peaks over 4000 feet, claims the #7 spot.

“The Adirondacks are one of New York’s hidden gems,” said Ron Ofner, executive director of the Adirondack Regional Tourism Council. “We are known as a year-round destination for adventure seekers, and I think new visitors will be surprised by the incredible variety of unique breweries, distilleries, and wine trails, as well as how close we are to major metro centers.”

Rounding out the Lonely Planet list this year is the not-often-talked about Texas Hill Country wine region (#8), which is home to a long list of tasting rooms along Wine Road 290, the 10th Dripping with Taste Wine & Food Festival, and this year is celebrating the 46th annual Kerrville Folk Festival; and the Mile-High City of Denver, Colorado (#9), which has oodles of microbreweries, plenty of music and (legal) marijuana, and a new Ski Train that takes skiers and boarders from the city to the slopes.

And, at #10, is Florida’s Emerald Coast, with its 100-mile stretch of sugar-fine sand and laid-back beachfront towns.

(A slightly different version of my story about where to go in 2017 appeared on CNBC)

Travel agents: a blast from the past?

Courtesy State Library & Archives of Florida, via Flickr Commons

Courtesy State Library & Archives of Florida, via Flickr Commons

(My story about Travel Agents first appeared on NBC News Travel)

It often happens on Mondays.

“I get calls from people who say ‘I spent all weekend online trying to work out a trip and you this is exactly what I need,” said travel consultant Sheri Doyle, the Seattle-based owner of Pacific Northwest Journeys.

Doyle specializes in creating itineraries for travelers heading to Oregon, Washington and British Columbia – and beyond – and finds that many of her clients are travelers frustrated by the overload of information on Expedia, TripAdvisor and other online travel sites and who want to be sure they are making good decisions about how to spend vacation days – and making good use of their time.

“It’s time versus money. A lot of people just don’t have the time or the expertise to plan a trip and do it well,” said Doyle, and they find value in paying a fee for the knowledge of someone who has actually stayed at the hotels, visited the sites and can negotiate good rates and extra perks.

Travelers who have found occasion to turn from the web to an agent include Alyne Ellis, a writer and radio producer from Washington D.C. who was planning a trip to Rome, Venice and Croatia with her husband, who had never been to Europe.

“We were overwhelmed with the logistics as we only had a few days in Rome and Venice and wanted to be near everything,” said Ellis. With the help of an agent, “We stayed in some of the nicest places ever and they all seemed very local in their feeling, at our request,” she said.

Karen Wickre, an internet industry veteran and founder of KVOX Media, relies on a travel adviser who can “see competitive pricing and scheduling,” when planning complex trips outside the U.S.

On a two week, multi-city visit to Spain and Portugal, Wickre and a friend figured chose the hotels and length of stays in each city, but turned to the agent to book flights, trains and airport transfers.

“All the travel documents and details were in one itinerary,” said Wickre, “They even have an app we could look at along the way. And it was easy to pay one bill to the agent.”

These experiences fit with the trend noted in a June 2016 report by the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), which surveyed 14,000 U.S. households and found that, despite the rise of online travel agents (OTAs), in the previous year 22 percent of consumers booked through a travel agent, the highest share reported in the past three years.

In its most recent Portrait of American Travelers survey, travel industry research and marketing firm MMGY found the use of travel agents at a six-year high, with more than 9 million U.S. travelers planning to call on a travel professional to help book a trip this year.

“The higher the ticket price of the travel being purchased, the more likely they were to turn to a professional travel advisor,” noted the Travel Market Report in its review of the study.

“If anything, a good travel counselor is more relevant today than ever before,” said Grayce Walters, a travel agent with Maupin Travel which has a storefront in Raleigh, North Carolina.

“Ten years ago we were worried about the internet and all the sites that were popping up, but I’m seeing a lot more people – especially young people – who come to us when planning big trips,” said Walters, “Sometimes people say, ‘I can do it myself,’ but then they get into it, it gets complicated and they call me and are happy to pay a fee. When I save them money on the overall trip, I get a customer for life.”

Jack Ezon, a luxury leisure travel consultant with Ovation Travel, calls that the boomerang effect.

“There’s so much information out there that it makes it more difficult to do your own research now. So we serve as matchmakers, listening to clients, and finding what’s right for them,” said Ezon.

And, increasingly, ‘what’s right’ is also ‘special.’

“Younger millennials want the VIP treatment, to be on the other side of the velvet rope. Older millennials are planning honeymoons, having kids, and wanting to create unique experiences,” said Ezon. “And it’s not just Millennials, increasingly Baby Boomers and Gen Xers are acting like Millennials and looking for savvy travel advisors that can make things happen.”