Check out the most interesting travel stories you may have missed this week.
American Airlines Just Made a Big Change Most Passengers Will Hate
American Airlines has fallen in line with the other major carriers in the U.S. with the latest update to its frequent flier program, reports Yahoo! Finance. Travelers will now accumulate miles based not on the distance flown but on how much they paid for their ticket.
Why I Quit My Job to Travel the World
Have a laugh at this satirical essay from the New Yorker, which pokes fun at trust fund kids who drop everything to travel around the world. “Of course, this ‘no reservations’ life style isn’t for everyone,” writes the fictional narrator. “Sometimes it’s difficult to get even one bar of cell service, which makes Instagramming more gelato a real struggle.”
The Latest Travel Luxury: Not Going
Quartz reports that there’s been an increase in the purchase of “cancel anytime” travel insurance this year, probably in response to concerns about terrorism and the Zika virus. This type of coverage costs a little more but gives travelers peace of mind by allowing them to back out of their trip for any reason without losing money.
The Moroccan Scam That Wasn’t
BBC Travel details an encounter with Moroccan locals that could have turned dangerous — would you hop in a car with two strangers to drive into the desert after dark? — but instead turned into a memorable evening at an Arab-Berber wedding.
Catch up on our favorite travel articles and videos of the week.
How GPS Is Messing with Our Minds
It’s hard to imagine navigating the world without a GPS these days, but this article from Time notes that relying so heavily on such devices harms our ability to make our own “cognitive map” — i.e., to get a clear sense of where we are in the context of our surroundings. This sometimes has tragic results (such as people following their GPS unit’s instructions into dangerous mountain terrain). Is it time for good old-fashioned maps to make a comeback?
Forget Your Passport; You’ll Need a DNA Sample to Enter Kuwait
Well, here’s an alarming idea. The New York Daily News reports that anyone who wants to travel to Kuwait will soon have to provide either “a swab of saliva or a few drops of blood” as a DNA sample. Though the Kuwaiti government promises that the samples won’t be tested for disease or otherwise infringe on property, it’s easy to see how this could go wrong (and make passport control lines even longer…).
Tipping Is Really Out of Control Now
Christopher Elliott of Elliott.org reports that more and more employees are asking for gratuities these days, including people we wouldn’t normally think to tip (such as tow truck drivers, airline ticket agents and even opticians). In a poll at the end of the article, about 70 percent of respondents say they’d like to have tipping restricted or banned by law. Do you agree?
Cruising Through the End of the World
Pacific Standard offers a fascinating look at the Northwest Passage, the famed pathway through the Canadian Arctic that intrepid explorers once suffered and died trying to find. These days you can explore it yourself aboard a cruise ship, seeing remote villages and looking out for polar bears.
‘Eat, Pray, Love’ and Travel
The New York Times interviews Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestseller “Eat, Pray, Love” — inspiration for a collection of essays called “Eat, Pray, Love Made Me Do It.” Gilbert reveals her favorite moment in the new book, shares her future travel plans and explains why her mother started traveling late in life.
Delta Is First Airline to Use New Baggage Tracking Technology
Could this be the beginning of the end of lost luggage? Conde Nast Traveler reports that Delta will start using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to track checked bags by the end of this year. Delta claims that this system is 99.9 percent effective, more so than the current system of barcoded tags and scanners. We’re crossing our fingers.
Why I Travel the World Alone
Travel + Leisure features an essay by a hardcore adventure traveler (“During a recent trip to Chad … I spent 19 days sleeping in the great outdoors — and going to the loo there, too — while crossing the Sahara Desert. I showered twice in 21 days”) who finds incredible rewards in the challenges and freedoms of traveling alone. We bet you’ll be inspired by her story too.
This week’s featured video comes from JetBlue, which turned frowns upside down on a recent flight by giving away discounts off a future trip every time a baby cried on the plane. Happy Mother’s Day!
You’ve arrived at your destination, but your luggage hasn’t. It’s annoying enough to have to buy new clothes and toiletries to get by before your bag is delivered by the airline (if it comes at all). It’s even more annoying if you paid a nonrefundable fee of $25 or $30 for the privilege of checking that bag.
The newest bill to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration includes language that would require airlines to refund baggage fees in cases when your checked suitcase is delayed, reports the New York Times.
You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but as the author of the Times piece notes, there are numerous barriers that currently keep you from getting your money back. First, many airlines, including United, Spirit and American, declare that their baggage fees are nonrefundable. (United’s Contract of Carriage does note that baggage fees will be refunded if your suitcase is lost — but makes no such comment in the case of delays.)
If you do get a refund from the airline, it may be in the form of a voucher to be used on a future flight, often with a one-year expiration date. For people who don’t fly often, such a voucher may be pretty much worthless.
No luck with the airline? You can try contacting your credit card company to dispute the charge — a strategy that is sometimes successful, but can take some persistence.
Travelers should cross their fingers for the Senate version of the reauthorization bill to pass; it would require airlines to give an automatic refund of baggage fees to anyone who hasn’t received their luggage within six hours of arrival on a domestic flight or within 12 hours of an international arrival. The House has a more lenient 24-hour deadline and would not mandate automatic refunds.
Catch up on some of the best travel reading of the week.
A Long Love Affair with the Scottish Isles, in Pictures
This post from National Geographic’s Proof photography blog captures the misty landscapes and unique culture of the Scottish Isles, including St. Kilda, Lewis and the Orkneys. (Our favorite? The shot of inquisitive Atlantic puffins.)
Thank You for Flying Trash Airlines
Need a laugh? Read this quick New Yorker piece, which is a series of text-message updates about a flight aboard an imaginary budget airline. Example: “Be advised that there are no seat assignments on $uper Air flights. To keep tickets cheap, we replaced all of the chairs with subway poles. Stand anywhere you like!”
Advice for Women on the Road
Mary Beth Bond, founder of Gutsy Traveler.com (a site for adventurous women travelers), shares her wisdom from decades of travel in this New York Times interview. “Don’t let fear keep you at home, but it is more important now than ever to do your homework,” Bond says. “There is never a perfect time. So don’t wait, go now.”
Around the World by Budget Airline
What’s it like to fly all the way around the world on nothing but low-cost carriers? This Telegraph writer found out, testing out 10 different airlines including JetBlue, EasyJet, Ryanair and AirAsia. He discovered that despite the low prices, not all LCCs are created equal.
5 Travel Tips for People with Anxiety
For those who struggle with anxiety in day-to-day life, the uncertainties of travel can be particularly stressful. Bustle offers five tips that can help, including writing yourself a letter to read when things get difficult and keeping some money aside for emergencies.
Fed Up with Uncomfortable Air Travel? Blame Yourself
This essay in the Boston Globe argues that we shouldn’t expect the government to protect us from shrinking airline seats and sneaky ancillary fees because travelers have more control over conditions in the skies than we think. Instead of always booking the lowest possible fare, we should vote with our wallets and travel with the airlines that offer the best in-flight experience.
Travel to Iran: Is It the Next Cuba?
Travel Pulse investigates the rising popularity of Iran as a travel destination, with tour operators expanding their offerings and more Western hotels opening across the country — despite continued warnings by the U.S. State Department that the country isn’t safe.
We love this short video shot in Venice, which beautifully captures the city’s quiet corners.
For the many travelers who can’t sleep on planes but also can’t afford an upgrade to the front of the plane, a new economy-class bed/seat design could revolutionize the way they travel. Italy-based seat manufacturer Geven debuted its Piuma Sofa — a concept that would turn economy-class seats into a lie-flat bed — at the Aircraft Interiors Expo last week, reports Flightglobal.
The “sofa” effect is created by detaching the headrest from the top of the seat and affixing it to the front of the seat cushion. When all three or four seats in a row are given the same treatment, the result is a bed that stretches across the seats, wide enough for up to two adults. Check out the video below to see how it works:
Geven envisions the concept as a way for airlines to make extra money. Much as passengers can pay a fee at check-in to upgrade themselves to a premium economy seat with extra legroom, they could also pay $200 or so to move to an empty row fitted with the Piuma Sofa. The airline wins by monetizing unsold seats, and the flier wins by getting a good night’s sleep on an overnight flight.
This isn’t a brand-new concept. It’s inspired by Air New Zealand’s Skycouch, a spokesperson told Flightglobal, but it’s a less bulky option since there’s no need to store any part of the bed under the seat. Other airlines that already offer similar lie-flat seats in economy include China Airlines and Kazakhstan’s Air Astana, according to the Daily Mail.
South African Airways will be the first airline to debut the Piuma Sofa; Air Asia X has signed a letter of intent.
Airline Complaints Spike Even as Service Improves
By many measures, the airlines are actually getting better these days (hard as it may be to believe). USA Today reports that more flights are arriving on time, with fewer lost bags and fewer passengers being bumped from full flights. Despite these improvements, however, passenger grievances are on the rise, particularly complaints from people with disabilities.
JetBlue Asks Flyers to ‘Reach Across the Aisle’ in Election-Year Stunt
As the 2016 U.S. presidential election gets increasingly contentious, JetBlue is attempting to bring us all together in the spirit of travel. Adweek highlights a recent publicity stunt, er, video, in which the airline gives away free tickets to an entire plane full of people, as long as they can make a unanimous choice about where to go. (Their eventual pick? Costa Rica.)
Comparing Airbnb and Hotel Rates Around the Globe
In case you’ve ever wondered whether booking a vacation rental would save you money over a hotel, the answer is yes — at least in some of the cities where Busbud compared rates. The site found that Airbnb could save you the most in London, where the average rental is more than $108 cheaper than the average hotel. At the other end of the spectrum is Barcelona, where hotels cost $139 less on average.
What travel news have you missed this week? Catch up with our list of the week’s best stories.
The Pyramids Few Tourists Have Ever Seen
Did you know that Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt? This photo essay from BBC Travel offers a fascinating glimpse at these ancient ruins, which receive only about 10 visitors a day.
A 16-Hour Dreamliner Flight with No Jet Lag? Believe It!
United is launching a new 16-hour route from San Francisco to Singapore aboard an aircraft that could revolutionize the way we feel after a long flight, reports Conde Nast Traveler. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has more humidity than most planes and makes travelers feel like they’re flying at a slightly lower altitude than they would on a standard flight — both of which will help travelers feel less tired and dried-out when they touch down. It should all add up to less jet lag; here’s hoping!
Why 2016 Will Be a Terrible Year for Earning Frequent Flier Miles
Bad news for anyone who loves using their miles for free flights — later this year American will join Delta and United in awarding miles based on the fare you pay rather than the miles you fly, reports Skift. That means that most non-elite travelers and fliers who pay the lowest available fare will likely earn fewer miles. To add insult to injury, the price of award tickets is also going up.
Five Myths About Airline Food
USA Today separates fact from fiction when it comes to airline food. Is it true that all airplane meals are frozen and reheated later? Are they designed to make passengers sleepy? Are all the good meals saved for those in the front of the plane? The story answers these questions and more.
London Lost and Found
We loved reading this thoughtful essay from the New York Times on what it’s like to come back as a tourist to a place you once lived. The author vividly captures that complicated mix of familiarity and strangeness in a city you used to know well.
EasyJet Unveils Plan for “Hybrid” Planes Using Hydrogen Fuel Cells
CNN reports that easyJet (a European low-cost carrier) is trying out a new technology that could save 50,000 tons of fuel each year and reduce its airplanes’ carbon emissions. Hydrogen fuel cells could essentially turn the carrier’s planes into hybrid aircraft, allowing them to take off and land without using any fuel. It sounds promising — but even if it works, the technology is likely at least five years away.
Get your tissues ready for this week’s featured travel video, a heartwarming offering from British Airways.
Read up on the latest from around the travel world with our weekly roundup.
10 Places It’s Cheaper to Fly to in 2016
If you’re dreaming of a trip to Hong Kong this year, you’re in luck — that city tops Kayak’s list of the top travel destinations for airfare savings in 2016, reports Time. It’s 26 percent cheaper to fly there this year than it was last year. Also on the list: Chicago, Beijing, Bangkok and Athens, among others.
The “Boring” Cities Worth a Second Look
Eric Weiner at BBC Travel argues that the cities we often think of as “boring” — such as Geneva, Switzerland and Cleveland, Ohio — actually have a lot to recommend them. You go in with no expectations, so you’re more likely to be pleasantly surprised. And boring places have their own charm that flashier places don’t: “When you relinquish the spectacular, you are rewarded with the quieter joy of the ordinary,” writes Weiner.
Travel Broadens the Mind, But Can It Alter the Brain?
The Guardian looks at the benefits of studying or living abroad, which include being more creative, open-minded, independent and emotionally stable. The article also notes that coping with the challenges of travel keeps our minds sharp. (We always knew travelers were smarter…)
The Loophole That Could Save You Money on the Cost of a Flight
The U.K.’s Daily Mail has unearthed an interesting tip for saving money on airfare. If you’re planning to take internal flights within a foreign country, you’ll sometimes pay less if you purchase those flights while you’re in that country — or if you pretend to be from that country when you book.
Department of Transportation: Pilots Are Forgetting How to Fly Manually
Nervous fliers should probably give this article a miss. Popular Mechanics reports that the U.S. Department of Transportation is concerned that an over-reliance on automation has made modern-day pilots less proficient in manual flying — and more likely to make errors in situations that demand it.
Lufthansa Will Change How You Check Bags in 2016
For once, some good airline news! Conde Nast Traveler reports that Lufthansa will be introducing digital tags for checked bags this year, which will allow the airline to track the location of your suitcase and keep you notified via an app. In case of delays, you can tell the app where you want your bag delivered once it arrives.
Big Changes Coming for American’s Reward Program
Aaaaannd now we’re back to lousy airline news. The Dallas Morning News alerts AAdvantage members about coming changes to American Airlines’ rewards program, which include more limited dates for booking off-peak tickets, more miles required to book trips in some markets, and a new way of earning miles based on price paid instead of miles traveled.
For your visual eye candy of the week, we travel to Ireland with this dreamy, cinematic video:
After taking a few weeks off for the holidays, we’re back with another round-up of all the travel news you need to know.
Uber Is Thinking of Getting into the Travel Business
Uber has already revolutionized the way many of us travel, and the company isn’t done yet, judging by a recent patent. Business Insider explains how a new feature called “Uber Travel” would allow the company to find you flights and accommodations, as well as recommend the best time to call an Uber based on when you’re scheduled to land at an airport.
Hilton Wants You to Pay $50 for What?
As if we needed more fees in our life! Time reports that Hilton is testing out a new program that charges a $50 fee for any cancellation, even if it’s far in advance of your stay. (Wait till the day of arrival and you’ll pay for a full night.) The charge is designed to discourage travelers from using websites and apps that hunt for price drops and rebook them at a lower rate.
Zika: Coming to America Through Mosquitoes, Travel and Sex
In other bad news, there’s a new virus spreading around the world, according to Forbes. Known as zika, the illness is related to yellow fever and dengue, and was first discovered in Uganda. These days it’s heading northward from Brazil, transmitted mainly via mosquitoes. (Sexual transmission is suspected but not proven.) The best prevention method is to use mosquito nets and bug spray when traveling in affected areas.
The TSA May Now Deny You the Right to a Pat-Down
Those of us who feel uncomfortable with the TSA’s full-body scanners have always had the option of choosing a pat-down by a security officer instead — until now. The Department of Homeland Security released a statement last month giving the TSA the right to make a full-body scan mandatory “as warranted by security considerations,” reports Frommer’s.
Who Are the World’s Safest Airlines for 2016?
Nervous fliers won’t want to miss this annual list from AirlineRatings.com, which highlights the 20 safest airlines in the world. And the winner is … Australia-based Qantas, which tops the charts for the third year in a row. Several U.S. airlines made the grade, including American, Alaska, Hawaiian and United.
These 38 Airlines Have the Lowest Airline Safety Ratings
And here’s the counterpoint: the worst-rated carriers on AirlineRatings.com, as rounded up by Travel + Leisure. The good news is that you’ve probably never heard of any of these airlines, so you’re not too likely to fly them. (TransNusa? Daallo Airlines? Anyone?!)
We wrap up this week’s edition with a short film from western Mongolia, which captures the day-to-day life of the nomadic Kazakh people, including the fascinating way they train eagles to hunt for game.
Here’s another edition of our favorite travel stories of the week. (If you missed the first edition last week, you can check it out here.)
Fodor’s Stands with Paris
In this moving post, the editor-in-chief of Fodor’s explains why she isn’t planning to cancel her holiday trip to Paris next month, even after the recent terrorist attacks.
No More International Roaming Charges? Here’s How
Conde Nast Traveler offers good news for travelers who like to stay connected: Verizon is now allowing customers to pay between $2 and $10 per day to use their phones abroad the same way they do in the United States, without worrying about expensive roaming charges. (The article also includes suggestions for those who use different cell phone carriers.)
Transparent Airplane Walls May Be in Air Travel’s Not-So-Distant Future
Fortune reports that Airbus is planning some revolutionary changes to the in-flight experience, including transparent airplane walls that will give new meaning to the phrase “window seat.” (If you’re afraid of heights, you’ll be able to use an opaque hologram to block the view.) Other potential changes: seats that adjust to your body size and themed “zones” where you can play games or interact with other passengers.
Starwood Devotees Greet Marriott Merger With Dread and Anger
Marriott International announced Monday that it will acquire Starwood Hotels & Resorts (which includes Sheraton, W, Le Meriden, Westin and several other chains). In this piece from the New York Times, frequent Starwood guests express their concerns about what will happen to their loyalty points and whether or not they’ll continue to enjoy the personalized service they’re used to after the merger.
Finally, have a laugh at this video of an Irishman on vacation in Las Vegas, who didn’t quite understand which way to point the GoPro camera he borrowed from his son. Instead of capturing the sights around town, he ended up filming his own face all over Sin City. Here’s the footage, spliced together (with a little musical embellishment) by his son Evan: