Friday, June 21, 2013

Another Quick Travel News Update

As most of you know by now, I'm on the internet pretty much all day looking at news stories. So, naturally, I see a lot of intriguing travel stories. And it is only right that I pass on these little nuggets of information to all my loyal readers, so they are aware of what is going on in the industry.

United adds requirements for elite flier status

I received an email today from United informing me of changes to qualifications for the MileagePlus program. Turns out, United added a minimum annual spending level that passsengers have to meet in order to qualify for elite frequent-flier status. At this point, I think I'm still on the low-end of the spectrum (think it's silver, but I'll have to double check), and that won't be affected this year. But starting in 2014, United fliers will have to spend at least $2,500 a year on tickets to qualify for the lowest Premier Silver status in 2015. The company kept the rule requiring passengers to fly 25,000 miles or 30 segments in a year to qualify for Silver. Of those 30, at least four have to be paid flights on United, United Express or Copa Airlines.

For Gold Status, you must spend $5,000 and fly 50,000 miles or 60 segments; while the Platinum level requires $7,500 and 75,000 miles or 90 segments. For the highest level, Premier 1K, you must spend $10,000 and fly 100,000 miles or 120 segments (a pretty steep requirement, if you ask me).

This is United's way of making elite status harder to attain, especially for fliers who purchase inexpensive tickets just to get miles. It is also a way to offer better access to benefits for customers who truly fly and spend the most, considering these customers are the ones that bring in the most money for airlines.

Planes could move to touch-screen controls

At the Paris International Air Show, new designs for touch screen controls were unveiled, and could appear in planes before the end of the decade, if the technology is implemented quickly. The tablet-like displays would make airplane controls more intuitive and user-friendly. The idea is that pilots will be able to perform basic commands, such as changing course or controlling the engine, by tapping or dragging icons on a screen. They will be able to expand navigation charts on the same screen, incorporate messages from air-traffic control, and troubleshoot malfunctions. Pilots would most likely still use a joystick to drive to perform flight controls, but other tasks could be done on the touch screens.

The new concept from Thales SA is called Avionics 2020 and was showcased at a mock-up cockpit at the Air Show, as it seeks to sign deals with aircraft manufacturers to install the technology in future planes. Honeywell said it won a contract to supply a limited system on the newest commuter jets from Embraer SA. Rockwell Collins Inc., also very aggressive on the benefits of touch screens, hopes to capitalize on the potential market.

Of course there are concerns about changing cockpit technology to touch screens. Some experts are worried about the difficulty of using the screens during severe turbulence. There are also questions about emergency commands getting lost in various menus.

International Travelers to the U.S. hit record spending in April

Spending by international visitors to the U.S. totaled nearly $14.5 billion, an increase of more than 5% from the same month the year before, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Between January and April of 2013, international tourists have spent about $57.9 billion on travel related services in the U.S., up 8% from the year before. Purchases of travel and tourism related services in April totaled $11.2 billion, this includes food, lodging, recreation, gifts, entertainment, local transportation and other items. U.S. carriers received $3.3 billion in fares for the month from international travelers.

In 2012, international spending reached a record $168.1 billion, up 10% from 2011. This was due to a surge in visitors, with a record 67 million international travelers coming to the U.S. Canada sent the most visitors, with 22.7 million; and Mexico had 14.5 million travelers to the U.S., coming in second. The U.K., Japan and Germany rounded out the top five.

The Best Bank for Travelers

When people plan a trip, they research flight and hotel costs to find the best deals. But a travel expense that is often overlooked is bank fees. More often than not, when people travel, they go to a place that may not have their bank ATM, especially in places overseas. Using an out-of-network ATM results in a fee, usually, and those are even more at international ATMs. And using a debit card overseas can result in a foreign transaction fee of up to 3% of the amount.

But some banks are more travel-friendly than others. M&T Bank has the highest out-of-network ATM fee ($3) of 20 U.S. banks measured by Nerdwallet. The bank also has a 3% foreign exchange fee. It also has the fewest number of branches across the most traveled states. The best bank for travelers is TD Bank, which has one of the lowest fees for ATMs ($2.50), and has no foreign exchange fee, the only one that doesn't have one. It also has a decent number of branches across the country. Citibank, Capital One, BBVA Compass, and BMO Harris Bank round out the top five best banks for travelers.

TripAdvisor acquires GateGuru

TripAdvisor made yet another acquisition this week, buying GateGuru, a mobile app that provides real-time information on airports, weather, and flights. Most of that is from crowdsourcing. The deal is a direct expansion of TripAdvisor's services, especially as more people turn to mobile and social networks to get travel feedback. The team behind GateGuru will remain in New York and continue to operate the way it did before the purchase, it will just report to the GM of new initiatives and leader of the TripAdvisor Flights product and the SeatGuru brand.

TripAdvisor recently bought mobile/social startup, TinyPost, in March, followed immediately by JetSetter and then CruiseWise in May. In October 2012, TripAdvisor acquired Wanderfly.

Hampton targets Millennials

Hampton Hotels launched a new advertisement targeting Millennials. The commercial shows Millennial social media users as they stayed at nine Hampton locations and were encouraged to share their experiences on different social media platforms. The commercial follows their weekend trips through pictures, videos, check-ins and status updates. The idea is to convey that Hampton is a young brand and can relate to the tech-savvy and social Millennial generation.

Guide to Visiting Turkey

Recently, there were some anti-government protests in Turkey over the future of a park in Istanbul. It all started as a peaceful protest, but soon erupted into what some people call a "war zone," with police using violence and force to stop demonstrations. The continued government retaliation and unrest is certainly worrisome, but these events should not deter people from visiting the country. Tourists should avoid demonstrations in Istanbul and be alert to potential violence. Travelers who have been in the city or decided to keep their plans to visit said Istanbul feels safe, and most said they felt neither threatened nor endangered.

Taksim Square, where the protests are taking place, is just one location in the city, and most of the major attractions are further away from the Square, so it is easily avoidable. Still, on June 4, the State Department put Turkey on its list of Travel Alerts, which basically advises Americans to be aware of the situation, and avoid being hurt as innocent bystanders. Many unions have threatened strikes that could hurt travel, but the alert is set to expire on July 5.

This is certainly good news, since tourism is crucial to Istanbul and the whole Turkish nation. In fact, the city is one of the fastest growing tourism markets in the world. It's also positive for me, since my boyfriend and I are thinking of visiting Turkey sometime soon. We still haven't figured out exact dates or anything, but hopefully, by the time we go, the protests and rallies will have fizzled out, and we can enjoy all this eclectic, historic city has to offer.

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