Podcast #88 — New Travel Goodies; Losing Elite Status

Full House, Platinum over 1K

Full House, Platinum over 1K

I’m getting ready for a stint of international travel — a couple trips to the UK, a vacation to Venice, and then bouncing around southern India. I visited the 2011 Travel Goods show in Chicago for a preview of the new travel goodies I’d be seeing in the shops this spring.  Wading through a front room stacked with luggage, I hit the gadget room with the interesting stuff and interviewed some of the company owners. I also talk about the growing number of wireless WiFi hotspots I’m seeing in hotels, and about the different ways Marriott and United Airlines dropped my frequent flier/frequent sleeper status after my traveling patterns changed.  Also, a listener tells us about a good Air France experience re-routing around an East Coast snow storm, and an audio comment about being sick on the road. Listen through to the end of the podcast for how to enter the latest TravelCommons contest. Here’s a direct link to the podcast file or you can listen to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.


Here are the transcript from TravelCommons podcast #88:

  • Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
  • Coming to you yet again from the TravelCommons studios. I just can’t seem to get my act together enough to have everything written in time to record from a hotel room, though if there’s going to be an April episode, I’ll need to.  The beginning of April finds me in Venice, wrapping up the Spring Break I discussed in an earlier episode.  I then get a week at home with some family coming in, then down to Florida for a week, then to the UK, and then, the last week of April in India, bouncing across the usual suspects – Bangalore, Pune, and Chennai – with a weekend in the Kerala backwaters.
  • Not that March has been quiet.  I’m just back from a trip to New York earlier this week and then head down to Phoenix next week. I’m hoping to catch a Spring Training ball game while I’m down there.  I’ve been working off and on in Phoenix since the mid-‘90’s and have never been to a Spring Training game.  Every year I say I’m going to carve out time, and every year something comes up.  This year, though.  This will be the year.  Again working on that New Year’s travel resolution about taking more quick breaks.  The fact that I’m still thinking about a New Year’s resolution has to be breaking some sort of rule.
  • Stay with me ‘til the end of this episode – either the preferred way by listening or the ADD way by scrubbing – for a quick TravelCommons contest.
  • Bridge Music — Keep Your Motor Running by Dave Hole

Following Up

  • OK, let’s see what bits and bobs I have been keeping track of on Evernote, and Twitter, and Facebook…
  • For everyone who watched all the way to the end of the Vietnam video back in September – and for those of you who haven’t, it’s still available on the web site, on the iTunes feed, and on the TravelCommons Facebook page – there’s a picture, a head shot of me, with a boa – the large snake, not the feathered thing — draped around my neck.  You can plainly see the receding graying hair. So it caught me up short when a United gate agent looked at my boarding pass, and then at me, and said “You look too young to have a Mileage Plus number this low.”  It worked – I gave her one of those customer service “attaboys’ they always send to their status fliers.  It reminded me of my last trip to India when the immigration agent looked at me a couple of times and said that I looked much younger than my passport photo.  Either I’ve unknowingly picked up the ability to cloud men’s minds or that picture of Dorian Grey I picked up at a garage sale actually works.
  • We’ve talked in past episodes about how for frequent travelers, the cost of wireless data plans can quickly pay for themselves in avoided hotel WiFi charges – 3-4 nights in a month — if you tend to stay in hotels that still charge for wireless or don’t have precious metal status at chains like Hilton or Marriott.  Anyhow, I’ve seen over the past few months a growing number of wireless hotspots when I pop open my laptop in my hotel room.  I see in the network browser at least 2-3 Verizon hotspots, a Sprint, and every once in a while, a Virgin hotspot.  I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised – most Android phones have 3G hotspot capabilities built in.  I guess it’s the power I’m more surprised about.  If I’m seeing 5 or 6 of these, they’re broadcasting farther than just the adjacent room.  And while most have security enabled, there’s always 1 or 2 running naked.  And this will only increase after AT&T iPhones get hotspot capability with iOS 4.3.  With only 11 channels in the US implementation of WiFi, there’s gonna be some congestion in the air soon.
  • Some good comments also came into the web site, the e-mail box and Twitter since the last episode…
  • Andre – who describes himself as a “long-time listener from Germany” – left this comment on the Winter Travel Tips post
    • Wanted to share a positive experience with an airline call center when I was travelling to the US in January. I flew Air France on the international legs – Stuttgart to Paris-DeGaulle to JFK and back, and used United miles for the domestic portion to Florida – JFK to Washington-Dulles to Miami.
    • As my departure approached, so did a massive snowstorm. Just as I finished packing my luggage the night before departure, Air France e-mailed me that my flight out of Kennedy was canceled.  Indeed, AF kept all 4 of their JFK flights in Paris to keep their schedule from getting screwed up. I called the AF call center. I said that I’m currently in Miami and asked if there was flight to Paris out of here or DC. After waiting on hold for a while the agent transferred me to a special Delta help desk, warning me that I might have to pay extra to fly out of MIA. Next agent told me the same, but she had to talk to AF in Paris anyways.
    • After another wait, she came back, totally astonished that AF, not only accepted the re-routing, but also did that free of charge. I guess they were just happy to have one less passenger standing around in New York.
    • So, there are still moments where you think that you are a valued customer and they care about you.
  • Andre, thanks for that story.  This was a tough winter in the US.  I have a friend from Detroit who was in Boston one week and supposed to be in New York the next.  One of those storms blew through, cancelled his flight, and his next available flight home was the following Monday, when he was supposed to be flying back to New York.  He just hung around Boston for the weekend, bought some new underwear, and then caught Amtrak down to New York Monday morning – much less stressful.
  • Peter Zurich sent in a note about the running thread on the TSA’s full body scanners, specifically about my observation in the last episode about the partial roll out of the scanners.  What good was it to scan 100% of the passengers in ORD’s Terminal 1 last Monday morning – pushing security lines down the concourse, and yet have no scanners at all in alternative airports like Ft Myers, FL.  In this same vein, Peter writes
    • I am all onboard for security, but what we have now is security theatre that is just another meaningless escalation from x-ray to liquid ban to shoes off.  We joked about what a good thing it was that Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, didn’t have it in his underwear, and of course, that’s the next thing that happens, and we get the naked scanners.  On and on it goes…
  • Yes, Peter, and so it does.  One thing the housing market meltdown has done is make people less mobile – they can’t easily get out of their houses to move to another city for a new job.  The number of people flying every week to their jobs is growing.  Making this work requires smooth predictable travel – something the TSA seems to have no interest in facilitating.
  • And finally, yet another audio comment – I love these – this time from Lori Humm, another long-time TravelCommons listener, about a time when she was sick while on the road
  • Lori Humm audio clip
  • Lori, thanks for that story.  Makes me feel a bit of a whiner — Type A flu definitely tops my cold I whined about in the last episode.
  • If you have a question, a story, a comment, a travel tip – the voice of the traveler, send it along.  The e-mail address is comments@travelcommons.com — use the Voice Memo app on your iPhone or something like Virtual Recorder on your Android phone to record and send in an audio comment like Lori or Gary in last month’s episode; send a Twitter message to mpeacock, or you can post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page — or you can always go old-school and post your thoughts on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
  • Bridge Music — Baja Taxi by Brian Buckit

New Travel Goodies

  • Chris Truelove, another long time TravelCommons listener from the UK, dropped me a line a couple of weeks back, saying that he would be in Chicago for the 2011 Travel Goods show to launch the latest version of his luggage locator tag business. I had mentioned his globalbagtag.com business some episodes ago, and now he’s launching a new line – back2you.com.
  • Always looking for some podcast content – as well as the opportunity to meet a listener – I headed down on Sunday afternoon.
  • McCormick Center in Chicago is one of the world’s largest exhibition spaces, so finding the show took a little bit.  Walking in, it was luggage as far as I could see.  There were lots of colors on display.  Everybody – well, except for Tumi – was looking to make a break from black.  I couldn’t discern a clear alternative, though – was red the new black or was beige.  I did see a surprising number of hardshell rolling bags and in all sorts of wild prints.  Perhaps those are more targeted at the recreational market – can’t say I saw a lot of cheetah-print hardshell bags being put in the overhead on my morning flight to New York last week.
  • In spite of all the colors, my eyes began to glaze over – you can only look at so many suitcases before sleep – or boredom – begins to wash over you.  Then I walked into the back room and things got much more interesting.  Rather than 2-story luggage displays, in here were smaller booths filled with all sorts of travel gadgets.  Even the bags back here had interesting twists. Powerbag showed backpacks and briefcases with built-in batteries, complete with built-in iPhone and USB cords to keep your phones and iPods topped off while walking down the concourse.  And a company called Runnur (http://gorunnur.com/) was selling a fanny pack reengineered into something like a bandolier, slinging everything across one shoulder instead of resting on your back-side.
  • It was here that I found Chris and so, using the Voice Memo app on my iPhone, I asked him to tell me about Back2You (http://back2you.com/)
  • Back2You interview

    Back2You Bag Tag

  • Thanks Chris.  Those tags could come in handy on my upcoming trips to Italy, the UK, and India where I won’t be in any single place more than a couple of days.
  • Walking around the back room, I found some other interesting products
  • TuGo interview
  • I’ll post a picture in the show notes.  I tried TuGo (http://goodtugo.com/)  out last Monday morning in ORD.  It got it on my bag in less than a minute, put my coffee in there, then put my backpack on top of my bag and it worked like a charm.  Not sure if the problem it’s solving is worth the space it takes up in my bag, but it definitely works.
  • One of the themes in the back room seemed to be comfort – as the seat pitch – the distance between rows – shrink and planes get more crowded, people are looking to buy a little something to make the journey more bearable.
  • Kuhi Comfort interview

    TuGo Cupholder

  • I tried the Kuhi Comfort (http://www.kuhicomfort.com/).  It was more comfortable than the typical neck pillow. I’m not sure about the pouch for aromatherapy. I like a little lavender oil as much as the next person, but in coach, where you’re less than a foot from the other passenger’s head – one person’s relaxing aromatherapy is the next person’s eye watering stench…
  • The other theme I picked up was hygiene.  There were a handful of booths selling bed bug powders and plastic barriers.  The booth across from Chris Truelove’s –Shelves to Go (http://www.shelvestogo.net) was selling a packable shelving system – lifts straight out of your bag and hangs on the closet rod – avoiding, as the brochure says, “the risk of possible exposure to dirt and insect infestation” from putting your close in the hotel dresser  — I’ll put a picture in the show notes.
  • And then there was this new twist on the lowly wipe
  • Paper Shower (http://papershower.com/) interview
  • So there you go, no end of stuff to make your travel life a bit easier, and your bag a bit heavier.

    Shelves to Go

  • I’ll put URLs and any pictures I have of these products in the show notes.
  • Bridge Music — Emily C by Fiasco

Losing Status

  • Back in episode 82, I talked about how my job switch – moving from consulting to being the CIO of a technology company – was changing the way I travel, and how the new destinations were shaking up my frequent traveler program status.
  • It all sorted out in mid-January.  Because of our office locations, I switched from Marriott – where I’d been top-tier Platinum status for at least 7 years – to Hilton for no other reason than sheer convenience.  I hit top tier Hilton – Diamond; gem stones rather than precious metals for Hilton – in December.  And, oddly enough, still haven’t received a new card or welcome packet.  Every other program – you hit a major tier and there are all sorts of thank you letters and program brochures showing up on your doorstep.  Hilton – nothing.
  • As interesting, though was Marriott’s reaction.  I don’t think I stayed enough nights to qualify for any status, but they “soft landed” me.  They dropped me one level down – to Gold, which still gets you free WiFi and free breakfast in the concierge lounge – and an offer to let me buy back my Platinum status for 40,000 points.  Nice approach.  If I thought I’d be staying at more Marriotts this year, I’d have considered the buy back, but I appreciated the soft landing and have stayed at a couple of Marriott since them.
  • United Airlines – not as nice.  No soft landing here.  I dropped two tiers – from 1K to Premiere, which is the status level I’d qualified for by the end of the year.  As I mentioned in episode 84, when I saw in October that I would miss American’s Exec Platinum by about 10,000 miles, I flipped over to United to preserve a minimum level of status.  Which is exactly what I received.  Like Marriott, though, I received an offer to buy back my 1K status, but the price was a bit steeper — $999 plus flying 35,000 qualifying miles in the first quarter 0f 2011.  Neither of those made any sense.
  • I’ll probably go back to my old ways – splitting my mileage between United and American and keeping mid-tier status – Premiere Exec — on United because, with monthly flights to Dallas and Fort Myers, FL where United has little to none non-stop service, there’s no way I’ll make 1K.
  • Friends who left consulting used to joke that first January was one of their most conflicted times – down because they lost status and were now traveling with the peons; but happy with what it represented – that they were spending a lot more time with their families.

Closing

  • Closing music — iTunes link to iconPictures of You by Evangeline
  • OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #88
  • I hope you all enjoyed this podcast and I hope you decide to stay subscribed.
  • Bridge music from Music Alley
  • And now for the contest.  In the past, I’ve run some quick contests to drive iTunes reviews.  This time, I – like every podcaster – am looking to drive Facebook “likes” – there’s got to be a better noun than that – “followers” on Twitter may be a bit creepy, but at least it’s not pathetic.  But, that’s the lingo, so I’ll have to go with it.  Go to the TravelCommons Facebook page – there’s link in the shownotes and a badge above the fold on the first page of the web site – “like” it, and leave a comment.  The best comment, funniest or most insightful as judged by me, wins 2 drink coupons on United Airlines.  I look forward to some good stuff
  • If you have a story, thought, comment, gripe – the voice of the traveler — send ‘em along, text or MP3 file, to comments@travelcommons.com or to @mpeacock on Twitter, or post them on our website at travelcommons.com. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to send in e-mails, Tweets and post comments on the website
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2 Comments.

  1. More on the subject of being ill while travelling.

    A couple of years ago I attended a meeting in Cairo and picked up some food poisoning on my last day there. It gently manifested itself just before I boarded my flight to Amsterdam, where I was due to connect onto a flight to Panama. The effect of the food poisoning was uncomfortable at 35,000 feet.

    Rather than continue the torment I stayed in Schiphol to recover before returning home.

    When I got home I discovered that a friend at the same meeting had been hit much harder and needed medical care for a few days before returning home. She was not the only one affected. A large travel industry conference was at the same hotel and several hundred attendees contracted the same bug.

    Based on this experience I place extra value in the medical component of travel insurance and select grilled meats and unpeeled fruits and vegetables over salads if I have any concerns over potential food poisoning.

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