Squeezing in another episode before moving the TravelCommons studios, we talk with Candid Wueest of Symantec about websites that leak traveler data and what we can do to protect ourselves. I talk about yet more frustration with the Avios frequent flyer program, while a listener writes in about his great experience with Freebird, a new flight rebooking service. I wrap up talking about great street food we had while touring Brittany, France last month. All this and more at the direct link to the podcast file or listening to it right here by clicking on the arrow below.
Here is the transcript of TravelCommons podcast #151:
- Intro music — Warmth by Makkina
- Coming to you today from the TravelCommons studios outside of Chicago, IL, for the last time…. Not the last time for TravelCommons, just the last time for the studios “outside of Chicago”. We’re picking up stakes and moving about 20 miles east-northeast to Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. Hence the reason for the short-cycle on this episode. We’ll be breaking down and packing up the studio and production bay next week and probably won’t have everything reassembled until the end of the month. The recording isn’t really the issue — I could always go back to my roots and find a spare bathroom to record in. It’s more about the production. I’m not sure I want to shrink my workflow down from a beefy dual 22-inch monitor Windows 10 mini-tower rig to my 2014 vintage 11-inch MacBook Air.
- Being consumed by the move logistics vortex also means I haven’t done any real travel in the 2 weeks since the last episode — but, given my most recent travel experiences, as laid out in last episode’s Travel Interruptus epic, I’ve appreciated the break. Especially when yet another yet another April snowstorm that blew up 700 flights last weekend. Instead, I’ve been wrestling once again with Avios — the British Airways, Iberia, and now Aer Lingus frequent flyer program — trying to book a Chicago-Dublin-Edinburgh Aer Lingus itinerary for my daughter’s graduation from University of St Andrews next month. I’ve been pretty vocal about my challenges with Avios over the years. In this go-around, the first wackiness was just trying to use the Avios website. To search for flights, you need to log in with your BA, Iberia, or Aer Lingus credentials. I try with all three; and fail with all three. Seems that the passwords given out by BA and Iberia don’t meet Avios’ security rules, so they fail. I assumed the username for my Aer Lingus account was my email address and the password seemed strong enough, but that kept failing too. Finally, after digging around my Aer Lingus profile, I found a separate username, which I’d never seen or used before, and that worked. Finally through the gate and onto the second wackiness — the difference between the value of an Avios point on the Aer Lingus and Avios web sites. The award offers on both sites were points + cash. Taking the “market rate” for the ticket (pulled from Expedia), subtracting out the required cash payment, and dividing by the number of required Avios points gives the value of the Avios point for that award offer. My rule of thumb is — get at least 2 cents/point or pay cash. The Aer Lingus site valued an Avios point at 0.7 cents while the Avios site hit my 2-cent minimum. I couldn’t quite understand that 65% difference, but I booked our tickets on the wonkier Avios site before it went away. If I remember anything from my University of Chicago business school courses, it’s that markets are efficient; 65% price differences don’t last forever. Though in this case, that difference may linger because the Avios website makes it so damn hard to find.
- Bridge Music — Lakeside Jam by spinningmerkaba (c) copyright 2017 Licensed under a Creative Commons Noncommercial Sampling Plus license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/jlbrock44/55998
- Veteran TravelCommons listener Mika Pyyhkala sent in a note this week talking about his great experience with a flight rebooking service, Freebird. Mika writes:
- I was flying with a companion from (Wichita) ICT-STL and STL-DTW. Just as the plane was descending to DTW, I received text messages from WN and Freebird that STL-DTW on WN had been cancelled. Freebird then manually advised that the only flight for that day was a DL STL-DTW, and they were going to book it in case I wanted it; if they waited longer there might not be enough time to issue the new ticket on Delta through their travel agent. They just asked me to confirm that I in fact wanted the Delta ticket.
- I confirmed we wanted the 2 Delta tickets, and by the time the door opened in STL we had a confirmation number to check in for the Delta flight leaving in 47 minutes. We got seats together on the Delta flight that were assigned by the Freebird process, and they even gave us free drinks!
- I think we actually arrived in DTW a few minutes earlier than we were scheduled on the original flight, and it made for a great travel story and adventure! This was my first time using Freebird as well!
- It costs $19 to protect a one way trip per traveler. It’s simple to work with them: unlike insurance, there are no claim forms, long waits, or papers to sign
- Mika, thanks for this. I hadn’t heard of Freebird before Mika’s note. Hitting their website, they’re selling their service to companies, travel agencies, and to individual travelers. Clicking through to a TechCrunch article about them, it says they’re also talking to Amex and Citibank about including Freebird as a credit card benefit. The article quotes the CEO, Ethan Bernstein – “It’s funny what happens when people deal with uncertainty; uncertainty is the worst. As soon you give people information, human support and technology to help them solve their problems, they experience the event so much differently.” Which is exactly right. Certainty lets you plan; uncertainty just leaves you to stew… and drink at the airport bar… and eat bad airport food… and bitch Tweet. Yup, uncertainty leads to lots of bad things
- One more-fun-than-necessarily-good thing on last month’s trip was getting to try out an alpha version of a new augmented reality feature for Google Maps. I used it first in Stockholm; we got off the Arlanda Express at the Central Train station and wanted make our way over to the Östermalms Saluhall for lunch. When I chose “Walking” as our transport mode, a “Start AR” button showed up next to the usual button to start the directions. With AR, I’d hold my phone up, the display would use the camera to show the streetscape in front of me with the directions — street names, arrows — overlaid on the real-time image. I thought it was a nice add; reduced any ambiguity about where the next turn was. One interesting feature — when I started walking, the screen dimmed and a message popped up telling me to stop looking at the phone and look straight ahead. All in all, it’s kinda fun. At least I thought so; Andrew and Irene seemed much less impressed. It worked very well for what was billed as an alpha product. It’ll be interesting to see how it develops, and how fast Google rolls it out.
- But even without a broader AR roll-out, Google Maps seems on track to become the next “super app” — sorta the Western counterpart to China’s WeChat — the first “super app”, a Swiss Army Knife-kind of “it does everything” app. Now Google Maps isn’t to that level — yet — but it is growing. It started as a mapping app, then added driving directions, then ride share — showing Uber and Lyft prices, then public transit directions with real-time arrival times, replacing the core use case for apps like Transit. Then the “Explore Nearby” became more prominent — which, for me, has supplanted Yelp when looking for a restaurant because it’s so much more convenient, and with deep links to OpenTable for reservations; and for nearby hotels, direct booking links to Expedia and Booking.com. I wasn’t surprised when I saw a stat that those “Near Me” searches grew 150 percent the last year. I’m not quite sure what I think about this — loving a free service that keeps becoming more valuable vs. becoming more enslaved to the Google overlords. Back in episode #132, I listed all the travel apps on my smartphone, and Google Maps was the most important — “Indeed, it’s the only travel app with its own screen real estate rather than sharing space in the Travel folder,” I said. And it only keeps getting more indispensable.
- Thinking back to our last day in Paris when both Ubers that we ordered were nice black Mercedes, I couldn’t help thinking how the quality of US Uber and Lyft vehicles has slipped. I remember when I started using Uber in 4-5 years ago, the cars were pristine. I remember working in Baltimore one summer; I was more than happy to wait 5 minutes for an Uber rather than take one of the cabs waiting at the stand right outside the building I was in. Those cabs were so beat up, so full of trash, and most of the time, without working air conditioning. Today, cabs haven’t gotten much cleaner, but Uber and Lyft seem to be lowering their standards. I dunno if it’s because of falling unemployment rates or trying to keep up with growth or squeezing driver pay to improve their post-IPO margins — or all of the above — but I’m seeing a real drop in quality.
- Long-time TravelCommons listeners will recall that I’ve spent a lot of time in New Orleans airport and other than serving beer in go cups French Quarter-style so you can walk around the terminal with it, there’s not much good to say about it. Especially with regards to food and restaurants. For such a great food town to have such mediocre airport concessions has always been beyond me. But then again, the original terminal was built in 1959, and then expanded in the mid-70’s and mid-90’s. The new $1 billion replacement terminal was originally scheduled to open last year during New Orleans’ tricentennial, but that then slipped to February of this year, then to May, and now to a “to be determined” date sometime in the fall. The restaurant selection is supposed to be much better but I hope they don’t change that beer policy though. One time, waiting out yet another thunderstorm delay, I’d bought a beer and was standing by the gate drinking it because the bar was full. American called boarding and I walked up to the gate. The agent stopped me — “You can drink that beer anywhere in the airport — except on the jetway.” I looked down; I’d forgotten that I was still carrying that beer. I stepped to the side, chugged it, and then got on the plane. Felt like a very New Orleans thing to do.
- And if you have any travel rants, questions, a story, a comment, a travel tip – the voice of the traveler, send it along. The e-mail address is email@example.com — you can send in an audio comment; a Twitter message to mpeacock, post your thoughts on the TravelCommons’ Facebook page or our Instagram account at Travelcommons — or you can post comments on the web site at TravelCommons.com.
- Bridge Music — A Thousand And None by Speck (c) copyright 2018 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/speck/57256 Ft: Mr_Yesterday
Traveler Data Leaks
- Interview with Candid Wueest, Principal Threat Researcher at Symantec and author of a blog post titled Two in Three Hotel Websites Leak Guest Booking Details and Allow Access to Personal Data
- Bridge Music — dazed by Jeris (c) copyright 2012 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/VJ_Memes/39456 Ft: airtone
Brittany Street Food
- I’ll write a proper “Road Trip” post about our Brittany trip later this spring, after we get settled in the new digs, but after streaming a few episodes of Netflix’s “Street Food” series, I started thinking about some of the Breton street food we enjoyed while touring last month. If you’ve seen any of the Netflix series, you know that it’s more about the vendors than the food. But my French trails off after “oui,” “non,” “merci,” and “S’il vous plaît” so I wasn’t able to get much of the vendor’s life stories. So this will be all about the food.
- The first place we stayed was Cancale, and we went there for one reason – oysters. Like people have been doing for 300-some odd years. When the tide is out, you can see miles of oyster beds with big farm tractors moving through the rows, hauling out trailers of oysters. Lining the ramp where the tractors drive up out of the beds is a little oyster market — 8 stalls selling oysters fresh from the beds for €5-6/dozen. After adding another couple of euros for shucking, a half lemon and the use of a plastic platter, we’d have our afternoon snack — sitting on the sea wall by the market, slurping through a couple dozen very briny oysters while watching the tractors work, and then pitching the empty shells back onto the beach for the seagulls to pick through. Our first afternoon, we only had a couple of cans of beer in our jacket pocket. The next couple of afternoons, we’d pour a nice white wine into some empty Evian bottles (Claire and I preferred a Sancerre) and make sure we had a good supply of wet wipes. We didn’t miss an afternoon on that sea wall while in Cancale.
- Buckwheat is a big thing in Brittany. It’s been grown in Brittany for half a millennium or more, and for almost that long, it seems, has been turned into a galette. a buckwheat crêpe. But a crêpe in form and shape only. Instead of a soft white wheat flour crêpe filled with jam or Nutella, the galette is crisper/firmer and savory. Fine on its own smeared with Breton butter, or with egg and cheese and ham inside. We got into Concarneau, on the southwest coast of Brittany about an hour before the weekly Friday outdoor market closed. I counted a half-dozen galette trucks. We walked up to the closest one. The cook was finishing up what looked like a weekend’s worth of galettes for the person in front of us — flipping them, then pulling them off two hot metal disks, buttering them, and adding them to the stack. It was Friday in Lent, so I went for the egg, onion, and cheese galette. The creaminess of the cheese played nicely against the nutty graininess of the buckwheat.
- The next day we drove to Rennes, our last stop in Brittany. We dropped the rental car at the train station and took the subway to Place des Lices for the huge Saturday market. We walked down from the subway station, through the fruit and vegetable stands lining the street — beautiful stuff, but we’re leaving the next day, so we’re not doing a lot of green grocery shopping. There, between the two market halls, is a collection of food trucks; about 70% of them selling what we were looking for — galette-saucisse — the classic Breton street food that is pretty much what the straight translation from French to English suggests — a sausage in a galette. Kinda like a Breton hot dog, it’s a cooked pork sausage wrapped in a cool galette, maybe with some grilled onions and dijon mustard added. There were lines tailing back from all the trucks serving these. A local guy pointed one truck out to Irene — “They’re the best”, he said. She and Claire stood in queue while Andrew and I searched for drinks. Around the corner, we found a local cider maker; a couple of tables surrounded by crates of cider bottles. Through a mangled bit of Franglais, we bought a bottle of dry cider that had stayed cool in the shade and four cups, and got back to the food truck line just in time to be handed my galette-saucisse. After finishing the sausage and cider, I swung past the cider stand to give him the empty bottle — kinda in-person recycling. There wasn’t much time to catch up on his life story, but it was a sunny Saturday and he had a full line; looked like he was having a good day.
- Closing music — Pictures of You by Evangeline
- OK, that’s it, that’s the end of TravelCommons podcast #151
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