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Premium Economy Service

December 14, 2012

Premium Economy Benefits
Premium Economy service is touted by various carriers as the new seating class. It offers comfort and amenities at a price above economy class service.  Premium economy seating amenities vary depending on the airline and if travel is domestic or international. On most domestic carriers it’s extra leg room and wider seat width in the forward section of aircraft and include priority boarding. For international travel the amenities vary from carrier to carrier.

The seating at the front of the coach section offers with 3-4 inches in extra leg room and 50% more seat recline. Jet Blue has “Even More Space” and presently includes “Even More Speed” with priority boarding and early access to overhead bins.

International Travel
Traveling internationally, carriers such as Delta and United service include complimentary beer, wine and spirits. International carriers extend dedicated cabins, with priority check in and boarding, increase in baggage requirements and amenity kits.  The term means very different things at different airlines for very different prices.  

Procedures to Follow
The next challenge is confirming this option for domestic US travel. It requires purchasing your discounted economy class ticket, then going on-line or to a kiosk to pay for the extra leg room and secure your seat. If you are frequent traveler with the airline or purchasing full economy tickets the service is discounted or complimentary. DL and UA keep the same booking features internationally, where international carriers confirm seating at time of booking.

First to Offer
Virgin Atlantic Airways was the first carrier to introduce the Premium Economy service on transatlantic flights from NYC to London and beyond. Without question the widest seat, dedicated check in with priority boarding and upgrade meal service.

A Good Option
The “premium economy option” is reasonably-priced with a good solution to taking the edge off flying.  Business Class airfares are out of the reach for most travelers. As an aficionado at long haul international travel, I gladly welcome the seating comfort on 8-16 hours flights.  The Virgin Atlantic comparison chart below gives the differences compared to other carriers. I welcome you to contact me your travel agent to decipher the intricacies of “premium economy travel.”

 

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The Skinny on Passports

December 16, 2011
us passport
U.S. Passport

Traveling under the protection of one ruler or land while in the land of another has probably existed since the beginning.  The earliest mention of this arrangement was in 450BC when the Persian king Artaxerxes went with letters from the king requesting safe passage to the lands beyond the Euphrates.

First  American Passports
The first American passports were issued to some of the citizens of the thirteen states during the War for Independence (1775-1783).  Benjamin Franklin, then the minister to France, designed these first documents.  U S passport were issued by the Department of State as well as states, cities and notaries public.

This lead to confusion abroad and some European countries refused to recognize those not issued by the Dept of State.  In 1856 Congress gave the Dept of State sole authority to issue U.S. passports.  Still, there was not any statutory authority requirement until World War I. Required passports for Americans under U.S. law began in 1941.  A 1978 amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 finally made it illegal to enter or depart the U.S. without an issued passport.

Changes Over Time
U.S. passport design and contents have changed over the years.  In 1926 it had a red cover and was 32 pages long, from 1941 to 1976 the cover was green then changed to its current blue.  Additionally there are currently brown covers (US employees stationed overseas and members of Congress), black covers (American diplomats), blue-green (refugees, permanent resident aliens).

Passport Card
Passport Card

Passport Card
There also is a U. S. passport card which is a small ID card which can be used for crossing land and sea borders with Canada, Mexico, Caribbean and Bermuda.  It is not, however, valid for air travel.

Acquiring a Passport
There are 22 regional passport agencies in the U.S.  We are very fortunate to have one close to us in Norwalk, CT (overflow from NYC office).  The agencies can produce a passport within 24 hours for emergency situations.  Additionally, 9000 passport acceptance facilities including post offices, courts, libraries, county and city office accept routine passport applications.  There also are Passport Expediting Companies to assist those who can’t submit their application at any of the Regional Agencies.

Fees are based on the type of document.  A first time adult applicant pays $110 per passport book, $30 per passport card plus a $25 execution fee for 10 year vaildity.  Minors (up to 16 years) pay a $80 application fee and $15 for passport card plus $25 execution fee for 5 year validity.  If you require faster processing, there is a $60 expediting fee (2-3 week processing time)  And my “tip for the day” is to request additional visa pages to your passport book at time of application, there is no extra charge and the number of pages in your passport increases from 32 to 52.  If you need to do this after the passport has been issued there is a charge of $82.

Must Have
Every person who is a US citizen must have a passport when leaving the US.  That includes all persons born or naturalized in the US plus persons born in Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, Guam, Mariana Island.  When applying for your first passport you’ll need your orginal birth certificate, wedding license if you name is not as on your birth certificate plus two 2X2 passport photos.  Additonal information is required for children under 16 years.

Biometric Passport
Biometric Passport

Biometric Passports
The most recent change in passport has been the legal driving force of biometric passports.  All passports issued after 2006 have a microchip which stores the photograph of the passport holder,passport data and personal data of the holder.  This radio frequency identification chip (RFID) is large enough to store biometric identifiers such as fingerprints and retina scans.  The data is scannable by readers which speeds up immigration processing.  The passport cover contains a radio-frequency shield, so the cover must be open for the data to be read.

Be Prepared
Having your passport at the “ready” gives real credence to the phrase “don’t leave home without us”.  Additionally, it’s a good idea when traveling, to have a copy of your passport and extra photos, in case your passport is lost or stolen you’ll have something to present to the closest American embassy to get a new passport.

Is Bigger Better?

November 30, 2011

WTT is a firm believer that bigger is not necessarily better.  And we wondered why OCEANIA Cruise Line thought it had to build a bigger ship when it has already done a great job of capturing the market with it’s 3 ships, the Regatta, Insignia and Nautica.   So when the Marina sailed into New York recently, we gladly accepted an invitation to do a ship inspection and have lunch on board.

Oceania Marina
Oceania Marina

The Marinas executives were very involved is her design, for the first time able to create a ship to be built with their design, taste and style.  (the 3 Regatta class ships were formerly the bankrupt  Renaissance Cruise ships) The 1500 pieces of art are but one of the many illustrations of the incredible attention to detail throughout this 1250 passenger stunning new mid-size ship.

The staterooms are larger than their other ships.  The top suites are designed and outfitted with Ralph Lauren furnishings and the other categories are products of Dakota Jackson.  96% of the accommodations have private verandas.  Yet the on board atmosphere is one of Country Club-Casual ambience.  Tuxedos and gowns are never required.

alcove in the library
Alcove in the Library

Their onboard enrichment programs are extensive (they might have problems getting people to disembark while in port).  Choosing between the Canyon Ranch Spaclub, guest lecturers, computer instruction are difficult enough, but then you also have the unique resident Artist Loft center offering instructions in oils or watercolor painting as well as various other crafts.

The people who will really be in their glory are the Foodies out there!  Master Chef Jacques Pepin has been the Oceania executive culinary director since the line launched in 2003 and is very involved in the “food” aspect of the Marina.  There are 6 distinctive open-seating restaurants, all at no extra charge.

Banyan & Oceania chandelier

Dining Room Chandelier

The Grand Dining Room features European fine cuisine and Canyon Ranch Spa Cuisine.  Jacques is Chef Pepin’s first restaurant on land or at sea, taking casual French cuisine to new heights with it’s Pepin designed menu and  a showcase of original art by the Chef.  Red Ginger serves contemporary interpretations of Asian classics including Japanese,Thai and Vietnamese.  The Polo Grill, a classic steak house has prime aged beef and succulent seafood.  Toscana is a combination of classic Italian and authentic family recipes.  The Terrace Café provides more casual food with hand-made pizzas.  Additionally there’s the Waves Grill serving breakfast and lunch by the pool.

presentation of seared sea bass
Presentation of Seared Sea Bass

And if you’re REALLY into food, you’ll love the Bon Appetit Culinary Center which is billed as the only hands-on cooking school at sea.  In this state-of the art studio you’ll learn from Master Chef’s from around the world, have hands-on culinary experiences plus shoreside events, private wine tastings and market tours.

The ports of call vary with the seasons as most passengers are destination oriented Americans.  There are no facilities for children and few are likely to be present.  Her sister ship, the Riviera, is due to launch early 2012.

Overseas Travel with Electrical Apparatus

November 15, 2011

A frequently asked question from those about to travel abroad is whether or not their electrical devices will work.  And the answer is yes and no.

Obviously it depends on where you’re going.  North American operates on 110-120 volts while most of the rest of the world uses 220-240V.  Plugging in a device without checking the voltage can result in the destruction of your apparatus or even damage the operating system of the outlet you used.

First of all, do you really need it?
We all are such creatures of habit and when packing for a trip tend to think we need to bring more than we actually need, especially personal appliances such as a hair dryer, travel iron, clothes steamer and beverage heater (check to see if they are dual voltage).  In this day and age, most hotels provide these as standard in room amenities, so we have second thoughts about this added baggage weight.

Check the voltage!
Small electrical devices are another issue.  Computers/laptops tend to be dual voltage as do camera battery chargers.  This means they can operate on 100-240 volt range.  People suffering from sleep apnea bringing their CPAP or BIPAP machines need to check the voltage.  This information is stated either on a label on the actual device or in the owners manual. Always know the operating level of your device before plugging it into the outlet!

Electrical Adapters

If you turn out to need a voltage converter be sure to get to correct type.  The choices are Solid State Converters and Transformers.  They convert electricity from 220-240volts down to 110-120V (or vice versa).

Be sure to check this!
You are most likely to need one or more adapter plugs.  These do not convert electricity, they modify foreign outlets to accommodate US plugs and you can need more than 1 type within an individual country.

A good source of information to determine your need is   http://voltagevalet.com .  You can purchase individual plugs, sets of plugs and/or multi-function units which house 4 of the most common  adaptor/converter/USB charger in one device.  There are several online sources for these products plus they’re usually available in stores that sell luggage, some hardware stores and places such as Staples.

Another consideration, especially in third world countries or those with marginal power sources, would be a surge protector.  These are voltage specific, so if you’re in a 220-240V region you must have that capacity protector.  There are units that provide complete three line power and modem protection.  A good source for these protection products would be:  http://www.magellans.com/store/Adaptors___Converters

There are any number of products out there which can be used with a wide range of electronic, motorized and heating appliances to make your overseas travel safe and comfortable.

10 Good Reasons NOT To Use A Travel Agent!

November 9, 2011

There recently have been many articles about the demise and re-incarnation of the Travel Agency Industry.  Travel agency bookings have increased more than 5% during the first 3 months of this year alone.

I thought I’d poke fun at a recent article in JAX FAX magazine promoting this trend and list 10 reasons why you should NOT be going to your friendly neighborhood Travel Consultant.

  1.  Convenient One-Stop Shopping—isn’t it more fun to go searching for lodging, ground transportation, activities, tours from multiple sources than with 1 call to your agency.
  2.  Consumer Advocate—when problems occur during your trip they act on your behalf depriving you of the fun trying to reason with the source.
  3.  Expert Guidance—they’ve actually been to the destination you’re considering robbing you of the experience of making the wrong turn.
  4.  Save Time—they’re calling around and doing all the time consuming work of planning a complex itinerary when you were looking forward to that challenge.
  5.   Updated Information—your travel consultant is constantly communicating with the travel community giving you the most updated information concerning your trip and you were looking forward to learning how to.
  6.  Customer Service—agencies offer that “personal touch” offering help and advice that the website cannot provide so you can be anonymous.
  7.  Travel Documentation—preparation and organization of necessary documents, advice on passports and visas just as you were getting into evaluating State Dept Travel Advisories.
  8.  Travel Expertise—not only have these agents probably traveled to you destination but they frequently attend update seminars, which you don’t even know about, put that on your “to do” list.
  9.  Industry Access—they have access to Tour Operators, consolidators who exercise their clout with hotels, resorts to provide such amenities as early check-in, late checkout, room upgrade, dollar resort credits complimentary meals-which you’re not interested in.
  10.  Best Value for Your Money-Agents help you make your money go farther,

And you know best what to do with your money.

But just in case I haven’t convinced you, stop by!

Wilton Center Travel Office

Wilton Center Travel

Fastest Loser on Earth!

November 1, 2011

Las Vegas Rocks!
Having just returned from Las Vegas, the city with the dubious distinction of having the largest unemployment rate  (14%) of any city in the US, WTT’s first impression is you’d never know it—the place is jumping!

Judy Feeding the Slots

Judy Feeding the Slots

Also jumping is the speed with which you can watch your gambling dollars disappear.   Admittedly and obviously not much of a gambler, it’s still fun to play a little bit – $30.00 gone in 13 minutes at the quarter slots was too speedy for me.

Perfect Get-a-Way
The city ranks as one of the fastest growing in the U.S.  It has become an increasingly major upmarket travel destination.  Yes, there’s the gambling but also increasingly colossal hotels, world class performances, celebrity restaurants, interesting museums all within short distances and 320 sunny days annually. In short, a perfect long-weekend get-a-way with direct flights from many major gateways.  The airport is 10-15 minutes from down town.

Cosmopolitan Hotel
The Travel Conference we were attending was held at the new COSMOPOLITAN Hotel (part of Marriott’s new Autograph Collection) located on the Strip between Bellagio and City Center.  This 3000 room 60 story newly build showpiece has everything you could wish for:

  • casino, spa, pools, trendy shopping
  • 3 levels of convention meeting space
  • museum quality art work on display
  • 11 restaurants and several bars.

Most spectacular is the Chandelier Bar which is bejewled with over 2 million glass beads.  Their moderate room rates include free parking and wi fi.  The lobby and elevators fascinate with artistic mind-bending LCD video presentations which totally change the atmosphere from minute to minute.

Room With a Show!
Our room was a Terrace Studio (620 sq ft) was spacious and overlooked the Bellagio fountains.  This music and light show is the most popular free attraction in all of Vegas—more than 1000 water nozzles and 4000 lights the fountain sits in its own 8 acre lake performs every half hour and was well worth the additional room rate.

The recession hit Las Vegas hard but the Cosmopolitan was completely sold out and the average hotel occupancy rate was 86%.  So recovery is under way. And I did my part by not “breaking the bank”!

Slim Winnings

Slim Winnings

 

 

 

Can I Use My Credit Card While Traveling?

October 18, 2011
tags:
Foreign Currency

Photo credit: Grant Cochrane

Being in the travel business is often fraught with challenges, it’s not as simple as it looks.  You have to be conversant with many other fields which are indirectly affiliated with the world of travel.  One of the most frequently asked questions we get from travelers going outside of the US is “what’s the best way to deal with currency issues while abroad?”.

Fortunately it’s a lot easier than it used to be prior to the Euro.  Most of Europe (exceptions are Czech Rep, Denmark, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the UK) uses the Euro, limiting having to change with each border crossing.

It is possible to convert dollars at home before departure but the exchange rate is poor.  The most effective way to get cash is generally an ATM.  But you need to be careful with your choice of credit cards as they vary in fees.  Cards with the lowest fees include Capital One, HSBC premier and Citigold.  There are also daily limits as to how much you can withdraw.  It’s  a good idea to check with your credit card company as to their foreign transaction fees as well as alert them that you will be traveling—so they don’t deny your card as being suspicious when charges from another country start appearing.

I personally prefer to change money on arrival at my destination.  There’s always a local bank located just outside the customs area and a takes but a few minutes to convert US dollars to Euros or other local currency.  Be sure to request small denominations so you’re not attempting to tip the driver with a hundred euro bill! These days most travel arrangements are prepaid to take advantage of special offers so additional cash requirements are minimal.

A looming predicament for the US credit card industry is the advent of EMV cards in Europe.  EMV is an acronym for Europay, Mastercard and Visa and is also known as “smart card” or “chip and pin card”.and employ a different technology than our magnetic strip cards.  Their point of sales terminals can not process the magnetic strip cards.  Imagine how distressing it would be when you find yourself parked in a non-attended parking lot whose card swiper only accepts EMV cards and there’s no way to get out!  Or driving down the autobahn, about to run out of gas and the next gas station only accepts EMV, could be a real bummer.  We’ll keep you posted on this scenario.