This week's travel news

Online travel research fatigue, Calin Rovinescu, full airplane flights, Rancho Bernardo Inn Surviror Package, cruise emission control, travel rewards

Take off eh.comO What a Tangled Travel Web
Online travel planning and booking grows more complex by the day. As MSNBC columnist Rob Lovitt reports, there are now destination sites, supplier sites, online travel agencies, meta-search sites, user review sites, deal aggregator sites and ‘opaque’ sites where you don’t find out the price or provider until well into the process. It’s not unusual to get to a point where you’ve seen so many websites and travelled down so many online alleys that you can’t even remember where you found the best deal. Lovitt aptly dubs the resulting stupor as ‘Travel Research Fatigue Syndrome.’ One industry researcher says rich content like virtual tours, improved photography and interactive maps will help travellers come to a decision more quickly, but as long as price remains the most intent focus for online travellers, the search will go on…and on…and on.

Not Easy Being Calin
The hard part is over. Now the hard part begins. The fact is, there’s nothing easy about the airline business and Air CanadaCEO Calin Rovinescu knew that coming into the job. In an interview with the Globe & Mail’s Brent Jang, Rovinescu offered a behind-the-scenes look at the frantic past few months, and the challenge-filled months and years ahead as the airline struggles to slash more costs, win back disgruntled Canadian travellers and try to reinvent a troubled corporate culture. At least the pay is good.

Stuck In The Middle With You
A few years ago it wasn’t unusual to have an entire row to yourself on an airplane flight. It doesn’t happen very often anymore. With travel demand down, fuel prices high and fares lower than they should be, airlines are tightly managing capacity to ensure planes are flying as full and profitably as possible. Some U.S. carriers filled 90% of their domestic seats in July, and Air Canada’s latest ‘load factor’ numbers were in the mid-80s. As an article on travel news website Tripso reported this week, even the unsold seats are often filled, as airline personnel going to work or flying standby on free tickets often fill the few remaining chairs. What does all this mean to travellers? You guessed it – the dreaded middle seat can no longer always be avoided. You can try of course, and an article published this week byIndependent Traveler offers some tactics, but the problem is, everyone else wants to avoid the seat too. A recent study revealed a majority of Americans would rather go to the dentist than be trapped between strangers on a plane.

No Bed, No Breakfast
In a current promotion at the luxurious Rancho Bernardo Inn near San Diego, the ‘Survivor Package’ starts at $219 per night, and goes down from there. That’s right, down. Forgo breakfast and you’ll save. Give up toiletries and you’ll save more. Abandon all hope by declining a bed, lighting, towels, sheets and toilet paper, and you can stay for $19 a night. That includes a shell of a room with a tent inside. Nobody needs to know you’re slumming though, as you wander around the 200,000 acre resort property that features a golf course, three pools, three restaurants and an award-winning spa. No campfires please. While it sounds more like a clever PR stunt than a serious offer, a previous similar promotion got 100 takers, and at least 50 more have signed up for the current one. Even better, a Google search for ‘Rancho San Bernardo Inn Survivor Package’ gets nearly 5,000 results.

Sailing The Ocean Green
Proposed joint U.S./Canada legislation would cut air pollution produced by coastal ships by requiring them to use low-sulphur fuels when cruising within 200 miles of the North American coastline. If approved, by 2015 the North American Emission Control Area (ECA) would require ships to use fuels containing 98% less sulphur than permitted today. The North American ECA would be the world’s largest such zone – there are others in the North Sea and the Baltics — and not everyone’s happy about it. Both shipping and cruise lines are wary because of the costs the measures would impose on their businesses. Currently mired in a price-driven, heavily discounted environment, cruise lines are especially concerned, claiming that the shift to cleaner fuel would cost between $15 and $20 per passenger, per day. The U.S.-based Environmental Protection Agency says that figure is closer to $7 per day. No doubt it is cruise passengers who will end up footing the bill, but the extra expense could be well worth it. As reported in Canadian publication Transportation & Trade Logistics, the reduction in sulphur emissions would have tangible benefits for those with respiratory problems and reduce the acid rain that has damaged lakes, rivers and forests.

Travel Rewards: Now You See ‘Em
Canadians love their reward programs. According to a CBC News report, the average Canadian belongs to 9.2 reward programs, significantly higher than the 6.2 average for Americans. As Toronto Star business writer Ellen Roseman puts it: “Reward cards make you feel that you are not only spending money but you are also creating some value.” Travel rewards are especially popular, but Roseman warns point and miles collectors to stay on top of what can be complicated rules and regulations. The rules can change too, with no grandfathering provisions, and if you don’t keep making reward purchases and payments, sometimes your accumulated points can disappear altogether. According to a columnwritten by MSNBC columnist Christopher Elliott, that’s what happened to an American who had saved 100,000 Delta Air Lines frequent flyer miles. When he went to redeem them for a 20th anniversary trip with his wife, he discovered his account was empty due to a period of inactivity. Delta isn’t the only one to employ such practices – one travel agent refers to it as ‘the expiring mileage game.’

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