The Coming Payments Revolution in Travel

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

It’s about time: travel providers, at least the big ones, now are edging into an embrace of the payments revolution that in the past half dozen years have given us contactless payments, also mobile payments such as Apple Pay and Google Pay, and also EMV cards.

Reports Pymnts in a recently published report “Travel Payments Study:” “More than two decades after PayPal was founded, and four years since the launch of Apple Pay, the travel industry is taking its first cautious steps into its own payments revolution.”

The staggering reality is that travel has been under assault by hackers for at least a decade – it numbers among the most attacked verticals in the Verizon Data Breach Report.  Just converting to EMV at gift shops, bars and restaurants at hotels would put a serious crimp in hacker styles, but hoteliers are among the slowest to move into the new technologies.

Taking Apple Pay at check in would also be a boon to guest data security.

A peculiar irony is that credit card data insecurities may be a reason why travel providers have not innovated. Said Pymnts: “At 78 percent, consumer data security was, by far, the most-cited inhibitor to payments innovation. Following that was credit card data security imperatives, at 74 percent, which were listed as either ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ inhibiting. Incurred fraud losses came third, cited by 64 percent of respondents.”

Except now Pymnts reports that changes are coming.

It’s not your imagination that travel providers have been notorious laggards. Says Pymnts: “PYMNTS’ most recent research revealed that just 15 percent of all travel companies have attempted new payments innovations over the last three years, let alone those that succeeded in implementing them.”

Just 15%.  Wow.  This has been a span of feverish innovation, at least when viewed from the stodgy perspective of bankers.  And travel has sat it out.

Operating internationally and a broad industry dependence on third party payments processing services are cited among the reasons for delays in adoption of payments innovations.

Guests, too, have not insisted on innovations. Consider: most of us still, docilely, hand over a credit card in a restaurant, the server vanishes, and a few minutes later a receipt comes at us.  I cannot remember the last time I saw that at a restaurant in Europe, where servers – for at least 15 years in my recollection – have been equipped with miniature credit card processing gadgets that also print out a receipt, all in your plain view.

You just have to wince when you hand over a credit card at a hotel because the data just has been so insecure.  But a big driver for payments innovation – maybe the biggest – has been enhanced security.

And still travel providers stayed on the sidelines.

That’s changing. According to Pymnts, about 80% of travel providers plan payments innovations in the next three years.

14% say they plan to roll out “a lot” of innovations.

Just 5% say they have nothing in the hopper.

What’s prompting travel providers to invest in payment innovations? 91% pointed to customer suggestions as a prod – meaning our grumbles have been heard. 83% also said they had lost customers because they hadn’t innovated.

Reported Pymnts: “The demand for new payment methods isn’t being driven by companies looking to cut costs or boost efficacy, though, but by consumers in search of a more convenient and compelling payment experience.”

Travel providers also expect that although innovations have price tags, they may wind up actually saving money. Reported Pymnts: “We asked respondents whether they believed the financial gains to be had from payments innovations would outweigh the costs, and an impressive 96 percent of the sample had a positive outlook. These companies believe that the revenue gained would outweigh its costs, that innovation would have no effect on costs or that it would actually decrease costs.”

Large companies are much more optimistic about cost reductions than are small – and travel remains a business where there are many small players: travel agents, independent hotels, independent restaurants, local destination marketing companies, etc.  

Big players also see payments innovations as a way to drive down their payments processing costs – and probably they are right.

Should we in fact be optimistic that payments innovations are in fact coming – and that we’ll see more travel providers accepting Apple Pay et. al., installing EMV card readers, and – dare we hope – equipping servers in restaurants with portable reader/printers?

Just maybe we can expect to see all this. Said Pymnts: “One thing is clear, though: Travel companies must invest in improving their payments structures if they want to maintain a competitive edge.”

My advice: grumble about the absence of current payments technology when checking in, when paying in a bar, when paying in a restaurant.  Our grumbles do matter – the research underlines – so keep it up. And just maybe more travel providers will roll out contemporary payments tools.

 

The Menace That Is Airport WiFi

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

Stop right there if you are reading this on airport WiFi. It just cannot be trusted.

That is the frightening take away from a report via data security company Coronet that looked at the security of the public wifi at the nation’s 45 busiest airports. The verdict is unsettling: “For attackers, it is infinitely easier to access and exploit data from devices connected to Wi-Fi in an airport than it is to do so within the confines of a wellprotected office. In fact, the lax cybersecurity posture at most airports has created an environment in which adversaries can utilize insecure public Wi-Fi as the attack vector to introduce a plethora of advanced network vulnerabilities, such as captive portals (AKA Wireless phishing), Evil Twins, ARP poisoning, VPN Gaps, Honeypots and compromised routers.”

Don’t know what all that geek talk means? Here’s a translation: your data is toast and criminals are already busy spreading jam and butter on it as they chow down.

Explained Coronet: “business travelers connected to risky airport networks unintentionally share important information about their cloud-based-apps with adversaries. Such compromise can trickle down through entire organizations, leading to operational disruption, financial losses and even reputational harm, among other damages.”

How did we get in this situation?  

Good question but, first, know that risks do vary by airports, according to Coronet. Some do a much better job of protecting their wifi than do others. Coronet came up with a complex metric to measure and weigh risks at airports and it determined that some airport wifi is just too risky to use.

What goes wrong with some airport wifi is that it is a petri dish for malware and another, huge issue is that some networks just aren’t good about hunting for and blotting out fake networks that masquerade as real.

Understand: a criminal with a few hundred dollars worth of easily purchased gear that will fit in a briefcase can erect a bogus network and slap on it a name that seems legit, maybe something like FreeAirportWifi.  Use that network and, very probably, a criminal is logging your every keystroke – into your company server, your bank account, your email, and the list goes on.

But criminals have been inventive in coming up with novel attacks via airport wifi.  Lock one door and they already have opened another. At least at many airport wifis.

What wifis must we avoid? Coronet identified seven that it believes are very high risk.

The nation’s worst? San Diego International (SAN) which notched a threat index score of 10.  (Coronet believes scores of 6.5 and higher should be avoided.)

Next worst: John Wayne (SNA) at 8.7.

Followed by Hobby (HOU), 7.5; Southwest Florida (RSW), 7.1; Newark (EWR), 7.1; Dallas Love Field (DAL), 6.8; and Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX), 6.5.

Color me very aggravated because the two airports I have used the most in recent years are PHX and EWR.

Some airports do a good job with their wifi. The safest airport, per Coronet, is Midway in Chicago at 4.5.

But really just don’t trust airport wifi. Not in the US, not overseas.

How can you stay safe and still use it?  My advice has been and remains to avoid free airport wifi. Just don’t use it.  What I do is create a hotspot with my cellphone and connect through it. (I have had no issues despite travel through EWR and PHX.)

Many travelers tell me they frequently use airline club wifi with no issues. Personally I have often used Amex’s Centurion wifi, again with no issues.

Some also use VPN – and if you are going to use free airport wifi, even at the airports identified as safer, do use VPN or the cloud-based secure browser Silo via Authentic8 which confines risks to its servers, not your company’s, not even your laptop.  Which is better? That’s your call but, personally, I am liking Silo because I don’t see a speed hit as I have with VPN.

Others have told me they use fee-based hotspot network Boingo, often in connection with a free plan via American Express.  

Bottomline: just as smart travelers eschew hotel wifi as too risky, the time is now to cold shoulder free public airport wifi. The risks simply will multiply and there is no indication that airport authorities have any plans to seriously attack the criminals who now are hunting for victims on airport wifis around the country.

 

The Homeless Are Coming! Cancel That Meeting! — UPDATED

 

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

Bar the doors: the homeless are coming and they will mess with your next business trip, definitely also your next convention.

Who wants to share a sidewalk with a stinky, dirty bum?

That’s a takeaway from recent news, out of San Francisco, that a major medical association cancelled a meeting over the city’s homeless population (estimated at 7500, in a city with a population of 870,000).  

“It’s the first time that we have had an out-and-out cancellation over the issue, and this is a group that has been coming here every three or four years since the 1980s,” Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of S.F. Travel, the city’s convention bureau, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Chronicle story continued: “The doctors group told the San Francisco delegation that while they loved the city, postconvention surveys showed their members were afraid to walk amid the open drug use, threatening behavior and mental illness that are common on the streets.”

There are factual errors in this – more below – but, first, let’s accept a reality: cities have increasing homeless populations.  I live in Phoenix – where the homeless count is estimated at 5605 across Maricopa County but most are in Phoenix, typically downtown, because many parts of the county give them the boot. I live in downtown and every day I talk with homeless people.  This week I am working at a church that will feed 150 in a “heat respite” day, on a day where the temperature will go above 110.

Los Angeles, where the medical group is believed to be scheduling its meeting, has a homeless population of 57,794.  They are especially numerous downtown and in Venice Beach.  

New York City has a big homeless population. So does Philadelphia.  So does Boston.

Washington DC, the nation’s capital, has 6904 homeless.

I can’t think of a big city that doesn’t have lots of visible homeless.

As a nation we are failing to provide safety nets to many and one result is a burgeoning homeless population.

Here’s advice: if a group insists on meeting sans homeless, cross off every city of any size. Go to a resort.  Or the Las Vegas Strip. (Las Vegas has an estimated 6490 homeless but I have never seen one on the Strip.  If they are there they are wearing shorts, a too tight top, and sunglasses so they fit in.)

Hawaii, by the way, has a substantial homeless population. Don’t think paradise offers a safe harbor.

Just about every expert agrees that, nationally, the homeless population is climbing upwards.

Should groups flee the grunge – or should they come to see and smell what life is like for the have-nots?  That’s the choice of every group. It’s not for me to dictate.

But, personally, every day that I walk among the homeless I learn and, particularly, I learn that small acts of human kindness make a lot of difference to those who have basically nothing. I am put in mind of this from the Bible: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, 45, NIV).

Back to the alleged meeting cancellation in San Francisco. Well, it turns out it just ain’t so. Here is more from D’Alessandro in a different publication: “For clarification, they didn’t actually pull or cancel the convention. We were just one of their finalist cities, and they chose to go somewhere else. And they actually have two upcoming years that they’re already booked in San Francisco. The group itself does not want to release their name, so I want to respect that. But when they gave us their reasons for choosing another city, their main issues were cost, that it was expensive in San Francisco, and also they said that the condition of the streets was not what they had hoped to see.” (Emphasis added.)

Oh my. Literally dozens of stories ran, in publications around the country, that San Francisco’s homeless population had cost it a major medical meeting and it is not so. Not even a little.  There never was a confirmed meeting to cancel.  Never.

I have talked with many meeting planners over the past 20 years.  They have also told me they crossed off cities as possible locations because of crime (Manhattan in the 1980s, for instance).  Worries about terrorism are a related concern that can trigger an unwillingness to meet. Occasionally it’s been lack of airline lift. But the most common reason a city gets eliminated usually has been money.  When hotel room prices, on average, cross a line, that spells trouble for the city in attracting meetings. Manhattan has been a case in point for years.

San Francisco has now crossed the line. A few years ago Bloomberg ran a story headlined “San Francisco Hotels Are the World’s Priciest.”

Update: Reader Chris McGinnis (in comments) pointed out that the Bloomberg story got a lot of this wrong.

Nonetheless, San Francisco continues to rank among the most expensive cities for hotels (even if not the most expensive) and this is a problem for many meeting planners. Which is what D’Alesandro said in that Travel Weekly follow up interview.  

If San Francisco wants more big meetings it has to lower hotel costs. That’s the simple answer.

Solving the homelessness epidemic, well, that’s not simple.  But the homeless aren’t costing Baghdad by the Bay meetings.  They just aren’t.

Hotel Data Breaches and You: Welcome to Anxiety

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

The 2018 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report has terrifying news for hotel guests.  

For some years I have written about how porous hotel data and credit card security are.  Loyalty programs, hotel restaurants, and more are under continuing assault by cyber criminals.  I have urged people not to use hotel wifi and not to use debit cards at hotels (they have poorer protection under federal law than do credit cards).  It’s a jungle out there and, in hotels, we travelers are the gazelles.

We need to really toughen our defenses – more on that below.

Start first with just how treacherous hotels are for us. A chilling PDF of info about hotel data breaches – data culled from the Verizon report – is available via HotelNewsNow.  Download it.

It makes for disturbing reading.

There should be no surprises here.  Hotels attract guests with money – definitionally.  There’s no real point in hacking into a Skid Row flophouse.  A 4 star hotel is a different matter.

Per Verizon, hotels are much more likely than most businesses to be a target. As Willy Sutton is said to have exclaimed when asked why he robbed banks, that’s where they keep the money. Hotels aren’t banks but they are tasty targets nonetheless.

Hotels also have demonstrated a long running lack of seriousness about mounting real cyber defenses.  Why? This is expensive stuff, it requires highly skilled personnel (more expenses), hotels typically have many systems running and thus may points of vulnerability (from the gift shop to loyalty programs) and, well, so far we – the hotel guests – have shrugged off the industry’s vulnerabilities.

There were 338 reported incidents involving hotels tallied in the most recent Verizon report.  Don’t assume that is a complete count. That’s because, according to Verizon, 68% of the breaches took months or longer to detect – and maybe some still haven’t been detected.  

More factoids in the study: 93% of incidents involved hacking and 93% focused on payment information. 99% of attackers were financially motivated.

50% of the breaches involved organized criminal gangs.  

87% of the breaches took a minute or less.

Bottomline: Don’t trust hotels to protect you.  Just don’t.

What can a business traveler do?  Standard advice from security professionals to executives visiting countries where eavesdropping is the norm is to bring a “clean” electronic device – a new Chromebook, under $200 is a good choice.  Reserve it for travel use, put no personal information on it, and never log into a significant website (which includes an email server, a company data server, really anything that involves a password).

Sure, that nullifies a lot of the reason for bringing a computer on a trip. But at least you’ll know you are safe.

I now advise many domestic travelers to follow this advice.

Do that particularly if you plan to use hotel wifi because you have to view hotel wifi as potentially compromised.  

An alternative: always use your phone to create a personal hotspot and let it power your Internet connections.  Yes, there are (small) costs involved – $10 per gig via Project Fi which is what I use. But the cellular data connection is significantly more secure than is hotel wifi.

The drawback to cellular is that – usually – it runs slower than a decent hotel wifi connection.  Sure, some hotel wifi networks are dreadful but lately I am finding many offer adequate speeds.

And some employers just don’t want to pay data bills for their business travelers which is another reason to use the wifi.

But I do use my own computer with a cellular hotspot and have had no security lapses.

Want more security but using hotel wifi? Many travelers swear by VPN – virtual private networks – but typically they offer slower speeds and costs ordinarily are involved.  There also are reports that slick Russian hackers know how to penetrate at least some VPN connections.

Still – VPN is a lot better than using the naked hotel wifi when accessing email, files, etc.

I have also lately been playing with a secure, cloud-based browser called Silo that, for nominal charges (fees start at $100/year), provides you with a special browser you install on your computer.  You browse anonymously, and if you encounter malware, it downloads not to your computer but to Silo’s. What most impresses me about Silo is that in my tests it runs about as fast as Chrome. And it delivers much more safety than do the standard browsers.

Which proves the point: you can continue to use your own computer and visit the secure sites you want to visit (such as email) using hotel wifi if you install special, high security browsers.

Less won’t work.  Use VPN. Or a special security browser. Or a clean computer. 

Hotels are danger zones for business travelers.  Accept that as a reality in the Verizon research.

Accept also that airport public wifi is radically unsafe.

Accept that it’s up to you to protect yourself.

And take the necessary steps.

Whose Restaurant Reviews Do You Trust?

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

Hungry? Where do you eat? The question gets sharper when you are on the road and you have no personal ideas about where to eat in, say, Phoenix and neither do you know who to ask. Where do you turn?

My consistent recommendation is don’t eat at hotel restaurants and that means you have to venture out on the town.

Where?

New research, from CVENT and TripAdvisor, insists that the resource we trust is TripAdvisor. Said TripAdvisor about the finding: “The new CVENT survey, which analyzed the dining behaviors of more than 9,500 consumers across key markets in the US and Europe, revealed that TripAdvisor is overwhelmingly regarded as the most influential online dining resource compared to Google, Facebook and Yelp.”

I am on record as changing my position on TripAdvisor, shifting from favorable to unfavorable, largely because of a lot of deleted negative reviews at the service.  Read the story.  

I also see TripAdvisor primarily as a hotel review site.  I see it as having a secondary interest in restaurants.

This survey paints a different picture.  TripAdvisor’s goal, obviously, is for travelers to look first to it for advice on where to eat.

Should we?

Or maybe the question is, do we?

TripAdvisor’s data say we do.

According to it:

94% of us in the US said online reviews influenced our decisions about where to dine.

60% of us said online photos influenced our decision.

90% of us – !! – said TripAdvisor inspired us to try new restaurants.

When asked what sites we used to research restaurants when at home, 78% of us pointed to TripAdvisor.  41% said Yelp. 28% said Google. 12% said Facebook.

When traveling, 93% said they used TripAdvisor.  32% said Yelp. 24% said Google. 7% said Facebook.

How accurate are TripAdvisor restaurant reviews? According to this survey, “When compared with Google, Facebook, and Yelp, up to 94% of respondents in participating markets said that TripAdvisor provides the more accurate, trustworthy, helpful, and descriptive restaurant reviews and photos.”  

Yelp managed a pathetic 11% trustworthy rating.  Google reviews snared 3% trustworthy. Facebook at 1%.

So is the verdict that clear? Should we dine with TripAdvisor?

When I looked at TripAdvisor’s rankings for best pizza in Phoenix, I’ll admit they aren’t bad.  I’d put Bianco in front of Pomo but Pomo’s pies are excellent.  Cibo, also in the top five, is quite good too (and a more charming setting).

When I looked for the best deli in New York, however, the results are puzzling. Katz’s ranked 13. Something called Pret a Manger ranked 14.  Sarge’s ranked higher than Katz’s at 11. In first is Murray’s Cheese – excellent but no deli. Number two is Russ and Daughters, also excellent but no deli. The resulting list has some good suggestions but often not actually delis. 

When I searched for best restaurant in Sedona, TripAdvisor ranked Elote Cafe #3 and Dahl and Di Luca #7 and I’d score both higher.

As I searched through more restaurant rankings in TripAdvisor, I came to a conclusion: the rankings generally were better than I expected them to be – but I still wouldn’t use them.  To me, reviews are useless unless I know the reviewer and his/her tastes. I am agreeable with Pete Wells’ reviews in the New York Times, with Jonathan Gold in Los Angeles, with Michael Bauer in San Francisco, with Tom Sietsema in Washington DC, and my advice to you is find a reviewer whom you trust in the cities you frequently visit and go with their suggestions.

In Rome I’ll follow the advice of Joe Brancatelli and Katie Parla.  

In Dublin I’ll probably follow my own advice.  

If I’m looking for a good burger – and often that’s exactly what I eat on the road (unless I am scrupulous in minding my health) – I’d use Ralph Raffio’s JoeSentMe burger guide (and, yeah, I share an unnatural fondness for White Castle)

The reviewer can be a co-worker, friend or family member too – if your tastebuds match up with theirs.  That’s key: it doesn’t matter if a reviewer is a great writer. What matters is alignment of tastes.

With the online services I just don’t trust the taste of the people who post reviews and, you know what, I just about never post such reviews myself.  Who does those reviews as a hobby? Not many people known to me.

That’s why my advice is: Find trustworthy people in the towns where you are going to be eating. That’s key.

Do I ignore the online review sites? Generally, yes.  But I usually eat well because I know who to trust.

Orwell in Orlando: Smile for the Facial Scan

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

Big news rocking the Internet travel boards is that Orlando Airport is beginning to scan the faces of all international passengers including US citizens.  

There also are more limited tests of face scans ongoing at eight US airports including Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, McCarran International Airport, Houston William P. Hobby Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport and Miami International Airport.

How is this justified? The US Customers and Border Patrol has said a March 6, 2017 Executive Order calls upon CBP to “expedite the completion of a biometric entry exit tracking system for in-scope travelers to the United States.”

Many travelers are reacting with fear and uncertainty.

Others insist this is the beginning of our Orwellian end.

Some of the anti scanning arguments are well thought out and zero in on doubts about the reliability of scans as well as complaints about the immense costs associated with the program (in the billions).

What do you think?

Frankly, I am inclined to shrug it off.  Mind you, I am a staunch civil libertarian.  I see essentially no limits as appropriate on speech or the press.

And yet my knickers aren’t knotted over the face scans at Orlando and elsewhere.

The process, incidentally, is said to take two seconds and have a 99% match rate.

Terrorism – unquestionably – remains a worry of every traveler. In recent years our real threats have mainly been ground based terrorism but it wasn’t that many years ago when the skies were a battleground and in those days I remember feeling grateful with every safe landing.

Will face scans in fact make us safer?  That’s the real question.

I am a huge believer in the power of data to deliver more safety to us, especially at airports and in the skies. Government, I believe, only now is beginning to make serious efforts to harness big data.

Face scans included.

I also know my face is on file at the US government – yours probably is too. The other day I sat for a face shot to get Global Entry.  I had another photo in connection with applying for TSA Pre. Of course there’s a passport photo (actually a montage of photos covering many passports over many decades).  And there are who knows how many photos associated with my many driver’s licenses, even hackney licenses in Boston and Cambridge.

Apparently, in this CBP process, only the passport photo is used in the match and you need one to fly internationally anyway.

The US government knows what I look like and if that helps make me – and you – stay safer at airports and in the air, I am okay with a face scan.

As Joe Brancatelli said to me, “they take your picture for Global Entry every time you come INTO the country, so what’s the big deal when you LEAVE the country.”

Privacy advocates worry about people who are denied boarding because their face scan doesn’t match the photo on file. Others say that face scanning of non whites has more inaccuracies than of whites.

Obviously these are issues that need dealing with.

Also, there are many reports of hackers fooling face recognition tools – for logging into a phone for instance. A decent photo may sometimes work magic.

But photos and masks are highly unlikely to go unnoticed at an airport.  This isn’t a worry I have.

Do we need face scans on top of the many checks already in place?  The government generally has many hours to check international passengers against lists of people about whom there are worries.

Toss enough data into that stew and maybe we don’t also need face scans.

Maybe.

By the way, British Air has used face scans in tests at LAX, JFK, Orlando and Miami.  It said the technology dramatically sped up boarding.

Sure, there are good reasons to fret about yet more biometrics used on us.  I get that. But, for now, I say let’s give the scans a chance. With all the federal government already has on file about me I don’t see what more is lost with this.

And if it ups safety in the air and at the airport, I am all in.

 

Count Me a Global Entry Fan

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

Maybe it is Phoenix where I live.

But I had read about long waits for Global Entry interviews and when I applied for preliminary approval – on June 4th – I braced myself for a lengthy wait.

I knew I had an international trip coming up in early autumn and my hope was that I’d have the card by then.

A few days after applying I checked online, saw a preliminary approval, indicated I wanted to see the next available appointments – and on the morning of June 19, two weeks after applying, I walked into an office in Sky Harbor Airport and five minutes later, walked out fully approved.

I’ll have the card before July.

Count me a fan also of the Chase Mileageplus Explorer Card which, as of June 1, reimburses for the $100 Global Entry fee.  The annual fee on the card is $95, so it already paid for itself (plus they throw in a couple United Club passes annually, also worth around $100).

I am on record as liking airline credit cards – particularly since I no longer have elite status on any carrier and see no compulsion to do so in Phoenix. When I lived in Jersey City, a few miles from EWR, I thought not flying Continental (later United) was clinically insane.  In Phoenix, I let scheduling and prices pick a carrier and flights I remember were on Southwest, American, Delta, and an Air Canada outing is coming up. Zero loyalty on my part but there’s no penalty in Phoenix for playing the field.

Between the United card and an American Airlines card, I have the perks I want from elite status. Without the hassle of scrambling for miles.

And now I also have Global Entry.

Of course what’s cool about Global Entry is that it ditches the long lines at Immigration at port of entry airports. Who doesn’t remember waiting an hour at JFK or LAX – and that’s after a long international flight.

Global Entry lets cardholders use a special kiosk. Swipe the card, offer your fingerprints, complete a Customs declaration and off you go. What had sometimes been an hour at some airports is sliced to a few minutes.

Literally dozens of airports are equipped to handle Global Entry.  I don’t see any that I have used domestically in the last 10 years as entry points from international trips that aren’t on the list.

Is the in-person interview invasive? Nope. I produced my Passport, the agent asked why I wanted Global Entry (I have an international trip coming up and Global Entry is free on a credit card), she said great. She snapped my photo, I offered my fingerprints and that was about that. I don’t think it took more than 5 minutes.

Also, I was there early for the interview. An agent came out, called a few names of people who weren’t there, turned to me and asked if I  had an appointment. When I said yes, he ushered me in – and I was out of Sky Harbor before my scheduled interview time.

There also now are many interview locations.  When I signed up for TSA Pre some years ago I did so because Global Entry wasn’t doing interviews at Sky Harbor. That changed about a year ago and that’s when I began to want it.

There’s also a new Global Entry on Arrival option that allows those with preliminary approval to complete the process when arriving from an international trip. This is available at a long list of airports.

The Chase United reimbursement pushed me over the finish line.

Bottomline: just about all the negatives I had heard about Global Entry – long waits, invasive interviews, not enough airports – just are no longer true.

It also now smoothly substitutes for TSA PreCheck.  If you will travel at all internationally, Global Entry is the way to go.

That’s all the truer because lots of companies will reimburse traveling employees for Global Entry – I’ve heard from many employees that they get their boss to cover the fee.

Plus, an expanding list of credit cards reimburse the Global Entry fee if your employer is a skinflint.  

Lines at airports just aren’t likely to get shorter. The legal way to reduce the waits is with Global Entry (and TSA Pre).

That makes it a must buy.

Five Steps to Better Wellness in Business Travel

By Robert McGarvey

 

Last week’s column hit us with the bad news: research in Harvard Business Review dramatically shows that because we travel, we are less healthy.  

Plainly, meeting and event organizers, hoteliers, air carriers, even our employers are letting us down.

A blunt reality: it’s up to us to seize control of our health. We can’t depend upon others to do it for us.  They haven’t and likely won’t. And we can do this ourselves. If we start by deciding to take control.

There’s much we need to do. Frequent business travelers weigh too much, have too much stress, don’t exercise and, often, are in rotten physical, mental, and emotional shape.

Note: that dire reality kicks in only for those traveling 14 or more nights a month.

For those traveling 21 or more nights per month, the medical report is much worse. Wrote study author and Columbia Univ. professor Andrew Rundle, “The odds of being obese were 92% higher for those who traveled 21 or more nights per month compared to those who traveled only one to six nights per month, and this ultra-traveling group also had higher diastolic blood pressure and lower high density lipoprotein.”

What can we do about this?

Let me tell you. About eight years ago, in the midst of a heavy travel schedule, I realized I had, uh, gained weight. A lot of weight. The fault of the travel? Maybe. Maybe not. It didn’t matter because I had to keep traveling.

I went on the Atkins Diet and in maybe six months lost around 40 pounds.

Problem solved. Temporarily. I knew I had to make permanent changes in how I travel if I wanted to keep the weight loss.

How did I do? Eight years later the weight is still off.

Here are five rules I developed to travel but do it with greater wellness and health.

Breakfast is a minefield on the road. Have you eaten at the free breakfast buffets at value priced hotels? An explosion of sugary carbs. Saturated fats. Starting the day with a heap of (frozen!) waffles drowned in artificial syrup and imitation butter is a terrible idea.

Breakfast buffets are dangerous. Remember that. Plan ahead. What will you eat?

What I do is straightforward Atkins: eat a few eggs, maybe a strip of bacon and that will fill you up.

That’s not available? When necessity dictates I’ll grab a naked bagel from a breakfast bar (an Einstein everything bagel is 280 calories). No creamcheese, no butter, no jam. Some strawberries if available. Yes, I’m counting calories but I learned that not doing so is a fast track to obesity.

Have a breakfast plan.  And eat on the road more in line with what you eat in the morning at home.  Do I eat waffles at home? Nope. The same needs to be true on the road.

Pass the carbs at lunch. At a lunch at a recent conference I watched in horror as servers brought a parade of bad carbs to the table. Boring bread. A heap of rice on the entree plate. Sheet pan cake slices.

Sure, it’s easy to tuck in out of boredom or politeness.

I don’t, not anymore.

I eat the protein and any non starchy veg and call lunch done.

Don’t eat airplane food. It doesn’t matter what class you fly. Airplane food on domestic flights can and should be skipped. It is wasted calories.

I understand: often we eat on airplanes out of boredom, it’s something to do. I have done exactly that many hundreds of time. It’s as bad for our health as the food is bad as food.

Buy a salad in the food court before boarding if you know you’ll be hungry.

That will keep you on a healthy path.

Just never eat airline food.

Don’t drink alcohol. This is a tough one for many business travelers who associate being on the road with enjoying that third martini, or maybe it’s the fourth beer.

That was my habit for years.

And then I stopped when I realized I wanted to lose weight and wanted to keep it off.

It’s not hard not to drink on the road once you get into it.

Just say, and it’s often true for me, “I’d love to but I have work I have to get out and I need a clear head. Tomorrow maybe.”

Know how you will exercise. Maintain your regular exercise regimen whether it’s 15 minutes a day or two hours. Don’t allow it to slip.

And make it activity that’s in your control. If you need a gym on the road, belong to one at home that gives you privileges where you travel.

Or take up jogging or walking where all you need is a decent pair of shoes.

That’s it. Five steps to road wellness. It’s really this simple, at least for me. Actually doing it takes daily discipline. True. But the HBR article paints the gloomy picture of what happens when we don’t.

Better health is within our control.  When we decide it is.

Is Business Travel Killing You?

 

by Robert McGarvey

 

An article in Harvard Business Review has terrifying news for you: Your travel may be killing you. Literally.

Hotels and event organizers are failing us and, in fact, may be hastening our demise. Ditto our employers.

That’s how grim the HBR data is.

Author Andrew Rundle, an associate professor at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia, wrote: “we found a strong correlation between the frequency of business travel and a wide range of physical and behavioral health risks. Compared to those who spent one to six nights a month away from home for business travel, those who spent 14 or more nights away from home per month had significantly higher body mass index scores and were significantly more likely to report the following: poor self-rated health; clinical symptoms of anxiety, depression and alcohol dependence; no physical activity or exercise; smoking; and trouble sleeping. The odds of being obese were 92% higher for those who traveled 21 or more nights per month compared to those who traveled only one to six nights per month, and this ultra-traveling group also had higher diastolic blood pressure and lower high density lipoprotein (the good cholesterol).”

Read that again. Rundle is saying that heavy business travelers – 14 or more nights away from home monthly – weigh too much, self-diagnose anxiety, and don’t exercise. Only 12% of employees screened fall into this bucket of frequent travel.

Hardcore road warriors – with 21+ nights monthly on the road – are probably obese and have strong signs of cardiovascular disease.

Ouch.

Rundle arrived at that conclusion by crunching mountains of de-identified data provided by EHE, which offers preventative exams and wellness screening for tens of thousands of US corporate employees.  Data on frequency of business travel is part of the EHE screening exam.

Rundle’s results make sense.  No, I did not expect the picture to be this bad. But I know when I am traveling my daily walk is usually forgotten (Las Vegas is an exception – cavernous meeting spaces actually create lots of walking in Sin City), breakfast is a carb fest (a bagel grabbed from a coffee break at the meeting), lunch is whatever is on the venue (again, usually, lots of carbs), and dinner, for me, often is a sandwich over my keyboard in my hotel room as I write up the day’s information. It’s a hectic schedule. Too much coffee, too many carbs, little or no exercise, too few fresh veg, a radical departure from my at home routine.

Rundle pointed to studies of World Bank employees that found similar bad health among heavy travelers.  One study found that “Overall, rates of insurance claims were 80% higher for men and 18% higher for women travellers than their non-travelling counterparts.”

A second World Bank study found that 75% of road warriors reported “high or very high” stress related to business travel.

What can be done about this? Rundle urged more employer education for frequent travelers aimed at getting out the message about good food choices and good health practices.  To me that sounds good but – really – do you learn anything you don’t know in wellness sessions? Our problem isn’t our ignorance, it’s our lack of backbone when we travel and our apparently chronic willingness to discard our habits of healthy eating and exercise when at home for a life of no exercise and burgers and fries and a couple beers when on the road.  We know what we should eat. We just don’t care.  Me too.

Rundle also pointed to hotel gyms as a possible savior. He wrote: “One fairly simple thing employers can do is to ensure that their preferred accommodations have well-equipped gyms.”  He added: “hotel gyms can be minimalist and a bit depressing, but an alliance of sorts between employers and business hotel chains could work together to improve the hotel gym experience.”

I am no fan of hotel gyms – I never use them –  but maybe I should re-think that and, definitely, I should always bring walking shoes when I travel and make a point to get out for five or six miles daily.

But I believe that hotels and meeting venues that see the HBR study have got to take the findings seriously and that means really upping the health/wellness choices for road warriors and also upgrading exercise options to make them appealing to frequent travelers.

More advice from Rundle is always ask, is this trip necessary?  A lot of my travel now is getting replaced with video calls. Yours?

That just may be the surest way to protect our health: Travel less.

 

 

 

Google Assistant Wants to Book Your Travel Reservations

By Robert McGarvey

 

Take that, Alexa.  Amazon definitely has made a move with its voice controlled Alexa into travel – but now Google has struck back and just maybe with a  much, much bigger play.

For some time Google has sifted through your GMail and added travel reservations it finds into Google Calendar, and Google Trips.  Count me as a fan. Google saves me steps by automating this process for me.

Now Google wants more.  It has not necessarily made loud announcements. What Google does is roll out features – that its fans find – and it apparently has been busy with travel related tools.  Android Police explain what they have found Google now is doing with your travel planning: “Now it seems that these reservations are, rightfully, showing in Assistant’s settings. Whether you access them through the Google app or the Home app, you will see a new Reservations item under the list of different Account settings, right below Purchases and Payments.”

Keep in mind a few differences between Alexa and what Google is doing. To use Alexa you need to buy a device.  I have three. A tiny Alexa Dot will do. But you need an Alexa to get Amazon to help you out with travel.

With Google, the barrier to entry is minuscule.  There are free apps – Google Trips, Google Home, Google Assistant.  An Android phone helps and 55% of us have one.  (Many apps of course work in a limited mode on iPhone when it comes to purchases and that will matter in travel.)

But just a browser and a computer will do.  Then just use Google for a search.

Google also has extended its ability to actually book travel – flights, hotels, even attractions – from within Google search which most of use already.  There’s a full page of instructions about using Google search to book travel, but, as is usually so with Google, much of this is intuitive and easy to follow.

For instance: to book a flight, start with a search for flights in Google.  See a flight you want, look for a “Book on Google” button. Click it. Enter passenger details and payment info. You may also see a Select Seats button. (You can also book seats on the airline’s website.) Then click Book.

You just bought yourself an airline ticket.

For the hotel, search for the location in Google – then pick a date, input personal info, then pay (via Google Pay if you are signed up).

Google will also help with restaurant reservations. And it’s at work on artificial intelligence that will make a voice call to book a table at restaurants that don’t offer online booking – that technology supposedly will roll out to us before year end.

Google has its eye on other travel related activities such as ground transportation too.  Soon, just about every part of a trip will be bookable in Google and savable to it.

It all gets better because now Google Home can give you travel reminders. Just ask the device (small ones start at $49) – “Hey Google, when’s my next flight?”

The voice driven box will tell you, and can also tell you about hotel and restaurant bookings.

Much the same info is yours via the Google Assistant app on a smartphone, and also via Google Trips.  

What I really like about all this is the ease of access and also the redundancy of sources.  This means that, with Google, I will always be able to access my upcoming trip info.

I have been a big fan of Amazon’s Alexa for some time but have to admit that, little by little, I find myself edging into the Google universe, particularly for travel, mainly because I carry a Pixel phone and spend most of the workday in various Google apps.  

Of course what Google is doing is coaxing us into booking directly on the smartphone – and I am getting won over.  

While you’re at this, do look at Google Trips.  Create an itinerary and you are greeted with many tabs – Discounts, Food And Drink, Things To Do, Day plans.  The entire week, or longer, takes easy shape on the phone as Google serves up the information you need.

I like it.  You?