Sign Off That Hotel WiFi Right Now!

by Robert McGarvey

If you are reading this on hotel WiFi, sign off now.  A new Bloomberg report underlines how porous hotel WiFi networks are. This is a long look at the problem and that’s good because it is a grim reality that savvy travelers need to know about.

Do you care if hackers have your credit card numbers, maybe passport info, possibly driver’s license details, hotel loyalty program log in and password, and probably more? Because they do. Because hotels do not care about your privacy. They just don’t.

Of course this week’s news is about airlines and breaches – specifically BA – and they have a sorry history of poor defense against hackers. Don’t get distracted however. Airlines are bad at this. But hotels are simply the worst.

Forgive me a Cassandra moment. I have been writing about how much hotel WiFi sucks for at least a decade. The stories are manifold and they always say the same: hackers long ago figured out that hotels have essentially no protections on their wifi networks so it is very much a wild west where an Internet caveat emptor prevails.

Except the odds are stacked against you: the hackers are very good at their work, which is stealing salable data.  Hotels are very bad at protecting our data. Hotel group after hotel group has fallen victim to hackers. TrumpHard Rock. Hilton. Marriott

Information security blogger Brian Krebs has reported that the Marriott (Starwood) breach involved 500 million of us.  

In a mea culpa, Marriott said: “The company has not finished identifying duplicate information in the database, but believes it contains information on up to approximately 500 million guests who made a reservation at a Starwood property.  For approximately 327 million of these guests, the information includes some combination of name, mailing address, phone number, email address, passport number, Starwood Preferred Guest (“SPG”) account information, date of birth, gender, arrival and departure information, reservation date, and communication preferences.  For some, the information also includes payment card numbers and payment card expiration dates, but the payment card numbers were encrypted using Advanced Encryption Standard encryption (AES-128). There are two components needed to decrypt the payment card numbers, and at this point, Marriott has not been able to rule out the possibility that both were taken.  For the remaining guests, the information was limited to name and sometimes other data such as mailing address, email address, or other information.”

As for who hacked these hotels, nobody knows.  In many cases it doubtless is ordinary, common criminals.  In other cases, something else may be afoot. Noted Bloomberg: “Marriott hasn’t found any evidence of customer data showing up on dark-web marketplaces, CEO Arne Sorenson told a Senate committee hearing in March. That sounds like good news but may actually be bad. The lack of commercial intent indicated to security experts that the hack was carried out by a government, which might use the data to extrapolate information about politicians, intelligence assets, and business leaders.”

Yep.  The Chinese are believed to be voluminous acquirers of data. But the Russian aren’t slouches. Several European governments are in the game too.  And the US government increasingly is active. In that last case it is difficult to see a hack on a domestic company. But impossible? Not really.

Understand this: hotels are truly bad at protecting data. It’s an industrywide malady.  And hotels are lots worse than most other industries. Bloomberg posits a theory: “Hospitality companies long saw technology as antithetical to the human touch that represented good service. The industry’s admirable habit of promoting from the bottom up means it’s not uncommon to find IT executives who started their careers toting luggage. Former bellboys might understand how a hotel works better than a software engineer, but that doesn’t mean they understand network architecture.”

That rings true to me.

Bloomberg went on: “There’s also a structural issue. Companies such as Marriott and Hilton are responsible for securing brand-wide databases that store reservations and loyalty program information. But the task of protecting the electronic locks or guest Wi-Fi at an individual property falls on the investors who own the hotels. Many of them operate on thin margins and would rather spend money on things their customers actually see, such as new carpeting or state-of-the-art televisions.”

In the big chains the vast majority of hotels are owned by “asset holders” – everything from pension funds and big insurance companies to wealthy individuals.  They have to be persuaded to fund big ticket campaigns. And often they haven’t been.

The result in the hotel business is a patchwork of old, cruddy, unreliable technology.

But you do not have to be a victim. There is nothing we can do to strengthen the defenses around a hotel’s property management system, etc. But we can take steps to protect ourselves when it involves WiFi.

You have three options.  Definitely use them in hotels, but also in airports, coffee shops, and airport lounges. I don’t guarantee your safety but I promise you will be much, much safer than if you don’t take such steps.

O Create a personal hotspot with your cellphone and log in via it.  Cellular data is much, much more secure than is hotel network data. Not perfect. But good enough for most of us. This has been my go to for some years.

O Use VPN, a virtual private network.  There are known limitations to the security delivered by VPNs.  I personally no longer use one. But I know many companies require their traveling execs use a vpn and if that’s policy, it is much, much better than logging on naked to a hotel network.  

O Use Silo or a similar secure browser. The secure browser processes all web data inside a secure container so even if a user accesses malware it’s no harm, because the data won’t reach the user’s computer. Silo also encrypts traffic to shield it from prying eyes. A tool such as Silo offers more robust protection than do VPNs.  (Note: I have been paid by Silo’s developer for past work. That company had no involvement in this column and did not pay me for this.)

That’s three choices.  On your next hotel stay when you log into the Internet use one of the three and know that you will be a lot safer than the guests who log into the hotel’s computer. There is no excuse for not protecting yourself.  Not when you know just how perilous hotel networks are and will almost certainly remain.

Hotels, Bedbugs and You

by Robert McGarvey

A nasty secret about hotels is that a lot have bedbugs. I am talking five star hotels and hostels, dives and ultra luxury digs. Guests bring them. And they often leave them behind. To bite the next guest, suck some blood, and very probably crawl into a suitcase and come home with you. That last is a real threat. Most of us don’t notice a bedbug bite or two, or we think we nicked ourselves with something in the hotel bathroom.

Wrong. Sleep with bedbugs in a hotel and they are coming home with you.

If you like scary reading, click here for a roundup of TripAdvisor user complaints about bedbugs in hotels. You’ll get a sense of how global the issue is, both geographically but also economically. Staying only in luxe properties is no protection.

I have lived through a bedbug infestation in my home. It sucks. It cost $600 in exterminator fees to clear up. Plus a lot of sheets and blanket cleaning and washing. Along the way, there were many bites, some of which leave horrendous marks. The bites also are itchy and you just feel disgusting knowing you are an edible blood bank for who knows how many insects.

The cause of that infestation probably was a neighbor, not a hotel, but as our knowledge of bedbugs grew in that incident so did the realization that we had in fact been bitten by bedbugs in hotels in the past.

No surprise there. Hotels are fighting against what amount to a bedbug epidemic. It is not clear who is winning.

According to the New York Times, “A 2016 survey of 100 hotels in the United States, conducted by Orkin, a pest control company, found that 82 percent of them had been treated for bedbugs in the previous year. “

Personally I’m not troubled that 82% had been treated for bedbugs in the past year. I’m more troubled by the 18% that hadn’t been.

Conde Nast Traveler shouts: Bed bugs in hotels are on the rise.

Travelpulse says, Hotels are spending big money on bed bugs.

Exactly three states have laws that explicitly obligate a hotel to remove a bedbug ridden room from occupancy. That’s Kansas, West Virginia, and Nevada.

That means the onus is on you to protect yourself from bedbugs.

Having been through a bedbug infestation once, I am determined not to bring back bugs from the hotels I stay in.

Consumer Reports outlines a self-defense program to take when entering a hotel room.

Step 1: Put your luggage in the bathroom or on a luggage rack. Probably they are free of bedbugs.

Step 2: Pull back the sheets and check the mattress and box spring for signs of bedbugs – they are visible to the naked eye. Keep your eyes peeled for “exoskeletons (casings that the bugs leave behind when they molt) and dark, rust-colored spots.” Those spots probably are dried blood, by the way.

Says CR: “If you see any telltale signs, tell hotel staff and ask for a new room, preferably in another part of the building.”

Personally, I would check out and decline to pay. But there’s no guarantee the hotel down the block doesn’t also have a bedbug problem so maybe I am spinning my own wheels.

You want a more meticulous inspection? Hotel Business content sponsored by ActiveGuard offers a multi-step program for hotel housekeeping to implement in a hunt for bedbugs. It’s detailed. And you’ll want to have a flashlight in hand. But if you want high confidence that your room is bedbug free, go with this six step program that looks at everything from the underside of the box spring to the edges of the headboard. The steps are here.

If you check out from a hotel after just one night you might not notice bug bites until you are on your way home. Often it’s an itch that first gets your attention. Then you notice the bites and you know you’ve been dinner for a bug. All’s not lost. You still can save yourself a home infestation. Put your clothes in the dryer for at least 30 minutes. Wash them if you wish but bedbugs can usually survive water. It’s the heat that kills them.

Should you complain to your hotel? Maybe, maybe not. There are many places to encounter bedbugs. Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix for instance. Also Kansas City International Airport. On airplanes too – Air India passengers have complained. They also show up in buses. And movie theaters often are said to be infested with bed bugs.

They even are said to show up on cruise ships.

If you are beginning to think they are everywhere, they are. And there are more infestations reported in summer, per the National Pest Management Association: “More than half of pest control professionals noted that they receive the most bed bug complaints during the summer, as increased travel during this time of the year may help spread bed bugs from vacation destinations to homes or even college lodgings to homes as students go on summer break.”

Inspect hotel rooms, always. Inspect your luggage when you get home. Ditto when cruising. Be wary of seating in airports, movie theaters, etc. Stay vigilant and bedbugs can be beaten.

Is This Room Service RIP?

By Robert McGarvey

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I come not to praise room service but to bury it. And maybe gleefully dance on its grave.

The Phocuswire headline said it plainly: Will food delivery apps eliminate the need for hotel room service?

I can only hope.

I am no fan of room service. As I write this I remember a room service breakfast for two at an Upper Eastside hotel that involved egg platters – cold and maybe $35 each; with cold toast; cold bacon stippled with congealed fat; coffee – $14 apiece for lukewarm java; plus tax and a mandatory room service charge. Around $150 total.

Did I mention the 40 minute wait?  That of course probably explains the tepid temperatures of the food and drink.

But the staggering thing is that a self described ultra luxury hotel would deliver such dreck to a guest’s room. And have the nerve to charge exorbitant prices.

Yeah, I should have gone to Starbucks, maybe a block away but I was lazy and – obviously – I was dumb.

And now Phocuswire tells me that just maybe I can forget about calling room service ever again.

Phocuswright, along with iSeatz, did a consumer survey – involving 800 of us – along with f & b pros to explore the pros and cons of room service and also third party delivery services.  It concluded: “The study found that travelers perceive both traditional room service and third-party food delivery platforms as providing ease and convenience, and overall satisfaction is similar with both options.

“But for room service, a notable issue for travelers is the perceived value – or lack thereof – in relation to the product received.”

You got that right about value, or lack thereof.

Yes, I’ve talked with senior hotel execs who tell me I don’t get it, that I don’t recognize that with room service every tray is in effect delivered twice – to the room, then back to the kitchen.  That adds expense, they tell me, and it also explains why often the food arrives cold.

In that vein, the report noted that many hotel executives want to stop room service. “Most hotels claim that they would prefer to eliminate the provision of room service if given the choice. However, most are currently obliged to maintain it, either because of guest expectations (particularly in luxury and, to a lesser degree, upmarket-properties), or because of brand requirements.”

The other factor that is holding back many hotels from shutting down room service is that we like it. Color me surprised by how many of us still use room service. Per the report, “Traditional room service remains a popular option for in-room dining, and is used by over two thirds (67%) of travelers.”

Oh, by the way, look online for room service menus at the hotels that you’ll be staying at in the next month.  You probably won’t find any. If you do, they will have glorious photos but no prices. I can’t say I don’t understand why hotel execs hide the prices. I’d be ashamed too.

But there now is a way out, that should please hotel execs and guests alike.  Suddenly food delivery services are an Internet unicorn. And hungry guests can get the food they desire.

Some hotels are partnering with food delivery services but who cares? This is the Internet wild west. Buy the food you want, where you want it. Worst case you’ll be forced to go down to the lobby to pick it up.  Big whoop. How many morning have I been forced in Strip hotels to go to the lobby for morning coffee at Starbucks.

You’ll eat better with the delivery services.

Look at Doordash. I’m thinking about a couple of iHop breakfast samplers – eggs, bacon, ham,  sausage, hashbrowns, pancakes. Priced at $12.50 apiece.  Throw in coffees, a tip, tax, delivery fee ($5.99) and you are still under $45. Where I am in Phoenix, you’ll get your food in under 40 minutes probably.  

Don’t like iHop?  There are dozens – probably hundreds – more restaurants to choose from.

Don’t like Doordash? Use Uber Eats.

Or Amazon Restaurants.

There are still other delivery services.

Some hotels are in fact partnering with specific delivery services and some guests say they prefer that — “The study found that two out of five respondents would ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ use a food delivery service directly from a hotel if it was available,” reported Phocuswire.

I have no preference in that regard. I’ve used services to deliver directly to my apartment and am comfortable using the apps.

But if you’re not, very probably the hotel front desk will help you out in interfacing with a delivery service.

Hotel room service probably is going away, sooner rather than later.  And nobody will play the bagpipes at its passing.  

Flygskam: Why You Are Grounded

Words we don’t know may still bite us.  Meet Flygskam.  What language is it?  Swedish. And it means “flight shame.”

In Sweden today increasing numbers are ditching planes in favor of trains – even 15 hour trips such as Gothenburg to Lulea (1-½ hours by air).

They cite flight shame as the explanation.

Are they crazy?

Nope. Swedes are throwing flight shame in the faces of flyers and the hot button is how polluting planes are. A New York Times headline spelled it out: Flying Is Bad for the Planet.

The Times’ lede smacks you in the head: “Take one round-trip flight between New York and California, and you’ve generated about 20 percent of the greenhouse gases that your car emits over an entire year.”

Don’t even ask about the airlines’ plastics problem. It’s huge and not shrinking.

What happens in Sweden doesn’t stay there. Know this: Flygskam is heading at you. If you haven’t heard displeased snickers about your frequent flying yet, you will – at the office, at the fitness club, at your community meetings. What had been a badge of honor – platinum elite status – is getting transformed into a badge of shame.

Environmentalism has caught up with frequent flying and it will exact its price.

The driving force behind Flygskam: Greta Thunberg, a 16 year-old Swedish school girl.  Don’t scoff. She and the movement she has launched will change how we travel – certainly how often we travel.

According to the South China Morning Post, “A recent survey conducted by WWF found that 23 percent of Swedes were opting out of air travel to reduce their impact on the climate, and 18 percent of those polled had chosen to take a train rather than fly. ‘Flygskam’ (‘flight shame’) has taken off on social media across Europe, as has the inversely correlated ‘tagskryt’ (‘train bragging’), and the phenomenon is making a difference on the ground.”

The Morning Post continued; “According to a recent Bloomberg report, Swedavia AB, which operates 10 Swedish airports, has seen year-on-year passenger numbers drop for seven consecutive months, while state train operator SJ moved a record 32 million people around the country last year.”

Rick Steves, the PBS travel guru, has acknowledged that flyers are “contributing to the destruction of our environment.”

In Europe, flygskam has spread beyond Sweden. The United Kingdom is a hotbed,

And “the Finnish have invented the word ‘lentohapea’, the Dutch say ‘vliegschaamte’ and the Germans ‘flugscham’, all referring to a feeling of shame around flying.”

An Instagram account that exists to shame boastful travel influencers about their gallivanting – #StayOnTheGround — has over 60,000 followers

Certainly Donald Trump believes climate change is hokum but he probably also has doubts that the Earth in fact is not flat and that the Moon is not made of cheese.  Nobody with the slightest familiarity with climate science doubts that in fact climate change is real and a corollary is that air travel is highly polluting – and much air travel also is not exactly necessary.

Which brings us back to flygskam and us.  The money question is this: what will you do about this at your end?

Me, I’ve already decided to eliminate air travel that can be easily eliminated. I have not modified my position. If a trip can be replaced with a phone call, I’m all in.

And a lot of business trips can be eliminated.

What about vacation travel?  This year I find myself planning vacation trips from where I live in Phoenix to San Francisco, Texas, northern New Mexico – and, yep, I see all happening in a car.

Can I go the next six months without once boarding a plane?  I’m not prepared to promise that. A family emergency could trigger a flight.  So could the right business proposition. I am not for hurting myself.

But I am for doing what I can do to save the environment and part of that is indeed eliminating superfluous air travel.

Are you down for likewise?

Or are you pinning on a “smygflyga” button?

That’s flying in secret of course.

And isn’t that a change? A generation ago we might have lied that we’d flown from LA to Vegas because driving seemed so lame.  But now we lie and say we drove.

Climates change. So do customs.  

For the environment let’s hope this change sticks.

Show Us Your Tweets Before Entering the US

By Robert McGarvey

The US government now has announced a policy where applicants for US visas are asked to disclose their social media handles. Apparently about 15 million foreign visitors will be impacted annually.

Would you disclose your Twitter, Facebook, and other accounts to a foreign government?

My Twitter account is @rjmcgarvey, ditto on Facebook, and I have never posted on Instagram, Snapchat, et. al. I have nothing to hide. But I do have questions about this new US information grab.

Is the US overreaching in its paranoia? Should what you post on social media figure into your ability to travel the world? And remember that others will follow the US policy – that is, many nations will start asking for social media handles on visa applications.

So US citizens too will be impacted.

Which brings us to the question: why did the US make this change?

According to TIME, the US explained this thusly: “National security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications, and every prospective traveler and immigrant to the United States undergoes extensive security screening. We are constantly working to find mechanisms to improve our screening processes to protect U.S. citizens, while supporting legitimate travel to the United States.”

The free speech advocate inside me recoils at yet another government act that may stifle speech.

Even so, I have assumed for some years that the big governments – especially the US, China, possibly Russia – routinely sift through all social media postings.  I would also assume that many who post inflammatory stuff do so under pseudonyms. So a visa applicant might have a humdrum account on Twitter in his/her real name – and another account full of hideous nonsense under a fake name.  Which account would you guess he’d disclose on his visa application?

Is there any point to this new government intrusion?  Will demanding social media handles deliver anything of value?

Then, too, many millions of foreigners enter the US under a visa waiver program that allows passport holders from countries such as Australia, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom to enter without a visa.  

In FY 2015, about 22 million came in under the visa waiver program (Japan was the leader with 3.7 million).  That’s half again more than will come in with a visa but that makes sense because most developed countries are in the waiver program (and in most cases US citizens do not need visas to enter these countries).

As for the new US demands, civil liberties folks are up in arms.  Per the New York Times, “This seems to be part and parcel of the same effort to have an extraordinary broad surveillance of citizens and noncitizens,” Elora Mukherjee, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School, said of the latest development. “Given the scope of the surveillance efforts, it is hard to find a rational basis for the broad surveillance the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security have been doing for almost two years.”

Probably, too, this search won’t actually prevent any terrorism. A Washington Post story from a few years ago took up exactly this question and said, naw, it won’t work.  Why? The vast majority of posts are about the same old stuff – “Almost all were about traffic, celebrities or the weather. Discovering whether a visa applicant has ever voiced suspect opinions will require searching through acres of haystacks in the hopes of finding a few needles,” said the Post as it reviewed Ukrainian posts after Russia’s seizure of Crimea. Note that timing. Even tho war was breaking out, the overwhelming majority of social posts were about the same old trivialities of everyday life.

Then, too, added the Post, the Internet is awash with hate speech – vide Trump’s Twitter account.  There’s a lot of bluster, a lot of ranting, and a lot of plain hate. That means “identifying suspicious social media activity cannot be conclusive without additional labor. Whittling hundreds of thousands of flagged accounts down to a manageable watchlist will be an expensive and time-consuming human effort, not the work of algorithms.”

So probably this is actually just a Washington DC witch hunt not worth the time and effort.

Taking the Measure of Your Meetings: Pass/Fail?

By Robert McGarvey

By now it’s cliche: meeting attendees are ever younger (think Millennials – born 1981 through 1996 – and a sprinkling of still younger Gen Z) and, therefore, meetings have to evolve to satisfy new expectations.

But have they evolved? Really?

Are they that much different from what they were in 2009, 1999, or even 1989?

Reading an interview in Meetings Today with Mark Cooper, CEO of IACC (International Association of Conference Centers), I was struck by how often I agreed with him – but also how often it seemed to me that meetings I attend fall very short of what Cooper put out as necessities of a well run 2019 meeting.

For instance: Cooper said, “Today’s delegate seeks an enriching and memorable experience from all aspects of the venue, from design to features.”

He then ticked off some essential features and he started with WiFi. I am so with Cooper on this – good WiFi is a sine qua non for me at a meeting.

But often we are talking non because the WiFi isn’t there.

Question: when was the last time you had adequate WiFi at a large meeting?  I cannot think of any time which is why, typically, I create my own hotspot and connect via my phone. Partly I do that because I am wary of public WiFi – remember the fake free WiFi network erected at the 2016 Republican National Convention.  

But I started doing it because in most hotels and meetings facilities I have used, the WiFi sucks.  It’s slow, the signal sometimes drops, sometimes I cannot connect at all (a problem that seems chronic with an iPad Air 2 I commonly bring to meetings).

For years I have whined about inadequate hotel wifi and, sure, they keep upping their capabilities – but we keep connecting more devices. And the hotels never really get ahead because they do not want to spend the money it would take to offer truly adequate WiFi. They are pinchpennies when it comes to broadband and we pay the price in woeful connections.

Next on Cooper’s must list is: “Inspiring and healthy food and beverages (including interesting alcohol-free options).

Agreed at my end.  

But I cannot say I typically see that at the meetings I attend.  The food is neither healthy nor inspiring. It is same old. A blah chicken breast with a few roasted potatoes and a handful of carrots and green beans or maybe it’s a blah salmon fillet on a bed of rice with some peas.

Hotels have talked about upping their meetings food game for as long as I can remember and that’s a commendable goal.  But this is aspiration. Not reality at most venues.

There are exceptions. I recall a lovely Beard House dinner or two with chefs from Benchmark’s conference centers.

But for most meeting venues tasty, smart food is all talk, no action.  

Cooper’s next point leapfrogs off the food grumbles because he said attendees “will also be watching the waste that comes from their event and will not tolerate full buffet tables of spent food being swept into the trash bag.”

Except, very typically, that’s precisely what happens to food waste at meetings: it goes to the dumpster and from there into the landfill.  

Two years ago I wrote a column headlined: “It’s up to you to stop food waste at conferences.”

It still is.

If you know you won’t be eating the meeting lunch – and there often is good conversation at those lunch tables but good food not so often – tell the meeting planner and ask that your lunch be donated to an organization that serves the needy. In many big cities such groups exist and they will accept the donation.  Most won’t take food that has been plated and put on a table – but if it has stayed in the kitchen they will be glad to have it and it will help fill a hungry belly.

A last point made by Cooper that interested me regards wellness at meetings. He said: “Personally, I think more can be done for delegates during break-out sessions and refreshment breaks, whether that’s hosting food demonstrations, yoga sessions or giving delegates the chance to enjoy a group meditation session to re-energize ahead of the afternoon agenda. I’d also like to see more events promoting walking meetings to help attendees get in their 10,000 steps a day.”

I definitely agree with him but I also agree that most venues are more talk, not much action, when it comes to building wellness into meetings.  And attendees know this.

Bottomline: I strongly agree with IACC’s Cooper. Meeting attendees want better WiFi, better food (and more vegan options!), they want reduced waste, and they want more and more convenient wellness activities available at meetings..

I just am not seeing many facilities that are delivering on these priorities. Do you?

How Typical Are You: The CWT Traveler Barometer

By Robert McGarvey

An infographic via Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) gives us a quick, easy way to measure just how typical we are.  Granted, frequent flyers, as a tribe, have shared idiosyncrasies – a strong fondness for lots of accessible plugs in a hotel room and, always, a desk in the room – but then there are datapoints where I have to scratch my head and wonder who are these people?

CWT starts out with a softball – 9 of 10 travelers are willing to share travel preferences. You have to wonder about the 10% who decline. Too busy to bother? OK, that makes a kind of sense to me.  But if it’s just preferring to be private, nah, that seems dumb to me. Whenever I have the time I provide travel preferences just to get what I want on the record and I will do this free of charge. If you want to know my preferences in banking, in mobile payments, in computing, bring a checkbook or at least an Amazon gift card. That’s info I charge for but when it comes to travel and the pains I feel, ask and I’ll tell because I am hoping for more comfort as payback.

Here are the salient CWT datapoints:

66% of travelers prefer a window seat.  Do you?

I do not. I strongly prefer an aisle seat and will grumble, loudly, if put in a window seat. Why? I have written often about deep vein thrombosis and air travel and swear by the advice to walk every hour.  Climbing over two fellow travelers to exit from a window seat is rude and, well, who does it except in an emergency?  Sitting on the aisle, tho, I get up pretty much every hour and walk up and back, maybe a couple times.

Perhaps I am paranoid about DVT.  Perhaps. But this is a better safe than sorry choice and for me, the aisle seat is the ticket.  And it is very good news in my mind that most of you want the window seat. Take it, it’s yours.

Per CWT, btw, “Window proponents like control of the window shade, a fuselage on which to rest their sleeping head and ample opportunity to fill their Instagram feed with obligatory shots of the plane wing in the clouds.”

64% of travelers prefer ground transportation vs. public transport.  

I do not. In San Francisco I’m on the BART.  In Phoenix, I light rail home. At Newark Airport, I usually catch a train and I am joyous about the PATH extension that’s probably coming to the airport.  At CDG in Paris, I’m on the Metro. For my money, public transit usually is not only cheaper but faster when it comes to exiting an airport.

52% would rather miss a flight than lose luggage.

Not me.  But maybe I cheat here. I don’t check bags and therefore find the concept of lost luggage to be alien.  And I don’t recall ever missing a flight in decades of flying. Flights were cancelled, sometimes abruptly, but I never missed one on my own doing.

Baggage of mine has gone astray, and that indeed is annoying. But on the three or so occasions this happened, it always found its way to me within a day or so. I don’t fret much about baggage.

65% would rather fly international than domestic.

Not me.  I suppose I prefer domestic because the flights are shorter.  And, sure, the inflight service is better on international flights. But short still trumps better service.

CWT, incidentally, pointed out that there are regional differences in traveler preferences. In Asia, for instance, 71% want the window. In the Americas it’s just 59%.

Regional differences are especially sharp when the question is taxi vs rideshare. 54% in the CWT poll plunk down for taxis. But in the Americas that number plummets to 37%.

Don’t ask me about that one. You’ll find me in public transit.  

How typical are you regarding the CWT questions?

I’m an outlier but I knew that at the get go.

What about you?

Is It Time to Trust TripAdvisor Again?

By Robert McGarvey

Finally TripAdvisor is back in the news for doing something that looks to be right. The Detroit Free Press, which had investigated TripAdvisor’s apparent burying of reviews that alleged sexual assaults – sometimes by resort and hotel employees – tells the story that TripAdvisor now vows it’s mapped a different course. The Freep headline shouts: TripAdvisor will now flag sexual assault warnings on travel reviews.

The promise: a simple click of a filter will bring up reviews that claim sexual assaults and other safety related complaints.

According to the Freep, TripAdvisor admitted that an internal investigation had found 1100 reviews that claimed sexual assault had been posted on the site in the past year. But it wasn’t always easy to find them

Indeed,a 2017 investigation by the Milwaukee Sentinel found that TipAdvisor had a pattern of deleting posts alleging rape or assault.  

Along the way I had personally declared TripAdvisor to no longer be trustworthy.  Once I had seen it as the go to site for hotel reviews but I stopped.

Now TripAdvisor screams: trust us, we’re changed, we’re different!

Color me skeptical.

Probably the real driver for TripAdvisor is that it had found itself playing catch up – and failing – in surveys of hotel review sites.  Google had in fact galloped into a huge lead over TripAdvisor and probably TripAdvisor saw only darkness at the end of its tunnel.  

Flashforward and now TripAdvisor says it has had an epiphany.  It told the Freep: “When your article hit, we started re-evaluating our policies,” said TripAdvisor spokesman Brian Hoyt, noting the 1,100 reviews citing sexual assault raised eyebrows. “One incident is horrible — 1,100 is horrific. Having read through many of these accounts, it really motivated us at TripAdvisor to make sure we do right by these survivors and help them find a way to share this information with others.”

Here’s what visitors to TripAdvisor will now find, per the Freep: “Rather than have to dig through tens of millions of hotel reviews in search of rape complaints, TripAdvisor users will now be able to click through a filter on each property to see if there are any reviews with safety warnings involving rapes, robberies or druggings.”

TripAdvisor pointed some media to the Palm Beach Hotel in Vietnam as a case in point of its get tough policies. In my clicking it indeed was easy to see there were safety concerns and it was also easy to pull up two very tough reviews.

TripAdvisor itself explains what changes it has made here.

There’s a lot to like about what TripAdvisor says it is doing.

The money question of course is do you now trust TripAdvisor?  With its history of burying and simply deleting reviews alleging crimes at hotels?

Remember, in 2017, Senator Tammy Baldwin asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate TripAdvisor. Per the NY Times, “This may be a case of putting profits over providing an open, honest forum for traveler reviews on TripAdvisor,” Ms. Baldwin said in a tweet on Nov. 26. “I called on the F.T.C. to look into this and they should get to the bottom of it.”

And yet the beat went on at TripAdvisor: there persisted an unwillingness to wrestle with the reality that some resorts, in some parts of the world, seem to have persistent issues involved a failure to provide for the safety of guests.

I absolutely understand the difficulties in accepting as true unproven allegations about a hotel employee and the hotel itself.

But, remember, TripAdvisor won fans because it published negative reviews about bad dinner service, clogged toilets, stained bedding, and other unpleasantries. It won our trust because it let travelers dish about the bad and the ugly at hotels and not just the good.

And then to find out that apparently many, many reviews that claimed rape were deleted because they weren’t “family friendly,” where are we to put our trust?

As recently as this year, the Guardian ran a piece that said some women still had loud complaints about the fairness of TripAdvisor’s handling of rape allegations.

So now we are supposed to believe TripAdvisor has gotten religion about helping travelers stay safer?

My advice is to remain skeptical of TripAdvisor. The NY Times too has reservations. I want to trust the site – I truly do – but the history tells me to go slow here. It has to re-earn our trust. I for one hope it does.

Have Amex Points, Will Travel Upfront – Maybe Not

By Robert McGarvey

File this American Express innovation under not for me.

The travel press is abuzz that Amex has rolled out a new feature where you can spend your membership rewards points to bid for upgrades on your existing airline reservations.

According to Skift: “Twenty-one airlines including Air Canada, Qantas, and Singapore Airlines have partnered with Plusgrade and American Express to launch the product. Currently, no U.S.-based airline is part of the program, but several North American carriers participate.”

Of course you’re familiar with similar with the many airlines points programs you belong to.

But here’s the difference: Amex points still have a kind of value whereas airline points, as vividly documented in multiple columns by Joe Brancatelli, lose value just about daily. With airline points the wise soul burns ‘em as they are earned.

Amex points are a bit better.

I still have a stash of Amex points, hundreds of thousands, I don’t know how many because I don’t spend them.  I will and I have but I am stingy with them because they can rather easily be converted into plane tickets on multiple carriers, even for short notice travel (visiting ill friends and relatives for instance).  

Should I play with Amex’s upgrade offer?

It works like this: visit Upgrade with Points in the MembershipRewards page.  Select your airline, input your rez to see if it’s eligible, if eligible bid for the upgrade, twiddle your thumbs until you hear if the airline has accepted your offer.

The official Amex spiel is here.

Some journos like the Amex program. Said Godsavethepoints: “This is cool because it often works even when you’re traveling on the lowest priced economy fares, and sometimes the accepted bids can be super low. Now that Amex has partnered with Plusgrade, you don’t even have to bid using your cold hard cash, you can bid using your Amex points instead.”

Count me as not enthused about it however.

Sure, if you have time to kill (sitting in an airport lounge for instance) and feel mischievous, put in a bid of 1 membership reward point.  If the airline accepts it, pat yourself on the back.

But most – possibly all – airlines will have a minimum bid, just as they do for cash bidding schemes. They are not chumps and they won’t let us turn them into chumps.

That means very probably you will have to bid substantial chunks of miles and color me unpersuaded that this is a good use of those hard earned miles.  

Skift dug into the mechanics and reported back that “Reached for comment, a member of the team at American Express confirmed that through the program, 1,000 Membership Rewards points would equal $10 in upgrade credit. For a $400 bid, a reasonable offer for a short-haul upgrade, it would thus cost an American Express customer 40,000 points. Those same 40,000 Membership Rewards, however, could also be deposited into a frequent flyer account directly through a transfer partner and be used to book an economy or premium ticket (a one-way, first-class, domestic ticket on a legacy U.S. carrier typically costs 25,000 miles).”

Onemileatatime calculated that probably Amex cardholders who bid miles in this program would get a value return of “0.5-1 cents of value per point, which isn’t great.”

Nope, it isn’t. Onemileatatime calculates the value of an Amex mile at nearer 1.7 cents per mile and that is substantially more.

The Points Guy says he values Amex miles at two cents apiece.

Milestomemories gave its verdict on the scheme in its headline: “Amex Introduces New Program That Sounds Great But Offers Terrible Value.”

The verdict: Save your membership rewards miles for better, more generous uses.

Solving the Airport Shoe Puzzle

By Robert McGarvey

Essentially since the rollout of the TSA pre-boarding security check I have wrestled with an issue that on the one hand seems mundane but at times has vexed me as much as the hardest logic problem ever.

What are the best shoes to wear to the airport?

Keep in mind, shoes have to be removed for ordinary TSA security checks – unless you are TSA Pre and a Pre line is operating and your carrier participates in Pre.

Sometimes I forget and show up at the airport wearing lace up shoes and then discover there is no Pre line and, what do I do, I uncomfortably get my shoes off (and the belt! And the computer out of my bag!) and then after passing through, there’s the reassembly process.  Awkward. Uncomfortable.

So for years I have been on a quest for the perfect shoes.

At last I found them. Quite by accident really. I bought them to serve an entirely different purpose and then it struck me that this was the answer to my airport dilemma.

For starters, I agree, completely, with this piece on the absolute worst airport shoes – flip flops. They have a superficial appeal – talk about easy on, easy off.  The good news ends there. You wear them sockless so when you take them off for the TSA, you are barefooted.

And they provide absolutely no support. None.  I find them uncomfortable to wear walking across my city apartment.  In some airports I log as much as two miles – going through security, trekking to a club, finding the boarding gate, etc.  Distances mount. At Kennedy a few months ago I wondered if my gate was in fact in Montauk, I walked so much.

Flip flops are fine to wear to the pool and, definitely, in a community shower room (as at an athletic club) – those are reasons I have a pair.  

But they are a really bad idea at the airport.

What about Birkenstock Arizona sandals? New York Magazine likes them a lot as airport shoes. I own a pair and I don’t like them much for the airport. The fit isn’t especially snug, it’s hard to walk fast in them (as in rushing to board), and I flat out believe the better airport Birkenstock is the Milano, with more strapping and a much more secure fit. I own a pair of Milanos too – but they are not my top airport pick.

Probably the runner-up. But not number one.

But I do disagree with the Points Guy’s comments: “Flip-flops and sandals pretty much break all the rules we’ve established so far, so don’t wear ’em. Well, yes, they do breathe, but they offer no support and don’t really function as a shoe in anyway except technically keeping the soles of your feet above the ground by a mere butter pat’s depth of rubber.”

That is, some sandals work.  Flip flops don’t. But let’s not ignore all sandals.

That’s all the more important because over many years I recognized that loafers too don’t really work.  They don’t have laces but the on and off can be tricky. Especially when you are in the rush we always are going through TSA lines.

If you have nothing else and don’t want to splurge on a pair of good airport shoes, by all means, travel in well broken in loafers.  They will probably be fine.

But here’s the better solution that I just discovered: Chaco Z cloud sandals – also for women – around $100 at REI, where I prefer to shop because it’s a cooperative with a good selection of clothes and shoes that wear well.

I got the idea listening to a podcast with Twitter ceo Jack Dorsey where he talked about daily power walks in San Francisco wearing athletic sandals.

I hadn’t even known that kind of shoe existed. But I was intrigued. I walk six miles every morning in Phoenix – on city sidewalks – and my feet and back take a beating.  I continually cycle through footwear.

I wasn’t immediately wowed by the brand of sandals Dorsey favors so I went to REI and explored walking/running sandals.  

I walked out with a pair of Chaco ZCloud sandals which permit wearing socks (and I want to wear socks on long walks).  I’ve logged about 50 miles in them over the past week and this morning it dawned on me that these are my ideal airport shoes.

A snug fit – good for fast walking.

Thick soles, good support.

Easy on, easy off.

Accommodate socks.

Would I wear them on a January business trip to Montreal? Sure, why not, it doesn’t snow in the airport and generally a taxi gets me right near the hotel door.  I’d pack other shoes for walking around town but the Chacos still could be my airport shoes of choice even in a snowy winter.

That’s my recommendation.