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It makes sense to leave Gadling with a top 10 list. I owe much of our success to our slideshows and lists, and though publishing our narrative work was always a point of pride, there was also a balance. Besides, you guys don't need a long essay on blogging and my state of the travel media. We will always travel, we will always write, or at least I will. That's most important.
You might know Will Shortz from his work at The New York Times editing the daily crossword puzzle or maybe from his work on NPR as the puzzlemaster on Weekend Edition. Where you probably don't know him is from the table tennis community.
In his second, or maybe third life, Mr. Shortz is, in fact, an avid table tennis player, and even owns his own club in upstate New York. He and his friend and colleague Robert Roberts manage the Westchester Table Tennis Center, spending their time organizing and hosting tournaments and developing the local community.
They take their hobby on the road as well, from puzzle tournaments to club visits around the planet, and this year Will plans to play (and film) 365 straight days of table tennis. As part of that effort, he's agreed to take Gadling on the road for a week of his journey as he and Robert travel across Alaska. They'll be leaving this afternoon, the fifth of June for their weeklong trip, and during the effort they'll provide daily Vines documenting their journey across the nation's largest state.
Check back daily for a slice of Will and Robert's trip across Alaska, or you can follow along at the link here.
Back in March, our friend Johnny Jet was the first to report on a new strategy that American Airlines was testing to hasten the whole boarding process. Coming soon, passengers without overhead bags will be allowed to board the plane prior to other (but after preferred) passengers. With no bags, they can quickly disburse onto the plane and into their seats without clogging the aisle. The next batch of passengers with bags will hopefully then be less hindered when loading.
The policy is being widely implemented and reported right now. How much will it speed up the process? American claims that this will save about two minutes a flight, though that average is spread across thousands of flights in which millions of permutations of boarding issues (full overhead bins, surly passengers, surly crew) can occur. Given the wide statistical nature of the process, passengers probably register much of a difference in timing.
What they will notice is a slight modification to the boarding zones, though this change still wont relieve the gate lice congestion. If American could come up with a solution for that problem, we'd be impressed.
The largest wooden structure in the world is surprisingly hidden in a quiet neighborhood of Seville, Spain. Called the Metropol Parasol, the 490 by 230-foot monstrosity floats casually above La Encarnación square like a space ship landing in the middle of a city. Underneath, Spaniards siesta and carry about everyday life oblivious to the intrusion, while visitors can ride an elevator up to the top of the structure and explore the flowing architecture. Make sure to explore market underneath the Parasol as well – though it's got a modern layout reflective of the parent structure, there's plenty of Iberico jamon and Rioja to remind of you of the old world.
[Photo Credits: Grant Martin and Liz Telschow]
Gouging? Probably. Expected? Definitely. As airline prices continue their slow appreciation over the years decouple from the actual inflation rate, they're turning to more and more ancillary fees in order to gain revenue. We saw it in baggage fees and in-fight meals and entertainment. Ticketing fees were bound to increase.
Rather than get angry about the fees, let's focus on moving forward. Change fees only apply when you need to change your ticket, so the first thing that passengers can try to do is book the right ticket. A little-known rule when purchasing tickets is that the airlines have to give passengers 24 hours to cancel or change a reservation. At American Airlines you can put a ticket on hold until midnight the next day. United will let you cancel a reservation at no charge within 24 hours. And online travel agents like Orbitz and Expedia will cancel most reservations within 24 hours if you call their customer support and carefully draw out your complaint.
I stand by that assertion. But I also think that there's space to grow in an industry that's starting to diverge. I'm told that the Travel Festival this weekend is more about the appreciation and inspiration of travel and writing versus the abject pandering for sponsorships or freebies. I think that there's definitely room to grown in that realm.
And some pretty great people are coming out in support. In addition to the panel that I'm on with Ross Borden from Matador and Joe Diaz from Afar, Matt Gross (the formal Frugal Traveler), Matt Kepnes (ie, Nomadic Matt), David Farley, Andrew Evans (National Geographic's Digital Nomad) and Robert Reid (Lonely Planet) will all be there, along with a handful of other really great travel people in the community. These are people that have written the guidebooks, edited the stories and survived the battles of the travel industry over the last few decades. I'm sure they have plenty of insight to give.
In case you're interested, several Gadling folk will be there including Mr. Farley, above. David will be speaking on the Czech Republic and announcing winners of the writing contest at noon, while Ross, Joe and I will be speaking on new media strategies. I'm pretty sure that there will be drinks somewhere in that equation as well.
Come on out and join us. The festival runs over multiple days and you can find more info here.
"Does Marriott have a minority problem?"
There's an interesting story over at Marketplace.org about a new movie coming out about Jackie Robinson and its corporate sponsor. Marriott, the worldwide hotel chain, is partnering up with Warner Brothers, the producers of "42," to be the official hotel sponsor for the film.
But why? In a film about baseball that took place far before Marriott was a household name, why would a hotel need to sponsor a movie? Marketplace's host, Kai Ryssdal and Wesley Morris, a film critic at Grantland.com lob a few theories back and forth during this interview, but the only conclusion they can resolve is that the move targets attention from minorities. If that's the case, it'll be interesting to see what they sponsor next.
One of the biggest complaints with airline mileage programs is that the miles are often difficult to redeem for flights. The carriers may hand them out left and right while claiming to have low-cost awards, but in practice, those tickets can be difficult to find. As a result, many passengers either end up getting gouged on miles for their ideal trip or booking a completely different itinerary.
Researching an ideal destination based on one's mileage balance has always been limited, however, based on the number of airports a passenger wanted to search. For example, if I wanted to get out of Chicago and take a miniature vacation this weekend with the 25,000 miles in my account, I would be limited to checking availability on each route manually by typing in San Francisco (SFO), Sioux City (SUX), New York City (NYC), etc., and checking availability by hand. It's both time consuming and risky, because there is no guarantee that those 25,000 mile awards will be available for any given destination.
Perhaps realizing this, American Airlines just launched a new online tool to map available destinations based on your origin, dates of travel and number of available miles in your account. Plugging in the above query thus brings up the above map, where dark blue pinpoints indicate possible trips and light blue pinpoints show upsells.
There are still plenty of imperfections in the system. Partner availability doesn't seem to be showing up fluidly, and passengers taking transatlantic flights on British Airways are still exposed to the egregious taxes. But the tool does a great job at exposing travelers to the wide spectrum of flights available with a constrained number of miles. Today, I learned I could fly to either the Canary Islands or Sofia, Bulgaria, for only 40,000 miles during the winter season, and that's a great deal regardless of taxes.
Give the app a try yourself at aa.com/awardmap# and see what you find.
Shared mileage accrual also means that passengers in each frequent flier program will be able to redeem miles on partner carriers, so all of those domestic trips on Virgin America can now translate to international trips on Singapore.
Virgin America's partnership with Singapore is a great step towards bringing in business from partner carriers, and one wonders whether this is the first step towards working larger networks. One of the biggest detractors to flying on the carrier has always been the lack of mileage partners in the United States, and if the airline were part of the Star, Oneworld or even Skyteam network, a huge market of business travelers would shift their business over. Since Singapore is part of the Star Alliance network, it may be a natural next step for Virgin America to partner with United Airlines, the biggest domestic Star carrier.
Were that the case, however, it might make sense for all of the Virgin carriers (i.e., Virgin Atlantic, V Australia, etc.) to join a global network, and since Virgin Atlantic just partnered up with Delta Air Lines (Skyteam), it seems that the brands are in conflict. Perhaps the cost of joining an alliance is just too high.
[Photo Credit: Virgin America]
One of the best things about Mr. Bourdain, though, has always been his brutal honesty, and he held little back in replying to the numerous questions. The travel superstar, who readily admits to heavy drug use in his early years, fielded a variety of questions ranging from inquiries about his tenuous relationship with the Travel Channel to stealing Guy Fieri's Lamborghini to details of his new show on CNN.
An excerpt from the questions and his responses is pasted below. You can read the full Q&A session over on Reddit.
Q: What do you think of Rick Steves?
A: I wish he'd remember to give me my bong back.
Q: What is the best "meat in tube form" in the world?
A: The Chicago hot dog.
Q: What kind of person were you in your twenties? What were your goals and do you think you would have ever imagined you'd be where you are now?
A: I was a complete asshole. Selfish, larcenous, druggy, loud, stupid, insensitive and someone you would not want to have known. I would have robbed your medicine cabinet had I been invited to your house.
Q: Why did you steal Guy Fieri's Lamborghini and then frame a teenager?