Escape Artists offers up a global discourse ranging from great finds close to home to adventures far afield. You'll find weekly travel deals here, too. Share your road wisdom, rave about great finds and rant about roadblocks that get in the way of a great trip.

Contributor: Travel editor Kerri Westenberg.

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Posts about Consumer travel

Airline fees confuse pricing

Posted by: Kerri Westenberg Updated: February 7, 2013 - 9:47 AM

An analysis of airline fees by Travelnerd, a website that offers airport parking info, terminal maps, airport shuttle directories and other ways to ease traveler's airport navigation, found that more than 50 airline fees changes in the last year. Of the fee changes, 36 out of the 52 were direct fee increases. Eighteen out the 52 fee changes were attributed to Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Air, "ultra low cost carriers notorious for charging fees" according to the report.  
 

According to the online report: "These changes have had a tremendous impact on U.S. travelers, especially on families. Travelers really have to be extra cautious when booking a flight. U.S. carriers are becoming creative at charging consumers extra fees,” says Alicia Jao, VP Travel Media at TravelNerd. “A new trend that we’re currently seeing is carriers bundling and tiering services. This practice is not only more confusing for travelers, but it also complicates price comparison. Even airlines that have touted fewer fees are joining the game, indicating only more fees in 2013."

Fees are becoming an increasingly heated topic among travelers, and online sites are trying their best to keep track. Airfarewatchdog.com is one of them. Go here to download a PDF of "every airline fee you'd want to know about."

The burden of award travel

Posted by: Kerri Westenberg Updated: February 13, 2012 - 3:01 PM

I have a whopping 230,000 miles accrued on my Delta account. That's not because I'm an exceptional jet-setter. It is because I deeply dread the frustration that attends most attempts to use the miles. As a result, I tend to let them grow ever larger with each trip to Target paid for with my Delta-branded American Express card. I determined to change that over the weekend. It was time my miles worked for me! I wanted to use them not to garner a free flight, but to land me in cushy first-class for the uncomfortably long flights to and from Maui. Seeking an upgrade 10 months ahead seemed a slam-dunk. Not so, fellow travelers. I wound up spending nearly two hours on the phone during two separate conversations with very kind and enthusiastic Delta personnel (thank you Tracy and Tanner) over the weekend. And after all that time, I'm still not the proud holder of a reservation in the posh front of the plane.

Because many of the upgrade seats were taken, Tracy and I determined a few things after much noddling and wrangling: We would fly to L.A. one day and take the morning fligh to Maui the next morning. (Upgrades for the afternoon flight to Maui had already been nabbed.) Two of the people in my party would be able to use upgrades; the third in my party was going on miles alone. (The airline holds a certain number of seats for upgrade, seperate from those for award travel). Breaking up the flight seemed appealing, especially since it would give us a day in our old stomping grounds of Santa Monica. Tracy held the reservation to allow me time to chat with the others in my party before officially booking.

Oh what a difference a few hours makes. By the time I phoned back, the upgrades on the red-eye flight out of Maui were no longer available. Turns out that Tracy could hold the seats, but not the upgrades. In the intervening time, someone else got them. My next Delta pal, Tanner, couldn't do much except suggest I return two days later. That timing didn't work, so I just passed, and then nearly passed out, exhausted.

 My take-away was not a round-trip, first-class tickets to Maui. It was this: A reminder in how to use your miles. If you want to book a reward ticket or an upgrade, do it as soon as possible. And if you want to go to such popular destinations as Hawaiiduring the holiday season, book the first day a flight is available from the airlines. That, generally speaking, is 330 days out. Today, 2/13/2012, I could book a flight that returns from Maui 1/10/2012, for instance (both the flight to and the return need to be bookable, of course). Those rewards go quickly.

 The experience left me both amazed at the nice Delta people who tried so hard to help--and a little sad. But not too sad because, really, to be able to plan a family trip to Hawaii is pretty first-class, no matter how we get there.

 

Book it, Dan-O

Posted by: Updated: December 14, 2011 - 8:27 AM

I love it when a destination exceeds expectations, especially when they are already exceedingly high.

I always try not to get my hopes up too much, but that proved to be not a problem at Powell's Books in Portland, Ore. What a soulful stroll: room after room, floor after floor, beautifully organized but with a rambling, ramshackle feel that fits like a great pair of shoes.

Powell's is the world's largest independent used and new bookstore, filling a city block and spread across four floors (1.6 acres, but who's counting).

It's certainly a place where even a non-bookish person could while away an hour or two; avid readers will want to "book" (sorry) the better part of a day. Indeed, Powell's is a perfect fit for a city that requires a lot of rainy-day endeavors.

Moseying through its countless rooms felt a lot like strolling around Venice: It's easy to feel like you're getting lost, but you're never really far from a touchstone, or at least a sign pointing to it. The rooms are color-coded, and it's no problem finding a staffer to help with directions.

There are boatloads of discounted books (the new and used volumes are intermingled), and a more than decent chance of finding that work that you loaned to someone years ago and wish you had gotten back.

If time allows, don't miss the third-floor Rare Book Room, where mahogany shelves lend an old-world air to a place that, even without that eminently tasteful space, feels like just about the most civilized spot on the planet.

Megabus expands service

Posted by: Kerri Westenberg Updated: June 29, 2011 - 12:28 PM

 

 

 

Megabus.com, the express bus service made famous by its bargain-basement fares, doubled the number of trips between the Twin Cities and Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago today. The company now offers eight daily trips between Minneapolis and Chicago, four trips between Minneapolis and Madison and four trips between Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

Megabus.com one-way ticket prices begin at $1; that fare requires traveling midweek and booking online and well in advance of travel. The company's ticket prices fluctuate according to demand, so booking earlier, when fewer seats have been sold, garners the best deals. Typical one-way fares range from $10 to $30. There is a $3 service fee for tickets purchased by phone; most travelers book online at Megabus.com. The buses offer reclining seats and lavatories.

All trips depart Minneapolis from the megabus.com bus stop located in the parking lot on the east side of Chicago Ave. between South 3rd St. and S. Washington Ave, near the Downtown East / Metrodome Light Rail Metro Transit Station. Buses arrive in Chicago on a street adjacent to Union Station.

A card that works in Europe and here at home

Posted by: Kerri Westenberg Updated: April 26, 2011 - 3:34 PM

A reader asks: can an American get a credit card from a European bank, which would contain the special chip that allows them to be used in ticket machines and other outlets in Europe?

My answer:  Probably, but you don’t need to if you’re simply interested in getting a card with chip technology rather than a card issued by a European bank.
A bit of context for people unfamiliar with the technology: American credit cards use a magnetic strip to exchange information during a financial transaction. In European and other countries, card issuers have turned to EMV chip technology (named for Europay, MasterCard and Visa). Where people are handling the charge, American credit cards often work. Not so at unmanned kiosks, such as those at train stations and gas pumps.
According to Greg McBride of bankrate.com, getting a card from a European bank isn’t impossible, though “banks are understandably reluctant to lend money on an unsecured basis to borrowers in a foreign jurisdiction.” It’s likely you could get one after opening a deposit account with that bank.
Fortunately, you likely don’t need to go through the hassle of opening an account overseas. “Chase has recently rolled out chip-and-pin technology,” McBride said, “and other large national and regional banks will most certainly follow suit.”
Wells Fargo, the largest bank in Minnesota, is one of them. Eric Schindewolf, vice president of product development at Wells Fargo, said the bank is rolling out a pilot program this summer with 15,000 customers who are frequent international travelers. “The pilot program is about understanding what it means to do a smart card program, how will customers use the product, what questions will they have.” The card will have both a magnetic strip and a chip for use here and overseas. Schindewolf said he didn’t know when or if such a card would go into production. Though this might be hard to accept for avid overseas travelers, the company has already identified the customers who will be part of the pilot program.
If you can’t track down a card with a chip through Chase or another bank, there is another option. Travelex, which used to issue traveler’s checks, now offers prepaid currency cards with chip-and-pin technology which you can use just like a debit card.
 

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