How To Fly If You’re A ‘Customer Of Size’

Given the ever increasing, uh, size of air passengers (not least American air travelers), airlines are cracking down on passengers who may just rather roll up their armrests and encroach a little on the space of other passengers next to them.

The ongoing debate has been around whether larger passengers are, and should be, required to buy extra seats for themselves, and the jury is coming back with a definitive “yes.” Yahoo! News rounds up policies from major airlines on “passengers of size,” whether there are special provisions, if fees are required, and, basically, what the deal is.

After going through the options, we can weigh in on the best and worst.

The winners? Customers of some size may want to opt for JetBlue, which has slightly larger seats than most other airlines. Usually airlines provide about 17 inches between armrests, but JetBlue provides 17.8 inches.

If you’re a customer of the next size up, your best bet may, surprisingly, be Spirit. Although Spirit is known for nickel-and-diming its customers with loads of different fees, paying extra for a Big Front Seat may actually be worth your while, rather than buying a whole extra seat like you’d have to on another airline. In addition to offering 6 extra inches of legroom, Spirit’s Big Front Seats are 18.5 inches wide.

If you’re a customer of a larger size than that, your best bet may be Delta, which doesn’t require you to buy an extra seat. Delta will simply give you an extra seat next to you … if one is available. Obviously, the downside is if you’re in a rush and there are no spare seats on the plane. They’ll put you on another plane with extra room, but you may have to wait. In that case, it’s your choice to buy an extra seat for yourself in advance.

The loser? United. If you fly on United, you have to prove the armrests go down and stay all the way down – even if you’re seated next to family. While I totally understand (and agree) that it’s inappropriate for strangers to intrude on other passengers’ spaces, other airlines make an exception if you sit next to family members who don’t mind. No such luck on United. You can purchase your extra United seat in advance, and if you don’t, you may be charged additional walk-up fees later.

[Image credit: Flickr user sbamueller]

Mental Math: Easy Rules Of Thumb For Converting Currency

Being in a new country is full of enough culture shock – trying to remember how many dollars to the krona doesn’t need to be part of it.

After all, constantly whipping out a calculator (well, a cellphone) and spending five minutes trying to figure out if that sandwich is really a good price is a waste of your valuable vacation time.

To make things easier on you, here are some basic rules of thumb to help you guesstimate the exchange rates in a sampling of different countries.

It’s important to note that currencies fluctuate all the time, so these rules of thumb should not be used as actual foundations for financial transactions. They were based off the most recent exchange rates as of midweek on the week of November 5, 2012. If you actually want to know what the exchange rate is for a given country, look it up. And if you want to know again a week later, look it up again.

These rules of thumb are intended to help you quickly do the mental math required to figure out if, yes, that sandwich is a good deal. Or, when you withdraw 400 pesos from the ATM, roughly how much you’re taking out in US dollars.

Disclaimer: this post is admittedly America-centric, but the reality is that’s my perspective as a traveler. I hope this will help others as it’s helped me.

Asia
China: Divide all prices quoted in yuan by about 6 for a dollar estimate.

Japan: Divide all prices quoted in yen by 100 and then tack on about 25% for a dollar estimate.

India: It’s slightly more than 50 rupees to the dollar.

Thailand
: Roughly, divide the prices you see in bahts by about 30 and you’ll get the dollar value.

South Korea: Divide Korean prices by about 1,000 for the USD estimate.

Europe
Eurozone: Add a 25% premium to all the prices you see.

UK: Multiply pound prices by 1.5 and then round up to guesstimate the dollar amount.

Switzerland: Roughly 1-to-1 with the US dollar.

Russia: Divide prices by about 30.

South and Central America
Mexico: Divide the prices you see by 13 for a sense of the USD price.

Guatemala: Divide prices by 8.

Belize: Cut the prices you see in half.

Colombia: This one’s a little tricky. First, divide the Colombian price you see by half. Then divide by 1,000. If you’re lazy and on the go, that’s very rough. For a slightly cleaner conversion, do that and then add back 20%.

Argentina: Divide Argentine prices by about 5.

Ecuador: Trick question. Ecuador uses the USD as its currency, so no conversion needed.

Dominican Republic: Divide prices in the D.R. by 40 for a sense of US equivalents.

Jamaica: Divide prices by 100 and then add back about 10%.

Africa & Mideast
South Africa: Divide prices by a little less than 9 for the US equivalent.

Kenya: Divide by 100, and then add back about 15%.

Morocco: Like for South Africa, divide by a little less than 9.

Israel: Divide by about 4 to estimate the US price.

Turkey: Divide by 2 and then add back 25%.

Egypt: Divide by about 6.

Oceania
Australia: For estimating purposes, roughly 1-to-1.

New Zealand: Take a 20% discount on the prices you see.

[Image credit: Flickr user Images_of_Money]

Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly said to “divide by half” rather than the correct “divide in half” or “cut in half,” and has been amended.

Over A Thousand Canceled Flights Due To Nor’easter

The meteorological ladies have it out for the Northeast. First there was Sandy, and now there’s (winter storm) Athena.

Planning on going there anytime soon? You might need to wait a little longer than you think. With Athena The Nor’easter on its way to the Atlantic states, parts of New England flights are being canceled left and right. Regulators obviously learned a lesson from last week’s Hurricane Sandy.

On the ground in New York City, I see snow/slush flurries outside my window. The weather forecasts wind gusts over 30 mph later today in my neck of the woods in Brooklyn with heavy snow in the early evening. Nantucket, meanwhile, is expecting gusts over 50 mph. The areas with the heaviest snow are expected near the Berkshires and the Catskills.

In other words, if you were planning to travel right now, you might not have a choice. News outlets report that airlines have canceled about 1,200 flights, following more than 20,000 flight cancellations last week from Sandy.

As areas without power and heat brace for a winter weather terror, there are a few things you can do to help Sandy relief. If you are in the greater New York/New Jersey region, you can find volunteer opportunities here. In particular, areas without power or heat are particularly susceptible to Athena, since many have only tarps to protect them from the winter winds and cold. Whether you’re in NYC or elsewhere, a group has created an Amazon Wedding Registry list with supplies needed for the relief effort.

So what should you do in place of heading out to catch a flight bound for NYC? Maybe do some online shopping instead.

[Image credit: Flickr user NASA Goddard Photo and Video]

Magic Equation: How Much Vacation Can You Afford?

Everyone dreams of the absolutely perfect vacation. A whole year away. Sampling amazing cuisines every night. Five-star hotels everywhere. Screw the cross-country bus, you’ll take the bullet train!

All of that can be yours, at a cost, of course.

Planning a vacation is all about balancing variables. Think of it as a triangle between cost, time and luxury – you can have two, but never all three.

So:

  • If you want a yearlong trip in the lap of luxury, that’s fine … you’ll just have to sacrifice your budget.
  • If you want a luxurious trip without spending a ton, that’s fine, too. You’ll just have to sacrifice duration, like staying just one night at a fancy resort.
  • Want to go away for a long time without blowing all your cash? Great, it looks like you’ll be backpacking and staying in hostels for a while to come.

This is particularly important in the planning stages of your trip, when you’re deciding where to go and for how long. After all, if you planned for two weeks in an expensive country and realize halfway through that you’re going to go over budget, it’s a little too late, isn’t it?

The key to staying on budget is to figure out how you’ll allocate your resources by working the ratio of those three factors: cost, duration and how much you’ll spend on the ground. Think about what matters most to you and then hold yourself to it as best you can.

Based on personal experience as both a traveler and a personal finance writer – and a significant amount of number crunching to make sure my calculations make sense – I’ve come up with an equation to figure out just how much trip I, or you, can afford.The beauty is that the variables are just that: by understanding your travel situation as a give and take, you can tweak one variable to make more room for the others. Do this math:

Total Budget – (Airfare + Souvenir Budget) – (Estimated Cost Per Train Or Bus Ride x Total Rides) – [(Daily Food Estimate + Nightly Hotel Estimate + Daily Entertainment Estimate) x Total Days]

Then take a look at the number you get. Here’s how to decode:

Zero = You are precisely on budget, without a lot of wiggle room.

A positive number = That’s how much extra wiggle room you have in your budget. Toward the end of the trip, you might as well spend it on something fun! If you have a huge positive number, you have a lot leftover. You might even want to rethink some of your plans or calculations. In one direction, you can bring this closer to zero by adjusting your expected budget and simply spending less on this particular vacation. Maybe let the leftovers seed your fund for the next vacation! Otherwise, you might choose to go away for more days or up the quality of your accommodations (therefore increasing your nightly hotel estimate). Once you change a variable, remember to compute again to make sure you’re on track!

A negative number = You’re over budget, and you haven’t even arrived at your destination yet. Something in this equation needs to change. If you’re just a little in the red then you might be able to get away with tweaking a small component of this equation, to avoid altering your travel plans. For example, you might just give yourself less cash to spend on souvenirs, or eat a little more frugally while you’re away.

If you’re severely over budget, however, something’s gotta give. In some cases, it helps to go back to square one and rethink your location. Will you have to pay for expensive plane tickets? Even if the cost of living is cheap where you’re going, that only matters if you stay for a long time. So, for a short trip, maybe you can go somewhere closer to home to reduce the cost of getting there. For a longer trip, maybe you need to go somewhere cheaper, or reassess your travel style. And, of course, one of the fastest ways to knock this number down is to reduce your total days away, since, as you can see, that gets multiplied out.

If you are having trouble knocking down any of your estimated costs, it goes without saying that you can also balance this equation simply by increasing your total budget.

It’s never fun to hack away at your dream trip, but whatever you decide, remember the give and take between money, luxury and time. By choosing which of those three is most important, you’ll be able to craft a trip that’s just what you’re looking for, in the end.

[Image credit: Flickr user epSos.de]

Miami’s Art Basel 2012 Will Be Hotter Than Ever

December might be a cold, dour month in a lot of the country, but not in Miami – and for reasons other than just the tropical weather. Art Basel Miami Beach will kick off on December 6, and the New York Post reports that the social scene will be more revved up than ever.

Many of the awesome parties around town won’t be directly related to the international art event, but the city will be buzzing with an influx of visitors from around the world – particularly, visitors with money.

The festivities don’t end with the Art Basel itself; during the same week, Bayfront Park will be home to UR1 music and art festival, which will have musical acts ranging from hip hop to indie, rocking out on five stages.

In addition to high-rolling parties, the city will showcase new developments. For example, the American Airlines Arena will host VIPs in its new Hyde lounge, and new hotels like the SLS South Beach hotel and the re-branded James Royal Palm will host events.

All of this makes me wonder: (1) What about the supposed recession and Miami’s real estate bubble? (2) Where can I get in line?

[Photo credit: Flickr user miamism]