Join Gadling At The New York Travel Festival This Weekend

When Roni Weiss cornered me at the AOL offices a few years ago to pitch the concept of a new travel conference I had my doubts. We have travel conferences. We have travel societies, Facebook groups, Twitter wars and blog chats. We need to travel more, chat less and improve the conferences that we already have, I suggested.

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.

Why Is Marriott Sponsoring A Jackie Robinson Movie?

“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.

New Map From American Airlines Shows Award Seats By Location

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.

Virgin America And Singapore Airlines Launch Mileage Partnership – Star Alliance Next?

Passengers on the scrappy airline startup Virgin America were introduced to a new benefit last week: an expanded partnership with Singapore Airlines. Now, in addition to the assorted codeshare agreements currently in place, fliers on each airline can accrue miles from the partner carrier. So the 2000 Elevate points earned on Virgin America from Chicago to Los Angeles can now turn into 11,000 miles earned from Chicago to Los Angeles to Singapore. Conversely, passengers in Singapore’s KrisFlyer program can also earn miles on Virgin America’s domestic routes.

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]

Anthony Bourdain Answers Questions About His Checkered Past

BourdainOur favorite chef and cranky traveler Anthony Bourdain jumped on the internets earlier this week to answer questions about his past as a cook, traveler and troublemaker, and as usual, the internets had lots of prying questions.

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?A: Yes.

Q: You openly admit to being an ex-addict. Plently of ex-addicts can’t drink at all, because if they do it tumbles into drugs again. How are you able to still drink and continue to live your lifestyle without slipping?
A: I am a VERY unusual case. You are correct. Most people who kick heroin and cocaine have to give up on everything. Maybe cause my experiences were so awful in the end, I’ve never been tempted to relapse.

Q: What would you say your best/worst experience was on drugs?
A: Combing the shag carpet for paint chips in the hope that they were fallen crack bits. Smoking them anyway.

Q: Considering you and Ted Nugent are from pretty much opposite ends of the spectrum, what was it like to have him on your show? Did y’all joke around off camera. The episodes that he was in on “No Reservations” were probably my favorite. And also, you’re my favorite person ever.
A: I’m proud of the fact that I can be friends with someone with whom I disagree violently about absolutely everything.

Q: What was your favorite episode of No Reservations you did?
A: I’m proudest of Rome. Because everybody said it was the stupidest idea ever–to make food porn in black and white.

Q: You’ve said before that you are kind of overprotective of your daughter. If she decides that she wants to get into the culinary industry and become a chef, what would your reaction be?
A: Horror. Fear. Eventually pride that she’d want to do such a difficult thing.

Q: I’m from San Francisco and live in Amsterdam. You hated Amsterdam didn’t you? (The food here sucks.)
A: Amsterdam may not be the first place I think of as a food destination but I liked it fine! #420

Q: Are you and Andrew Zimmern actually friends? You seem incredibly different.
A: Andrew is actually a great guy. Very smart, very funny, very loyal. We have a lot more in common than you might think.

Q: What prompted the move to CNN? Was it issues with Travel Channel a la the Cadillac product integration debacle, or simply a chance to do something in a different vain than “No Reservations”.
A: CNN is letting me and my crew make smarter TV in places that Travel never would have allowed. Also–the new regime at Travel were a pretty unpleasant, uninspiring bunch. I saw the writing on the wall.

Photo: @OttaviaBourdain