Meet In The Middle: Plan Group Travel With TripCommon

Have a friend in Austria while you are in Austin and want to take a trip together this summer? How do you figure out where to meet? Do you choose a destination in the middle, or one with regular cheap flights from both of your destinations? A new website just launched in beta, designed to make planning group travel an easier process. TripCommon is a flight search engine that computes the cheapest common destinations, giving you the option to filter by region (maybe you’ve both always wanted to explore South America), activity (make it a beach trip), and where you have local friends (if you link up to Facebook).

What makes TripCommon genius is that it doesn’t just find random points on the map that are midway between you and your friends (you can enter up to six cities for big group travel planning), it finds destinations that have the lowest average price. Maybe you are in grad school and have a fixed budget; you can find places with the lowest cost from your city. If you have frequent flier miles to burn and your friends are the ones looking for the cheapest seats, you can sort by lowest price from one of their home cities. You may discover destinations you never thought about (Canary Islands sound nice for summer!), and make the trip planning process a lot more equitable.

Start planning your group trip at

[Photo credit: Trip Common]

Airberlin announces new direct route from Los Angeles, California, to Berlin, Germany

The USA is Berlin’s most important market overseas, as can be seen by the 180,000 Americans that visited Germany’s capital from January through August, 2011. That is why it is so exciting that airberlin has announced a new, direct route from Los Angeles to Berlin that is set to begin on May 11, 2012. From then on, travelers will be able to take the Airbus 330-200 direct, with three flights going out per week.

Airberlin is the first airline to offer nonstop flights from the west coast of the United States to Berlin. The tourism industry in Germany’s capital plans to work with the airline to heavily and successfully market the new route.

For more information, go to visitBerlin.

Cheap flights allow for prostitution at Amsterdam airport

A large number of budget flights from Eastern Europe and other parts of the world to the Netherlands has created a ring of prostitution at Amsterdam airport, giving a new meaning to the word layover. Prostitutes are flying into

Schiphol Airport and using the hotels in the international transit area to meet with clients without going through customs, often making a hefty profit even after “commuting” on cheap flights into Amsterdam.

Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, and though what is happening in the airport is unregulated and thus technically illegal, Dutch police have no plans to stop it unless they receive specific complaints. The Amsterdam Prostitutes Association is also fine with the ad hoc red-light district as long as the women are doing it on their own accord and there is no human trafficking.

Flying through Amsterdam but not interested in the sex trade? Check out our guide to layovers at Schiphol Airport.

Hat tip to for the story. Photo courtesy Flickr user algenta101.

Cheap tickets still exist, despite airfare inflation

Is it really getting more expensive to fly? Earlier this week, the Department of Transportation revealed that ticket prices were up 13.1 percent year over year for the second quarter of 2010, a stunning increase – though tempered by the fact that fares actually fell 13 percent year over year from the second quarter of 2008 to the second quarter of 2009. If nothing else, this does raise concerns about whether we won’t have access to cheap tickets for a while.

With some strength coming back to the travel market, it’s easy to speculate that rates will continue to rise, especially if business travelers come back into airports in force. And when you look at the history of airfares over the past decade and a half, it’s easy to see why. Despite grumblings in the industry that flying is getting cheaper, average fares have climbed 14.8 percent cumulatively from 1995 to 2010, with 2010’s average domestic fare of $341 approaching the 2008 peak for this period of $346.

But, there’s a silver lining. There’s still enough market inefficiency to make deals possible, and the rising strength of intermediaries (i.e., online travel agencies) means that you should be able to score some great fares next year. As the battle for brand recognition as a way to access consumer wallets heats up, look for competition to put some pressure on the economic drivers that push fares higher.

I’ve heard from Bill Miller, Sr. VP of Strategic Partnerships at CheapOair that average ticket price (base fare only) fell 0.3 percent year over year for domestic flights and climbed 0.2 percent year over year for international flights. Effectively, this translates to no change while the underlying carriers are pushing fares higher.

Miller tells me, “At CheapoAir we work hard to keep airfare prices low for our customers. Year-over-year, airline ticket prices that customers buy from us have actually decreased very slightly. And, our international airfare prices have gone up very slightly. We will continue to focus on finding low airfares for our customers as that is what is important to them.”

So, while fares are still at close to their highest levels since 1995, it doesn’t mean there’s reason to give up hope. Combine the fact that you can still find bargains with the increase in purchasing power that accompanies an economic recovery, and you’re in better shape than you think.

Time to get out on the road!

[photo by AMagill via Flickr]

Delta says customer service isn’t dependent upon costs

It looks like Delta has some strong thoughts on airfare and customer service. The airline identified as the worst in the United States is now saying that customer service shouldn’t be related to operating expenses – well, at least that’s the implication of the new ad the airline is running on New York City subways: “Customer service shouldn’t fluctuate with the price of oil.”

The fact that airlines generally aren’t famous for customer service is well-established, and many excuses reasons are given, ranging from regulatory constraints to a lack of cooperation from passengers. Of course, cost always comes into the equation, too. Despite a strong year for air carriers in 2010, history shows that this is a volatile industry, and it’s always necessary to keep an eye on expenses.

It isn’t unusual to see airline industry employees cite cheap flights as a reason for the decline in customer service: what else do passengers expect, right?
This is what makes Delta’s move so interesting. A direct statement that service shouldn’t be constrained by underlying expenses (and thus profit margins), the ad I saw on the 3 train yesterday morning takes a bold stand. Delta is taking conventional wisdom head-on (well, airline industry conventional wisdom) in a very public way.

It should be interesting to see if this leads to a change in the airline industry employee population’s position on the relationship between cheap tickets and passenger expectations. For Delta employees, leaning on the traditional rationale results in a direct contradiction with the company’s stated message. Though the sentiment may not trickle down to employees of other carriers, their being vocal about the informal “expense-to-service” ratio inherently puts them at a disadvantage relative to Delta’s claim. The subtlety may not reach the average consumer (especially those who don’t come into contact with Delta’s ads), but the implication is clear.

Doubtless, it makes sense to draw distinctions between advertisements and expectations, and any change at Delta based on this messaging will take time to implement (let’s be realistic – big companies do tend to move slowly). Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how this situation unfolds.

So, tell us what you think: do you think customer service expectations in the airline business should be linked to the price you pay for a seat? Leave a comment below!