Bundling, Unbundling Travel Services For Convenience, Savings

travel services
stevendepolo/Flickr

Bundling travel services can often be the best value when compared to buying individual services in an a la carte sort of way. Buying airfare then adding on a rental car and/or hotel package is a good example of saving travel funds via bundling.

Unbundling, on the other hand, is where fees for everything from checked luggage to exit row seats on airlines came from, generating millions in non-fare income. In a bit of a turn in a different direction, some travel service providers are introducing new bundles that can add up to savings for frequent travelers.

This week United Airlines announced a $499 offer that gives air travelers annual subscriptions that guarantee more legroom and no-charge checked bags. Exclusive to those booking through United.com:

  • The Economy Plus subscription starts at $499 and includes seats typically paid for as an upgrade for flights in the continental United States. Make that $599 to include all North and Central America flights and $699 is the price for Global access.
  • The Baggage subscription starts at $349.00 giving you and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation up to two bags checked per flight for free. The program does not waive oversize/overweight bag charges.
  • The United Club subscription gives access to more than 45 United Club locations complete with complimentary snacks, beverages and Wi-Fi. The cost: 65,000 miles or $500 per person.

The world of cruise travel saw an unbundling of sorts with the advent of specialty restaurants, charging passengers an extra fee for a fine dining experience. The nature of a cruise vacation still swings towards more inclusive travel than, say, a land vacation. But optional extra charges can add up fast, even doubling the total price of a cruise vacation

In a similar move to United’s subscription plans, Royal Caribbean International has a variety of dining packages on various cruise ships. On Allure of the Seas, for example, passengers can choose from the following packages:

  • Central Park Dining Package, at $70 per guest (regularly priced at $90), includes Giovanni’s Table Italian Trattoria, 150 Central Park fine-dining restaurant and Chops Grille steakhouse.
  • Chef’s Dining Package, at $130 per guest, includes the five-course, gourmet Chef’s Table and wine pairing, 150 Central Park and Chops Grille
  • Choice Dining Package, at $80 per guest, includes Chops Grille, Giovanni’s Table, Izumi and Samba Grill Brazilian steakhouse

Bundled dining packages are also offered by sister-line Celebrity Cruises in a Specialty Dining package with three, four or five dinners.

How to Travel on a Budget

Three Airport Travel Apps That Work, Save Time, Make Flying Fun

Jane Starz/Flickr

Airport travel apps for smart phones and tablets are must-have items for some air travelers, much like that phone itself. But it is easy to get over-apped and have three different sources texting the fact that we have landed, that the flight is running late or that it is time to check in. Choosing the best ones can be more difficult than using them. Here are some tested, but not necessarily popular, airport apps that can save time and make flying fun.

Seat Alerts – Airplane Seat Monitoring and Alerting By ExpertFlyer.com is a must-have for anyone who has ever booked the last seat on a flight or been stuck in the middle with no way out. Monitoring flight information the user inputs, Seat Alerts sounds off if/when aisle or window seats open up on that flight. The free version gets one seat alert at a time. Multiple alerts are available for purchase. Seat maps also include recently updated SeatGuru seat ratings. Seats may not open up, but it’s worth trying.

Airports by TravelNerd By NerdWallet
Airports puts all the information on the 70 most popular airports in one easy-to-use app. Other apps have basic terminal maps and real-time flight tracking but this one adds much more detail and has information on ground transportation, airport parking options (with coupons), Wi-Fi availability and pricing, airport restaurant, shop and lounge hours and locations along with an Offline mode that works without a signal.My TSA By Transportation Security Administration
This airport travel app might have been one that app freaks took a look at before and dismissed as useless, like the Terrorist Threat Level app. Updated recently though, this one has TSA PreCheck information in the dashboard so a tap on the icon shows what checkpoints and airlines are serviced. Users can also check approximate wait times at TSA security checkpoints, search an extensive list of items that will (and won’t) make it through the checkpoint and have the ability to provide immediate feedback to TSA concerning their checkpoint experience.

Once out of the airport, getting around is easy too when armed with the right travel apps, as we see in this video:

Travel Apps to Get You Where You're Going

Nearly Constant Connectivity Almost Here, Right Now

rayand/Flickr

Being connected when traveling is getting easier all the time. As new technology rolls out, travelers worldwide find connecting to Wi-Fi hot spots easier than ever. Pricing is becoming more reasonable too, enabling more to enjoy constant connectivity wherever they may travel. The need is there and technology companies are delivering, as I found out on a recent international trip.

On land, Comcast has a new program for hotels, offering reliable, high-performance bandwidth that can easily scale up to meet increased demand. Prices are starting to come down too, as hotel chains provide complimentary Internet access to members of their loyalty programs. Look for more of the same as travelers list having to pay for Internet access second only to noisy neighbors as the most annoying part of staying at a hotel in a recent survey.

Air travelers have been connecting over the continental United States for years. Now they do it less expensively with day and hourly passes and bundled services from companies like GoGo Internet. Soon, American Airlines and others will add access over the Atlantic Ocean for international travelers. Through May 21, 2013, American had provided free International Internet access as they worked out the bugs. Going forward, American will offer a “duration of the flight” pass over international waters for $19.By rail, Amtrak’s new AmtrakConnect cellular-based Wi-Fi using 4G technologies is already complete on many lines and will be rolled out to all remaining Wi-Fi equipped Amtrak trains by late summer.

Not all that long ago, Cruise travelers resigned to seeing “no service” once they set sail. Today they can connect ship-wide all the time. Now equipped with Wi-Fi options that are costing less and doing more, cruise lines are increasingly adding content of their own with internal networks for cruise travelers. Soon, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas will offer passengers high-speed, satellite-delivered, broadband service thanks to a multiyear, multimillion dollar agreement Royal made with O3b, a global satellite service provider.

Even those who travel by motor vehicle are finding more connectivity as giant networks like AT&T, local cable companies and municipalities make nationwide Wi-Fi hotspots readily available. This availability is combined with smartphones that easily switch between service providers either on their own or via a connection service like Boingo Internet.

In the not so distant past, I would reduce my smart phone to something just shy of brick-status in order to avoid hefty roaming, long distance and other surcharges when traveling internationally. It seems that with each trip abroad though, connecting gets easier, with stronger, more reliable signals. A trip to Italy last month required simply switching on an international data plan that enabled me to travel in Europe as though I had gone on a road trip within driving distance of my North American home.

Travelers who long for constant connectivity? Your ship is about to come in. Oddly, it may arrive at nations other than the United States first, as we see in this interesting video:

Romania Beats U.S. in High-Speed Internet Connectivity

FCC Wants More Wi-Fi In The Sky

The convenience of sky-high connectivity has not been lost on the broadband overlords at the FCC, who have moved to open up new frequencies for in-air data use. Current offerings use around 3 MHz of bandwidth, but the FCC envisions opening up 500 MHz of bandwidth to provide passengers much faster speeds and better connection consistency.

This has been, obviously, a long time coming. The current speed, quality and price of Wi-Fi connections on planes are reminiscent of the dial-up days. To boot, most in-flight Wi-Fi is only available over the continental US, with only a few services running very expensive satellite-based signals that provide Wi-Fi over the oceans. Only a few people have really cottoned on to the service. Virgin says only 12 percent to 15 percent of its passengers use Wi-Fi, which is probably higher than the industry average. More than the spotty, lag-heavy service, it’s the cost of it ($14 per flight with Gogo, a service provider) that puts off most consumers, who have had ubiquitous free Wi-Fi for so long that paying for it seems like a rip-off at any price point.

Well, what consumer wants, consumer gets. We’re not turning our devices off like we’re supposed to anyway. 500 MHz of bandwidth will allow higher-quality service, and more importantly room for competition. And the free market will do the rest, maybe. At the very least we will be able to Instagram our in-flight meals with no lag before long, even if it’s costing us $14 to do it.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Daquella manera]

Northern Lights Best Viewed At Sea, On A Yacht, French Style

northern lightsConsidering a trip to see the Northern Lights? This year may very well be the best time to go. 2013 is the height of the 11-year solar cycle. September and October offer peak activity. They can be seen in Alaska, Norway, Finland and Canada on a clear night. Better yet, try viewing on a ship at sea.

Common tips for viewing the Northern Lights say to go North, inside the Arctic circle, bring along a good guide and get away from light produced by cities and towns. That’s exactly what Compagnie du Ponant, a little French-flagged cruise line is doing this autumn for one of the best aurora borealis viewing opportunities possible.

Specializing in expedition sailings to the poles, Compagnie du Ponant sails small ships that feature custom technology designed to preserve fragile marine ecosystems.
northern lightsThe 15-day sailing begins in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, on September 5, 2013 and ends in Quebec, Canada, whose old town is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Bringing along naturalists and experienced guides, passengers will get prepared for what they are about to see with background information and lectures about the origins, myths and mysticism on the way.A 10-year veteran of the Arctic, Compagnie du Ponant knows the best places to see the northern lights. Their luxury 264-passenger yacht Le Boreal will sail to the heart of the northernmost territory in Canada where passengers will view the polar lights from the bridge of the ship.

As if viewing the Northern Lights in near-absolute darkness was not enough, the voyage will visit a number of other trip-of-a-lifetime quality places like the village of Sisimiut in Greenland as well as the Inuit land of Nunavut, also a prime viewing location. There will be whale watching in the Baffin Sea and Saint Lawrence, white bears to see on Akpatok Island and a stop in Perce, known for its rock and Northern Gannets. To see all that, the state-of-the-art Le Boreal is complemented with a fleet of expedition Zodiac boats outfitted with satellite tracking.

On board, passengers will find five-star French service, including a choice of 132 staterooms or suites with sea views and private balconies, restaurants offering dining from casual to fine, a bar and lounge, and 24-hour in-room dining. There is also an outdoor pool with bar, panoramic terrace adjoining the indoor bar and lounge, library with Internet stations, medical center, Wi-Fi, in-room and on-board flat screen satellite TV with complimentary on-demand movies.

The all-inclusive experience is priced from $8,922 per person, based on double occupancy, flights included.

Want more on the Northern Lights? Check this video taken from the International Space Station:



[Photo credit – Flickr user Moyan_Brenn]