Thursday, July 3, 2014

Post Euro Trip Wrap Up

Flying Through Dublin, Driving on the Left, Chip and Pin, Survey Hell

I am home again with a little time to reflect on my journey to Ireland and London. The visit was wonderful. We found a room in London for Ms. M to call home for the next 5 months. We also enjoyed our sightseeing time in Ireland and England. So, in no particular order, here are Roadboy's take aways.

Travel is Tonic
Travel can be frustrating at times. We get cold, hot, wet, and lost. But we also discover interesting new people, cultivate an appreciation of other cultures and (with the cell phones off) we actually talk to each other. We also find a lot to laugh at. I can't remember a movie I went to 3 months ago, but I remember a trip I took 3 months ago.

I always come home physically tired, yet mentally energized.

Driving on the Left
After much fear and trepidation Roadboy was able to master driving on the left after only a day or two. It takes concentration (especially at those roundabouts they love so much). And most rental cars in Europe are manual transmissions. Ordering an automatic transmission will at least double your daily rate. So, if you are able to drive a manual at home, it is probably wise to drive one here too. I can attest that they certainly get terrific gas mileage and every drop counts.

Rent the GPS!
Hands down the best safety expenditure we made on this trip was renting a GPS. At home I just use my I-Phone maps. But I-phone data plans are absurdly expensive in Europe, so I rented a GPS. 

Well, they have certainly improved GPS' in the decade since I bought my first Garmin! This little unit told us where we were and when we were about to exceed a speed limit (and it was dead on every time the limit went up or down). It warned where the speed cameras were (which is EVERYWHERE!) It did take us on one very picturesque "detour". But where it took us turned out to be the highlight of travel that day. 

Rental Car Credit Card Insurance - Not!
I am used to using my American Express card for domestic car rentals, it offers the best (IMHO) rental car insurance. The Visa insurance plan comes in second and Mastercard's is well back in third place.  So while renting I declining optional CDW insurance and presented my new AE card.

For grins I did price CDW coverage however. 

On a $12 / day car rental the CDW was either: $57 / Day ($100 deductible), or $37 / day ($1200 deductible). Basically, it only kicks in if you total the car. 

I passed.

Well, my flawless driving record has a new asterisk as I munched the passenger rear view mirror on my little Ford Fiesta on day one of my driving on the left effort. So I went online to check the fine print on my American Express Propel "World Traveler" card from Wells Fargo. And, I now know that AE cards offer zero car rental coverage in Ireland. So the teachable moment here is - check it before you go. 

Luckily, my car rental company (Dooley's - a Payless Franchisee) was exceptionally fair in their repair estimate offering the mirror and installation at dealer cost. Dooley's won my loyalty for any and all future trips to the Emerald Isle.

Americans (Or at Least Phoenicians) Are Awful Drivers
We drove 1000KM on the "wrong" side in medieval villages, on freeways, and on some of the narrowest country roads I've ever seen. After a week of travel we did not witness a single two car accident. In London, same thing; a full week, unbelievable roadway congestion, narrow streets, not a single 2 car wreck.

Within 24 hours of returning to Phoenix I see a wild two car, everything totaled, airbags deployed, wreck.

Dublin Airport (DUB) is a Bargain and Offers US Pre-Immigration
The Dublin Airport joins Madrid's Barajas as a Roadboy "Favorite Gateway to Europe". 

Here's why: If you fly from outside the EU into London's Heathrow or Paris' Charles De Gaulle your airfare must absorb $450 in airport fees per ticket! Conversely, airport fees in Dublin or Madrid are closer to $50.

And, once you've landed in the EU the price to hop to almost anywhere else is cheap. Plus, you can spend some time in beautiful Ireland or Spain!

Being the fourth busiest airport in the EU, the advantage Madrid's Barajas has over Dublin is the shear volume of flight options on to other EU destinations.

The advantage Dublin offers over Madrid is its US Customs Pre-Clearance Center (think Toronto Pearson). When you return to the US from Dublin your plane just pulls up to a regular gate and you avoid those awful crowded domestic US ports of entry (Philadelphia, Charlotte, Atlanta NYC etc.)

It does mean you must allow 2-1/2 hours at the Dublin airport before you leave. That gets you through immigration, the second US security check point and still allows time for Duty-Free.

Chip and PIN
Before leaving I promised to report on my new AE Propel World Traveler card. It promised to work as a chip and pin credit card.

Well, it is a different beast. Before departing I routinely call my card issuers and alert them to the dates and locations of my intended travels. This trip was the same. But in years past AE told me that they expected their cardholders to travel and there was "no need to call in to report a travel profile".

So with great expectations I attempted to check into my Dublin hotel using the card and it was declined. 

I called the collect call number to AE and find that this card is more Wells Fargo, than AE. And Wells Fargo wants a travel profile. So after we got that squared away the card was presented again and again and it was (mostly) accepted.

What was odd was I was never asked for my pin. I inserted the card in the chip reader, then they swiped it and I was asked for a signature. It was declined twice: "We don't accept AE".

In each case I presented my Marriott Chip and Pin Rewards card (the card declined in Spain and Portugal last year) and this year it was accepted everywhere. Again, it was inserted for the chip, then swiped, then I was asked for signature.

When my free year is up I'll drop the AE card. My Marriott Visa card has no foreign transaction fees and it was accepted everywhere. Its annual fee is about 1/2 what the AE card costs.

First trip in five years where we did not see a single pickpocket!

Surveys, Surveys, Surveys 
This year I noticed how "over surveyed" travelers have become. I was asked for dozens of "reviews". After checking out of every hotel or returning every rental car. It seemed like everyone wanted a full report.

I routinely submit reviews to TripAdvisor and I rely on TA for hotel and restaurant recommendations. But lately I notice that after any hotel review I submit on TripAdvisor the hotel's GM "replies". What is funny is how their replies are all the same. If I say their beds are awful, they reply "Thank you for your comments. We were so happy to hear that you enjoyed your stay with us!" Huh?!

The worst offender for me lately is Thrifty Car rental. The decline in service and quality at Thrifty over the past few months has been meteoric. I used to rent there almost every week, now I try to avoid Thrifty. But lately when I do rent there I get a survey immediately after each rental. Sadly, I have no confidence anyone reads or cares about whatever the surveys say. I use the "canary test" method where you write something in the review they cannot avoid responding to.

Except they don't reply....Cause they are not reading them...

But asking us to fill in surveys we are left thinking our opinions somehow matter...

They don't...

Dear Travel Companies - RoadWarriors have approached full yelp out!

Roadboy's Travels © 2014

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