Saturday, January 2, 2016

2015 in Review, Anticipating 2016

The Totals
In 2015 I spent 140 of my 365 nights sleeping in hotels. I produced my passport in seven countries and witnessed some (I think) very significant changes in travel.

1. The App's Travel Revolution Continues
2015 saw a rapid rise in the usage of apps based transport (Uber and Lyft) as well as fractional use (ZipCar) type services by travelers. Similarly short-term accommodation services (like Airbnb) continued to flourish. 

But, to really fully enable app's enhanced travel American travelers are at a disadvantage. While most of us carry "smart" phones, we are served by "dumb" cell providers incapable of providing competitively priced access to global data services. 

So as app's based travel services proliferate, our need for true global cell / data service will intensify. This has already spawned a minor explosion in rental car and hotel based mobile wifi hotspot services.

2. Hotels Are Morphing
Many parts of the travel industry have been busy re-inventing themselves. This year I was delighted by my stay at the Citizen M (Paris CDG) and disappointed by a stay at Marriott's Moxie at Milan Malpensa.

High end hoteliers like Four Seasons, Penninsula, Mandarin, Ritz Carlton and Langham (not my realm) are differentiating themselves and becoming even more exclusive. This is exemplified by nightly room tariff's beginning to flirt with four figures in some markets. I suppose it just illustrates how much richer the ultra rich continue to get. 

As for me I continue to find hope via some emerging chains like Valencia (Lone Star Court in Austin) and Spain's wonderful Room Mate Hotels (that now offer lovely properties in New York and Miami).

3. Big Cities = Less Cars
I very much appreciate the advances in multi-modal public transport globally.

Stepping right from baggage claim onto a Metro or light rail train at the airport continues to be a favorite option for me. Places like Madrid, London, Chicago, Portland, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle, Lisbon and Miami now all make inter-connectivity easy.

While tourism-centric airports like Los Angeles, New York City and Las Vegas totally neglect any competent rail-based link services. 

Las Vegas' airport still bars hotel shuttles from servicing pick up tourists at McCarran.

And Cities that offer short-term bike share programs are the bomb.  

4. Consolidation Continues
This year ended with a mega hotel merger (Starwood being gobbled up by Marriott). This results in the largest hotel chain in the world.

I guess this is just a continuation of the trend begun by the airlines and car rental companies.

5. Airlines Nickel and Dime Everyone
US airlines just keep squeezing passengers (all seemingly wanting to emulate EasyJet) with annoying fees seemingly for everything save breathing.

After a nearly hour long experience with the ineptitude that is Spirit Airlines this year I came to realize how truly awful customer service may actually get.

Please folks, if there is one thing any savvy traveler should understand, it is that any fare that appears too good to be true - is too good to be true. The teaser fares offered by Allegiant, Spirit and Frontier just conceal all the little fees they add on.

Do you want to select a seat?
Do you want to have us print a boarding pass for you at the airport for you?
Do you want to charge your ticket on any card other than the one we issue?
Do you want to put something in the overhead bin?
Do you want to move up in line?
Do you want legroom designed at human scale?

The above is (or will soon be) available to you each at extra cost!   

These fees add up. This summer I found that an inter-Europe Air France "all-in" fare that initially looked higher, was actually a far better travel option than an EasyJet flight once I added in all EasyJets extra fees.
6. Airlines Care Less and Less About Loyalty?
Airline statistics confirm that there are less and less passengers who fly a lot. Many Road Warriors are finding they can more effectively spend their time using web meetings and less time traveling.

It turns out that for most folks air travel is a once (or maybe twice) a year event. So airlines are betting the farm that their success hinges more on simply being able to present the lowest initial fare when a traveler searches the net, rather than rewarding traveler loyalty among a shrinking pool of truly frequent travelers (like moi).

Achieving elite status on airlines now requires revenue and distance to achieve elite status. So, while frequent international business class travelers will continue to be lavished with perks, everyday road warriors should expect a whole lot less love in 2016.

Even the lone holdouts (American and British Air) both announced in 2015 that they'd soon abandon the last feature that had differentiated them from their competitors (i.e. abandoning their passenger friendly "miles flown" accumulation systems).

One airline (the "New American" airlines) in 2015 fully embraced all of the features that made the old American one of the nation's most universally despised carriers (right down to its awful 500-mile segment upgrade system).

As for me, now that airlines are abandoning their loyalty programs, I'll find it easier to walk right past American, United and Delta in order to fly some much better airlines (Alaska, Hawaiian, JetBlue and Virgin America) whenever I possibly can.

Today, for example, I booked an Alaska Airlines flight instead of United flight even though the Alaska flight will take a bit longer.

7. Unload Those Points
While we are on the subject of points....

If you've been stockpiling airline or hotel Frequent Flier points I say "If you got 'em, smoke 'em".  Sitting on your points will allow you to view their value erode as airlines make it harder to use them and systematically reduce their redemption value. 

8. Change Your Credit Cards
This year I switched all my travel cards to products with zero foreign transaction fees and a chip. I now focus on Visa and MasterCard since acceptance of American Express is still spotty and AE no longer offers a comprehensive network of global service outlets in major world cities. Need a check cashed by AE in Tokyo? Forget it. 

With airline frequent flier programs being eviscerated I'm now leaving airline point credit cards in my wallet for day-to-day purchases.

Since hotel rates are soaring, I am using my hotel based credit cards more and more.

9. Focus on Experiential Travel
In 2015 I took my first organized bicycle tour (Normandy and Brittany with Vermont Bike Tours). I loved it (and have already booked another in 2016 for Spain's Costa Brava).

More and more I seek cultural immersion over "seeing all the sites" travel events. My advice is to consider cooking tours, booze-n-bites tours, art tours over a regimen of relentless "sightseeing". Now when I travel I look for subject matter experts. A day spent cooking may well prove more memorable than a day waiting in line for another museum.

10. Do Your Homework 
Before I travel somewhere I do some pre-planning, but I no longer go overboard planning every minute.

Conversely, people that do no planning and just go and "expect the magic to happen" are wasting their time and money. If you want a mindless trip, take a cruise. They'll spoon feed you packaged "experiences" at every port.

Today huge amounts of on-line data is offered for any major destination. I find that many of the restaurants I try I find via TripAdvisor. And, as much as I respect travel icons like Rick Steve's and Frommer's, my man bag rarely contains little pocket travel guides anymore.

11. 2016 Will Be a Critical Year
In 2016 expect to see airlines throwing piles of money at congress via their lobbyists.

Thanks to the Supreme Court's tragic Citizen's United ruling, America's congress is "For Sale!" And airline's seem convinced that lobbying can convince Congress to create barriers that can effectively thwart some fine international carriers (think Emirates) who have expressed the desire to better serve US customers.

Perhaps US airlines believe it is cheaper to buy Congress than to deliver globally competitive travel products.

Roadboy's Travels © 2016

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