September 10, 2010
En Route to Australia for Corroboree
Qantas' Admiral's Club lounge at LAX
So here I am, back in Oz after just three months away. I was really starting to miss Australia, too. It’s the kind of continent that just grows on you. But I’m back again for Corroboree, which will be held this year on Hamilton Island in Queensland.
Now, if you’ll recall from my sojourn to ATE back in May, I flew all the way here from New York on Qantas, using their business class service. This time, I started my trip on American Airlines, flying to Los Angeles in the main cabin. The service was fine, and what one would expect for a domestic flight—free sodas and water, and sandwiches for $10. For a six-hour flight, it’s acceptable, but I made sure to get a hot meal at JFK before boarding, because seriously? $10 for a sandwich? I realize every U.S. airline is doing it now, but taking advantage of a (literally) captive audience is just wrong.
At LAX, the lovely people at Qantas had arranged for me to relax in the Admiral’s Club during my layover. The Club is just huge—possibly the biggest lounge I’ve seen yet in my travels. I enjoyed a shower in a very spacious and comfortable bathroom before trying the restaurant and bar for another meal before the 14-hour flight to Brisbane. (Officially, I was booked for an economy seat, and didn’t know if I’d get an upgrade or what kind of meal service would be available in that cabin.) Somewhat surprisingly, the bar and restaurant at the Admiral’s Club was not complimentary, though Qantas passengers do get drink vouchers. Advise any clients who might want to use the lounge that they’ll have to pay for their food and—unless they’re flying Qantas—their drinks. (The quesadilla I ordered was very nice, by the way.)
When I got to the gate to board my flight, I found I’d been upgraded to Premium Economy. These seats, I learned, are the same seats I had in business class back in May: angled, but spacious and wonderfully comfortable. Furthermore, even though it was already 11:30 p.m. LA time (2:30 a.m. New York time—I could barely keep my eyes open), we would still be served a full dinner once we were airborne. The only real difference I noticed between the business class service and the Premium Economy was a smaller cosmetic case and (I could be mistaken here) a little less food. The seats, blankets, pillows, entertainment options and service were all the same as I enjoyed on the ATE trip. I slept for most of the flight and woke up feeling perfectly refreshed. (The jet lag will hit with a vengeance later today, if history is any guide.)
Oh, yes, about the food: The short ribs we had for dinner were delicious, and there was plenty of wine available. (I really regretted ordering that quesadilla before we left. It was completely unnecessary.) I struck up a conversation with my seatmate, who was also heading to Corroboree: Judi Hay, an American Express Travel representative and an Aussie-Kiwi specialist. When I mentioned that I hadn’t known we’d get a meal onboard, she started to laugh. “Qantas feeds you,” she said several times. Even on flights of a half-hour, she explained, the airline will hand out a snack. On a long flight from LA to Brisbane, two set meals are included and sandwiches are available all throughout the flight. (Are you listening, U.S. airlines? American? United? Half-hour flights get a complimentary snack. Seriously. If Qantas can do it, so can you.)
By: Jena Tesse Fox
May 28, 2010
Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: May 24-28
Ready for the Memorial Day travel blitz? Are you or your clients visiting any of the more popular destinations for the holiday? Either way, thanks for stopping by the Weekly Wrap to check in on what's been buzzing at TravelAgentCentral.com before taking off for the long weekend. This week, there were various comments about cruise trends and "inclusivity," airline mergers and passenger clubs, New Orleans, traveling with pets, and more— quite the way to kick off the summer. Let's get scrolling.
The Travel Agent: Valued by More than Stupid People
As you have hopefully read by now, Ruthanne Terrero updated her list of top reasons to use a travel agent with 10 MORE top reasons to go through a professional. There were some who agreed with Ruthanne, as well as those who didn't, and I went through them last week. Since then, we've got some more feedback I think agents and readers would appreciate.
email@example.com, for starters, not only concurs with Ruthanne but shares a similar experience, commenting:
While you think in this information age it couldn't happen - well think again. Web boards tell them all the time they don't need a travel agent and if they keep reading and researching they can do it and after all that you get the question - what is a gty cabin?
Meanwhile, Ilze appears to be on the fence, writing:
It's fun to read how stupid people can be but it is a reality. Unfortunately, travel agent can not help a stupid person. Travel agent is needed in case you are not familiar with internet and some basic principles how travel offers are made.
Personally, I think anyone who is a stupid person is usually beyond help. However, I would assume that said stupid person would prefer that all processes involved in taking a vacation remain as easy as possible, and you just can't get that guarantee online. As for those who think agents are only valuable to those who don't use the Internet, all I can say is that if your journey goes wrong and you need assistance that it's much more reassuring (and probably easier) to go through a fellow human for customer service instead of a machine and it's connection to a nearly-limitless world. And this is coming from a web guy.
Cruise Trends & Fees
Susan J. Young has been uber-busy this month. Analyzing everything from the potential wave of fuel surcharges that may be hitting the cruise industry to the potential slowdown of Europe's cruise business. Seeing that cruise vacations are some agents' bread-and-butter, it didn't take long for some to respond on both matters.
Speaking on the topic of fuel supplements, a reader who goes by the name TheAnalyst is not too worried about the future, posting:
There is no chance that Carnival Corp will implement fuel surcharges are lines such as Carnival, Princess, HAL. RCCL and NCL won't either. Wake up. Last time they did this on a massive scale, the cruiselines all got sued by the government.
I think we are pretty awake to ask the question. As airlines add ancillary fees and other suppliers do all they can to leverage more business during the current economic slowdown, who's to say cruise lines won't take a risk and bring back extra charges? Could you blame them?
TheAnalyst also shared his/her two cents on a potential halt in cruise vacations in Europe due to the Iceland volcano incident, as well as British Airways strikes and the turmoil in Greece, among other situations, stating:
Eur/Med cruises are being marketed heavily to the drive markets. In order to understand if these cruises are doing well, you need to talk to Eur. agencies who are being hand fed the cabins by the cruiselines.
Fair enough, TheAnalyst. Have you talked to any Europe agencies and obtained info to share? If so please let us know.
Two other readers commented on the issue, one with positive news and the other with some negative news. Margaret Stein appears to be seeing trouble on the horizon, for instance, commenting:
I have already experienced cruise cancellations due to the volcano issues. I have also lost hotel bookings due to the BA strikes. Overheard conversations at social events confirm travellers' disgust with the inconveniencies of travelling to Europe.
Meanwhile, Jean Szabad is more optimistic, saying:
I have quite a few European Cruises and River Cruises book for travel now through August. The only ones who were concerned about the ash are the two that are on a a Princess Cruise out of London now. They made it ok and I am sure are enjoying themselves now. The other people I have who are traveling don't seem to be afraid to travel and aren't concerned about the Euro. This is probably a good time to buy a European cruise to get a bargain!
So we've heard from both sides. Anyone out there with a story to share to tip the balance in favor of Europe cruises or not?
Airline Mergers & Passenger Clubs
The biggest airline news in the recent weeks has, undoubtedly, been the proposed merger between Continental and United, which would dwarf last year's merger of Delta and Northwest. Our man George Dooley analyzed the situation, asking how it may affect travel professionals.
In case you can't pick up on the sarcasm, one reader, Maria K Todd, MHA PhD, does not appear to think good things will result, saying:
You mean they would have to compete on quality and customer service? Wow! Perish the thought!
Perish the thought indeed, especially when you consider that, on the heels of this news, both US Airways is interested in a merger as is Virgin Atlantic. Even government representatives are not enthused by the idea of a merger. But some, like MLT Vacations, think it's good news. How about you?
Some airline news I think all can agree is good is the recent announcement that American AirlinesAdmirals Club at Heathrow is going to upgrade its . In fact, the news is so good that our friend Jacqueline Johnson shared her thoughts, writing:
Great to hear this. It certainly needed an overhaul and update as it was an awful place to visit.
Another Request for Pet Airways
Although the initial story is now more than a year old, we're still getting a lot of attention to the news about Pet Airways, an airline soley for your favorite traveling companion. Some readers seem to think we have an influence on the company. Unfortunately, beyond their executives reading our reports, we don't have that much power. However, we can certainly hope they read our republishing of comments on their airline, like Diane, who wrote:
Hope you get to northern California soon! Oakland, SF, or San Jose especially!
Did you get that Pet Airways? Business potential is there.
Nice News for New Orleans
To see New Orleans has had it rough during the past few years would be an understatement. But things are looking up, right? After all the Saints won the Super Bowl and more and more travelers are feeling confident in a journey to the region. With that in mind, it's nice to see that, despite the current oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, that the Big Easy is, as of now, unaffected. Still, some are, understandably, wary.
Geri Simpson shared her concern, writing:
All in the article is true, but what I'm concerend about is the future affect of our seafood, much of which does come directly from our waters. It is synonomous with New Orleans cuisine.
Marie shares the worry, stating:
Hurricane season is weeks away. If a Hurricane hits Gulf Coast, hopefully crossing fingers. Has the government any plans on the cleanup if it goes AIRBORNE? Just asking.
I agree with you both. Hence, the "for now." Let's keep our fingers crossed for the city and hope agents are more than confident to sell the destinaion to their clients.
Remember, the conversation never ends here. We want to hear from you. Post a comment below. Write us at our Facebook page. Send a tweet to our Twitter page (@travelagentmag) Join real-time discussions on anything from the best GDS to use to which European tour sellers to trust at AgentNation.
Have a great weekend!
By: Kirk Cassels
May 27, 2010
En Route to Australia Via Qantas Airlines
The British Airways lounge at JFK
In JFK’s Terminal 7, the British Airways business-class lounge is a very nice way to start a 22.5 hour journey. As opposed to the Swiss Lounge, this oasis is on the right side of security, so that passengers can leave the lounge when their plane starts boarding, rather than some time before. There are several rooms (some with big-screen TVs showing sporting events), a business station with printers, and— my personal favorite— a self-serve open bar. (My Bloody Mary was exactly the way I like it—lots of Tabasco!)
Onboard Qantas in Business Class
Onboard Qantas Airlines, the seats fold out to what can’t really be described as a fully flat bed—it’s more of an incline, with the footrest nearly on the floor. The food is very tasty (the lamb-and-tabouli salad is particularly good), and the wine is copious. (A glass of port before bed? Sure, why not?)
Even the on-demand entertainment system is well-planned, with numerous movies in multiple languages. (Great for an international clientele.)
But seriously—why are the beds angled so severely? Ah, well. I’ll take a nap before we land in Los Angeles and let you know how comfortable they are. (Of course, after the port, I get the feeling I’ll be able to sleep through earthquakes, so who knows?)
2:17 a.m., New York Time
Was able to nap a little, though I was glad for the seatbelt that kept me from sliding off the “bed.” Honestly, who thought a 40-degree tilt was a good idea for sleeping? What engineer approved this?
Even though we’re using one plane for the entire New York-to-Sydney trip, we’ve had to disembark at LAX, so I’m now sitting in a surprisingly crowded lounge, waiting to get back on the plane. From there, it’s 14 hours to Sydney and another two to Adelaide.
By: Jena Tesse Fox
January 07, 2009
Los Angeles Attractions, Shopping, Flea Markets, Coffee Houses
I spent the first 53 years of my life living on the East Coast. I heard all of the classic digs against Los Angeles— that it was “The Land of the Lotus Eaters” or LaLa Land— that it was a place where abundant sunshine encouraged sensuality but bled away the intellect. Within hours of arriving in L.A I saw for myself what a lie that was. For every airhead stoner there were a dozen sharp and ambitious people from all corners of the world. It was also the most multicultural city I’d ever seen, where a five-minute drive would take you through five ethnic neighborhoods.
I’ve only been in L.A for a few years and I’m still finding my way around. This blog will be a combination of sorts. It will describe out-of-the-way places I discover, as well as keep you up-to-date on tourism news. Since it’s a work in progress, feel free to give me suggestions on what you’d like to see covered, or add a comment about what’s on your mind, whether positive or negative.
A shrine at Olvera Street on the Day of the Dead
Visiting the Chocolate Fairy
During the recent Day of the Dead ceremonies I wandered down to Olvera Street in downtown L.A in El Pueblo State Historic Park. Olvera Street attracts plenty of tourists but also has appeal for the local Mexican community. Everything was kicked up a notch for the Day of the Dead— more people, live music, costumed performers on stilts, colorful shrines and, as you’d expect, skulls everywhere, from candy confections to key chains.
My son spotted a sign for Casa de Sousa Coffee House tucked away from the bustle of Olvera Street. Wending my way through racks of embroidered dresses and guayabera shirts that obscured the path to the door, I couldn’t help thinking, “There might be a café back there.”
Once inside, we wandered among the tables, examining the dense collection of artifacts and handicrafts on the walls. We ordered coffee and corn tamales, which were vegetarian and much lighter than the usual Mexican fare.
Café de Sousa
When I talked to Conchita Sousa, the co-owner (also known as the Chocolate Fairy), I learned that Café de Sousa had been named “Best Vegetarian Restaurant” in LA News’ Best of Downtown. I also realized I should have ordered the organic hot chocolate— a specialty of the house. You’ll have to search a little to find Casa de Sousa, but if you’re visiting Olvera Street, it’s a relaxing respite from the crowds. The café is half way down Olvera Street from Paseo de la Plaza, on the left (north) side, and up a short flight of stairs. There’s also an entrance on 634 N. Main St. Casa de Sousa is open seven days a week (213-687-0363). The café doesn’t have a website, but you can read more about Conchita at www.myspace.com/xocofairy.
Iconic Hotel Restores its Shine
One of L.A.’s iconic hotels recently came back on line after a $30 million refurbishment. The Art Deco Shangri-La Hotel was built in 1939 and has a long history of hosting celebrities. This was its first renovation in 20 years. The Shangri-La Hotel is in Santa Monica and is perched high enough to provide Pacific Ocean views from all of its suites and rooms. The hotel now has 71 rooms and suites (an increase of 17 rooms), a courtyard with elevated pool and cabanas, restaurant and rooftop bar. The hotel’s General Manager is Troy Pade (cell: 323-868-1057, firstname.lastname@example.org). Pade has over 12 years of sales experience working with high end leisure and corporate agents worldwide and is always open to VIP inquiries from agents. By the way, the Shangri-La Hotel doesn’t have any affiliation with Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts.
The Melrose Trading Post
The Melrose Trading Post
I know people who if you offered them a choice of tickets to a World Series Game, box seats at The Met or three hours in a flea market, they’d choose the flea market every time. If you have clients that fit this description, tell them about the Melrose Trading Post the next time they’re heading to L.A. It’s a large outdoor flea market on the corner of Melrose and Fairfax that is open every Sunday. You’ll find all sorts of stuff, from retro furniture to books, music, clothes, artwork and handicrafts. There’s usually live music— the day I was there a jazz combo was playing a tribute to legendary jazz trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker. The Melrose Trading Post is also a great place for people-watching. There’s a certain type of L.A. resident who is waiting to be discovered by Hollywood and it seems like a lot of them gravitate here on a Sunday. Maybe it’s the low admission price: $2 per person, $1 for students or 55 or older.
LAX Layovers Lighten Up
I’m in and out of LAX at least once a month, and I often overhear travelers mention long layovers for connecting flights. Now they have an alternative to balancing a cup of Starbucks coffee on their knee. Last month saw the opening of the reLAX Lounge, the first pay-to-use, business lounge at LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal. The $25 admission charge gives you three hours use of the lounge, which includes free refreshments and WiFi. (You have to be 21 or older to use the lounge). The lounge is located before passenger security screening at the center of the terminal’s mezzanine level. Passengers with flights at other terminals can also use the lounge. In a nice nod to travel agents, they’ll receive a commission for selling the lounge. For information, agents can email Walter Vergara, marketing director for the lounge's operator, Airport Terminal Management (email@example.com).
I’ve heard people claim you can get around L.A. by mass transit, but I haven’t put it to the test myself. To get the most out of your time in L.A.— especially if you want to hit the beaches— it’s a must to have your own wheels. You can suggest your clients get a taste of green by renting a vehicle from Econation Green Limousine Service. The company is making a name for itself by providing environmentally-friendly luxury ground transportation and limousine service with reservations around the clock. Green vehicles from the company include Town Cars that run on compressed natural gas, hybrid SUVs and sedans— even a biodeisel bus perfect for groups. To book, contact Ben Block, managing partner of Econation, at firstname.lastname@example.org, 877-326-6286.
By: Mark Rogers