Fur flies across the Atlantic, for a price

Written by admin on January 30, 2009 – 9:13 pm -

Many people wish animals would be banned from flying in airline cabins. Some people feel the same way about young children and badly behaved adults. Others are allergic to certain fragrances and the list goes on. Still, $200 for a cat who demands nothing and sleeps during the entire flight is more than steep.

I travel with Kitty. This is an expensive luxury. But for reasons many people don’t understand, it’s a given. Kitty was born in France, has a EU passport and can travel—even to London, that until recently, required  an animal spend six months in quarantine before entering the U.K. for fear of rabies.

Preparing her medically cost more than $800 and necessitated numerous trips to the vet for shots, blood tests and the insertion of a magnetic chip.

This feline adopted us and was my legacy from my deceased husband, whom I threatened to kill if he fed this pathetic looking kitten who was camping outside the kitchen door of our country home. I neither killed him nor disowned her.

Kitty has made at least 20 round-trip transatlantic flights. She goes to the vet on both sides of the Atlantic to obtain a health certificate within a week of traveling, has rabies shots plus a few extras and meets all of the health requirements for entry into the U.S. and the EU. This 10-minute check-up costs approximately $150 each visit. That is if she doesn’t need a shot or any extra attention.

If only my in-flight neighbors were as healthy or as quiet. Kitty, all nine pounds of her, sees her carrying case and immediately assumes a Zen state, definitely on a higher (and different) plane. She’s a frequent-flyer but can’t collect points or miles.

If I were French, I would strike. Being American, I grin and bear it — kinda. That was until United announced it raised the price of Kitty’s transport by $75 each way. She weighs less than most new born infants and the cost is now $200, the same price charged for an additional 50-pound suitcase.

When informed of this, I noted that as a Premium Executive member who was flying business class (thank goodness for the miles I’ve accumulated), I was entitled to check three suitcases and checked only one. The people behind the check-in counter looked embarrassed. But it wasn’t their rule.

Am I the only person who feels $200 for transporting a kitty in a mini-carrier is gouging? There are Expats who are forced to factor this expense into their budget and it’s a major factor. Other passengers may view these four legged animals as animals. But there are some of us who don’t. They’re integral parts of our families. What do you think?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Why am I landing in Brussels instead of Paris? Not enough fuel

Written by admin on January 27, 2009 – 9:16 pm -

Dear powers that be:

I am writing to protest my recent trip between Washington/Dulles and Paris, France.

My United MileagePlus account was credited with one segment and 3,861 miles. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Because there wasn’t enough fuel on board due to weather conditions, we were forced to make an unscheduled stop in Brussels. Rather than landing 30 minutes early as the Captain announced upon take-off less than six hours before, we landed in Paris approximately two hours after our scheduled arrival time.

I recognize things are tight at United and another 1000 employees are being laid off. There will be additional cutbacks and times are tough.

But how much did that unscheduled stop cost? Weren’t there landing fees incurred with our Brussels visit? What did it cost to file an extra flight plan?

Rather than a non-stop Paris landing, the plane was forced to fly an extra leg. This dictates additional fuel, not to mention wear and tear on the plane and the passengers. And what about the turn-around time for the aircraft?

Was United forced to pay extra to the French workers who were responsible for the aircraft’s inspection and turn-around? I don’t know about the French aviation union but if it’s like other French unions, a rush job probably carries a premium.

The crew was angry and conveyed the feeling this wasn’t the first time they’d made an unscheduled stop. One mumbled the flight’s captain was none too happy.

It’s becoming clear that the potential of saving some money is more important than catering to those who have boarded the flight. The crew did its best to smile but was having a hellava time.

What would your reaction have been had you been on that flight? Can anyone calculate how much that unscheduled stop cost United? Is this the future of travel especially when it comes to US carriers?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Move quickly to snare a hotel room for $1 a night

Written by admin on January 26, 2009 – 9:19 pm -

Beginning on January 26th, LastMinuteTravel.com is conducting a two-week-long zinger sale on hotel rooms — those who move quickly enough can book a room for up to seven nights and pay only $1 per night. Is this too good to be true?

Well, yes and no. Last MinuteTravel.com is offering up its worldwide 15,000-hotel inventory for sale. But there’s a hitch and make sure to read the fine print.

One hitch: Travelers won’t know which hotel they’ll be booking until the deed is done.

The real catch: This dollar-a-night deal will be available for only 15 minutes each day and exclusively during weekdays. Aaahh… which 15 minutes?

Travelers will need sign up for email clues to find out which 15 minutes are the hot ones. For any gamblers, this could be a very worthwhile game to play.

Hope the site doesn’t crash from an overload of traffic or LastMinuteTravel.com will have plenty of grumbling bargain hunters and some embarrassed hotel affiliates. In this economy, it’s worth going the unconventional route to get super bargains.

Winners, however, won’t be able to complain about the room cost.

Be prepared to move fast. Get ready. Get set. Go. Good luck!

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis and is always delighted to unearth a bargain.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Witnessing the beginning of a new era in Washington

Written by admin on January 21, 2009 – 9:23 pm -

I witnessed history in Washington yesterday. The expression sounds trite, but it’s true. People descended on the nation’s capital from everywhere for the big event.

There was such a feeling of solidarity. People who’d normally never talk to one another have become best friends as they waited — and waited — to board the Metro. Getting around the city was a walking event and people from all over the world gathered together to welcome President and Mrs. Barack Obama and his two daughters to the White House.

People were literally in tears — of happiness and from the cold — as they watched the 44th President of the United States be sworn in by the Chief Justice of the United States.

Even if they were nowhere near the Capitol, just being on the Mall was enough to be a part of the event.

There were at least twenty events taking place in Paris including one at the Hôtel de Ville (French for “City Hall”) today. Americans held celebrations all over the world.

If people couldn’t attend an event, they could sign onto the Internet. Facebook and other social networking sites enabled people to virtually participate in the swearing in and other festivities. More people watched this event than any previous inauguration – either on television or via the Internet.

Being in Washington holds special significance — welcoming the first black American President. Barack Obama is inheriting some the greatest problems the world has ever known.

Everyone, no matter their political affiliation or nationality, is unanimous in wishing him and his administration luck. Even though the weather was cloudy yesterday, the sun is shining.

How did you celebrate this Inaugural Day?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Sorry, no Inauguration Day tickets — or space on my floor

Written by admin on January 16, 2009 – 12:16 pm -

When you have digs in the Nation’s Capital, your popularity increases exponentially when Inauguration Day rolls around every four years.

This coming Tuesday is different from other recent Inauguration Days. An estimated four million people will be descending on Washington to watch Barack Obama be sworn in as America’s 44th president.

Festivities will commence at 10 a.m. at the west side of the U.S. Capitol. For the first time ever, the length of National Mall will be open for those wishing to attend the swearing-in ceremony.  Sure, there are bleachers with allocated seating. But obtaining a ticket is next to impossible and if you don’t have one by now, don’t plan on scoring one.

The President-elect and Vice President-elect and their families will participate in the traditional inaugural ceremonies and events that include performances by the United States Marine Band, the San Francisco Boys Chorus as well as that city’s Girls Chorus.

After proceeding with the formalities including speeches, invocations, musical selections, Vice-President Biden will be sworn in by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and Barack H. Obama will take the Oath of Office, administered by Chief Justice, the Honorable John G. Roberts, Jr.

President Obama will then deliver his Inaugural address. That’s simply the beginning of the day and the formalities.

Later in the evening, there are ten official Inaugural Balls taking place in the city. President and Mrs. Obama will make an appearance at each of them. They’ll be surrounded by the members of the Secret Service and the Press Corps. People will be able to see what dress Mrs. Obama is wearing (and, later, read about every detail).

If you’re a woman who’s attending a ball, do not buy a new dress. The balls are so jammed-packed that you’re going to feel like a sardine and your outfit will end up looking as if came from the Salvation Army — and I don’t mean a chic second-hand store. Most dresses don’t survive being stepped on, having drinks poured down them and other mini or major catastrophes. Men are expected to wear Black Tie.

Unfortunately, I can’t get you a ticket to a ball. They were doled out long ago. Even the “peoples’ ball” tickets were sold out before you could navigate buying them on the Internet.

Transportation is going to be another horror. The District of Columbia isn’t equipped to deal with so many people. Bridges to and from Virginia are going to be closed and the only way to navigate the city will be by metro, some buses and more to the point, by foot.  Yes, there will be private cars for dignitaries and the very rich. But don’t plan on renting one now.

Do access this Web site: Metro on Inauguration Day to see what’s available. Please remember it’s going to be cold. Be prepared to walk. A lot of areas are going to be closed off for security reasons.

So what plans have area residents made?  Some have rented their places and left town. Others are stocking supplies and have decided to watch this historic day in the comfort of their own homes. Many others whom I know will go to a neighborhood bar and celebrate (and drink) while watching a large screen television.

Some people are throwing parties in private homes, delighted to avoid the massive crowds. The one I am attending is “Black tie, pot luck and please bring a bottle of champagne.”

If you haven’t made your plans by now, you’re pretty much out of luck. Hotels are filled, albeit you can still find a few rooms on Craig’s List.

If you can physically get to the Nation’s Capital, you can try calling friends to see if they have an available blow-up mattress. Whatever you do, don’t request a ride to the festivities downtown. Your hosts may like you a lot but some things are out of the question.

If you are Washington, DC bound, what plans have you made, when did you make them and how will you be spending your time here?

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.  She is currently in Washington but doesn’t have an inch of  floor left in her apartment.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Stronger dollar + bad economy = France travel boom?

Written by admin on January 13, 2009 – 1:26 pm -

France maintained its position as the world’s top destination last year, with 82 million foreign visitors setting foot on French soil — a four percent increase from the previous year. And now there’s another reason to visit Europe’s top tourist draw: a surging dollar.

The greenback is nearly 16 percent stronger than it was six months ago. Still, the balance of 2008 will undoubtedly be an entirely different scenario because of the global economy.

The French Ministry of Tourism noted the 2007 demographics have changed. Of the 82 million visitors, 14 million people were in transit. Some 68 percent were tourists whose primary destination was France, a four percent increase over 2006.

Europeans comprised 46 percent of the country’s visitors: Germans, Brits and Belgians were the main groups. However, the number of German tourists declined as Switzerland, Italy, Spain and Portugal experienced strong upswings in the tourism sector.

The number of Americans visiting France increased by seven percent, although the rise in value of the euro against the dollar caused a slowdown among Americans during the fourth quarter of 2007.

Europeans spend an average of just under six nights in France while Americans spend eight nights and the Japanese five.

Paris tourism officials expect visits to the City of Light to hold up this year despite the dramatic drop in the number of visitors from the U.S. – many of whom are victims of fuel-inflated prices for airline tickets and the economic woes at home.

This year has not begun as a stellar year when it comes to Americans visiting Paris. Traditionally, it’s the number-one group of tourists but there’s already been a decrease of 20 percent. The number of UK visitors have overtaken the US numbers to become France’s primary market.

The French government tourism industry has mandated that people working in hotels and restaurants actually smile and perfect their English. This certainly doesn’t hurt the preconception many people erroneously have that the French aren’t friendly.

“Paris is also attracting more visitors from the Middle East, India, South America and Eastern Europe,” says Jean-Claude Lesourd, president of Paris’s Tourism Office. “The city is doing well and it’s forecast that 2008 will be an excellent year and perhaps even better than 2007.”

In spite of people feeling the economic pinch, Parisian hotels were able to raise prices in the first half by an average of 6.4 percent, according to figures complied by MKG Hospitality consultants. My guess is that hotels will be announcing many promotions for the end of this year and the first quarter of 2009.

So in spite of all of the reported doom and gloom, Paris and her glory will always be a magnet for people throughout the world.

Are you surprised? I’m not, but if I were, I’d be banging my head against the wall.

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Is now the time to buy a time-share?

Written by admin on January 13, 2009 – 1:21 pm -

Howard Nusbaum, president and CEO of the American Resort Development Association (ARDA) spoke at a recent conference about the increasingly popular time-share industry performance amid the current economic meltdown.

Nusbaum says much of the current downturn is due to uncertainty in the credit markets and the possible changes in the upcoming US elections.

…the credit markets didn’t lock up overnight and won’t unlock overnight. People look at the stock markets too much as the economic barometer, rather than the credit markets. It’s the credit markets that directly impact mortgage-backed securities access to mortgage loans plus the availability of loans for time-shares.

As far as the election goes, both parties have totally different philosophies. Based on results, the business community will need to plan on how to develop in the coming year. There may be different tax structures and rules and regulations. “Until they’ve been defined, it will be some time before we see real big changes in the industry.”

What does the economic meltdown mean for the normal traveler who would rather stay in a time-share than a hotel? Well, there’s good and bad news. In the past 20 years the industry has seen double-digit growth. The coming year will be flat. In spite of the economic pinch, people still want to take vacations according to Vacation Better. Many people feel vacations are essential for their health and well-being.

People who have some capital to invest and qualify for loans may find excellent buys as some time-share owners want to bail out. Also look at new time-shares where the developers may be under the gun to meet their financial obligations. Or this may be the time to snag a good rental on a time-share apartment as people need to pay their costs and may be short on cash-flow.

Any traveler deciding to delve into the time-share or fractional ownership market should hire a real estate lawyer to carefully review the financial documents. Even though it’ll cost a few dollars, the lawyer’s time will save far more after contracts are signed in time and money. The last thing any vacation property owner needs, whether or not it’s a time-share or fractional ownership, is dealing with logistical or legal problems from afar. When time-share deals are poorly structured people can lose their investment in one fell swoop.

These unsettled economic times might be just the time to lock in future vacations at a more than a decent price and possibly see some appreciation in your real estate/time-share portfolio.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis

Posted in Consumer Traveler |

Flying coach — if you were a dreamer, what changes would you make?

Written by admin on January 13, 2009 – 12:20 pm -

Since more and more of us are stuck in the rear of the (bus) plane, what would you tell the airlines about how to make coach class more palatable?

The adage, “the back of the plane arrives at the same time as the front,” holds little to no consolation when passengers deplane and feel as if they’re a pretzel that’s been put through the ringer.

Some ideas:
More seating room. More knee room, shin room, better lumbar support and toe room without making the seat-bottom shorter. When sitting for long periods of time, comfort is determined by being able to stretch your legs forward and distribute some of your weight on to the back of your thighs. If the seat-bottom is shorter so that the airline can market “more legroom,” that doesn’t count.

Put an end to reclining seats. There’s not enough space and who needs someone pushing his or her seat all the way back and taking up your personal space.

Increase the width of the seats. Two inches makes a big difference. Travelers have voiced wanting a small foot rest for comfort’s sake.

There are a couple of companies working on staggered seat designs for economy/coach. These seats allow airlines to keep the same number of seats, but since the rows are angled, they offer more room to individual passengers. Those polled are unanimous they’d like to see airlines move to this sort of seating configuration.

Scrub cabin air. The air should not simply re-circulated. It needs to be effectively filtered to combat germs spreading throughout the rear part of the plane.

Don’t promise service when there is none. Most people would rather pack their food than having to buy an expensive ‘meal’ that’s been sitting forever. That would free up the flight attendants to do their jobs –- which is making sure passengers are safe in case there’s an emergency.

How about a power plug? Coach passengers want to be able to connect a laptop, MP3-player or other electronics.

Quieter cabins, better reading lights and improved personal climate control.

Family steating. Some people wish there were designated seating for people traveling with young children with a soundproof barrier between the sections.

Cleaner planes and lavatories. What about locating WCs in other places than simply in the rear of the plane? Clean the cabins more often.

More efficient boarding and deplaning process. One idea: Make checked baggage more reliable, safe and free (for at least the first bag) so passengers aren’t encouraged to board with incredible amounts of carry-on luggage.

A small “lounge” (space next to the galley) on long haul flights would allow passengers to get out of the seat, stretch, communicate and have a drink.

OK  — this is a start. What intelligent suggestions would you like to convey to airlines executives in the position to effect change? It never hurts to fantasize.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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A new world of travel planning

Written by admin on January 9, 2009 – 12:22 pm -

It wasn’t so many years ago that planning a trip that included multiple components meant travelers would need to patronize travel agents to book flights, hotels, cars and more. Clients came away with crafted itineraries they would follow with precision. Friends’ recommendations, travel publications, guidebooks and advertising were the deciding factors on where people went and how.

Those days have come and gone. A vast percentage of people are more actively involved in their travel logistics and planning via the Web. Some book trips independently other simply do the research. On the Internet, there are many ways to plan and book a trip.

Trip planning
Social networking sites such as Facebook allow travelers to solicit input from their contacts about trips. TripAdvisor.com provides comments that tend to be truthful and provide the ability to read between the lines in order to glean needed information.

Cruise sites are excellent resources and there are so many blogs and so much information (as well as misinformation) that people are able to formulate ideas as to which trips are their cup of tea and which aren’t.

The Internet is filled with content about specific cities and countries that once upon a time was only found in guidebooks and travel magazines. Today, most travel magazines have Web sites — the more interactive, the better. Plus, there are Frommer’s, Fodor’s and Time Out that have even more up-to-date information than their trusted guidebook namesakes.

Booking travel online
Booking sites (and sites linking to booking sites) have mushroomed on the Internet. To name a few: Kayak.com, Travelocity.com, Orbitz.com, Expedia.com, BookingBuddy.com, Priceline.com, CheapTickets.com, Cheapoair.com … and the list goes on and on. Travelers have developed their personal surfing methods to find the best deals.

One friend claims that, “Orbitz has a great search tool but they don’t let you save searches without starting a reservation. So I’ll search on Orbitz and Expedia for best deals and then book via Expedia.” I’m not sure what he means, exactly, but it seems to work for him.

Another frequent traveler says that after perusing various websites, he can usually get the same fare or hotel rate by contacting the airline or hotel and he’ll almost always end up booking directly to save the added booking fees.

Yet another suggests that creating a package within one of the travel sites that combine air, hotel and land transportation yields the best bargains – even after the added booking fees.

Travel agents and tour operators still count
When it comes to booking “exotic trips” (e.g. Asia and Africa) some people opt to go with organized tours. Others contract with travel agents who specialize in the area.

If these travel agents are real pros, they’ve gone on FAM (familiarization) trips and have developed intra-country resources, that serve as a contact when their clients are in the country and inform the agent about the area’s most current developments. Plus, some travel agents are able to get bulk prices and you, the consumer, end up paying less.

However, most consumers today will inevitably turn to the web during their travel planning process whether the buy through an agent or online.

In fact, study after study confirms that the majority of travelers are likely to view between three and five websites, including social sites, before making a final purchase decision.

What type of travel planner are you? There are so many options.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Cold, stranded and in Paris

Written by admin on January 7, 2009 – 12:23 pm -

This past week has sent chills and freezing temperatures throughout Europe and Paris experienced something it rarely (if ever) does.

Snow brought traffic to a halt. People were stranded and even the Eiffel Tower was closed for a couple of days. A few metro lines weren’t functioning. Paris doesn’t have snow removal trucks because snow is essentially an enigma.

People were forced to walk and some Parisian children who’d never seen REAL snow were able to fulfill a fantasy. While school was canceled, they built snowmen and even threw snowballs – ever so much fun for the uninitiated.

It was time to bundle up since Paris’s temperature plummeted to below  -9 degrees Celsius (15 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s a record low for the City of Light. It’s so cold that the police are turning people away and not allowing them to enter the Luxembourg Garden. In my 20 years of living in Paris, this is a first.

Utility companies in France and throughout Europe were operating at full tilt and there were some power failures. The count still isn’t in as to how many people died because the lack of heat.

Passengers were stranded at Paris’s Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport. Heavy snow last Monday forced Air France to cancel 150 out of 400 scheduled flights from Roissy. Three thousand passengers had  to stay at nearby hotels while another 2,000 people camped out in the airport’s terminals.

Ironically, flights in and out of Paris’s second airport, Orly were operating on schedule.

Global warming appears to be taking its toll on the highs and lows of temperatures throughout the world and the joys of travel.

If you were stuck in Paris (or another EU airport), please post your experiences.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |