Beware of Expedia…

I’ve been traveling way too much lately and I often use Expedia for my airline reservations. After my experience with them this week I’m abandoning them and switching to Orbitz. Why?…

I made reservations for one flight and subsequently had to make a change to the return flight. I knew there would be a penalty and was totally fine having to pay it. Once I made this change, Expedia showed my final total was $542.60, or $286 more than the original fare. They also made it clear that my credit card would be charged $542.60, nothing more, nothing less. Sounds right to me…then my AMEX bill shows up. Now there’s an additional $105 for the trip, with no explanation. I re-checked my itinerary on Expedia and it still shows $542.60 with no indication whatsoever of any further charges pending.

I called them about it and was told “it’s our policy to add on the $105 fee and it doesn’t show up on your receipt” Huh?! Rather than saying “oops, we forgot to put that $105 fee on your receipt, we apologize and will get it corrected today”, here’s what I got:

I will report this to our billing department and they’ll send you an e-mail with the details of the charges within 72 hours.

72 hours?! Can’t a business built around online reservations manage to send me a detailed summary e-mail that same day?

Wow. That was an eye-opener. Again, I have no problem paying whatever fees are involved in the switch, but it’s sloppy bookkeeping and receipt generation on Expedia’s part to hide this sort of thing till the credit card statement arrives.

Orbitz, here I come!

The New York Times on Airline Security

I've been on the road a lot lately and continue to be amazed by the odd airport security solutions used by the TSA.  I got off a plane last Thursday, the first day of "no liquids, gels, etc.", finally feeling safe from the threat of bottled water and cosmetics.

John Tierney of The New York Times sums it up quite well in this article (subscription required, but free trial available).  I agree with him that we're going about this all wrong and need to look at the Israeli airports for a model that provides better security.  Am I prepared to wait in long lines to be individually screened?  You bet.

I’m Back…

…after serving as an adult chaperone for our church’s youth group trip to the DCLA conference. We had a bit of a Spartan existence for the past several days, including no Internet access, which is why the blog has been quiet for a bit. Interestingly enough, daily traffic levels were pretty typical, so the reports I use indicate most visitors are coming here for the depth of older posts/comments and not so much for the latest ones.

There’s no better place to be on the Fourth of July than Washington, D.C. This was my second time there for the Fourth in the past three years. Our group was fortunate enough to catch the fireworks while sitting at the base of the Washington Monument. Awesome! If anybody ever tells you not to go to D.C. for the Fourth (because “it’s too hot and too crowded”), ignore them – it’s the best!

Newspapers: 1, Internet: 0

Mark Cuban offers these thoughts about how “newspapers kick the Internet’s behind.” And here I thought I was the last guy subscribing to a local newspaper. I get my edition in time for breakfast each morning. No matter how rich and dynamic the available online content is, I still get my first dose of news from dead trees. Old habits die hard.

Cuban makes a great point about “breaking news” and how the typical news site needs to differentiate itself from the pack. I agree it gets old finding the same syndicated article on one site after another. He’s right that each of these sites needs to figure out how to create a unique branding statement so that they stand for something memorable in the minds of consumers. Unique and memorable, those are the two keywords.

Travel beef: Although I don’t generally rant about travel issues, I was recently surprised to get a call from an editor for The New York Times travel section. He caught my post about the silly fees airlines charge for overweight bags and wanted to interview me for an upcoming piece. (I used that bag-in-a-bag trick today when flying to San Francisco, btw.) My beef today isn’t about the airlines though; it’s about the Westin St. Francis hotel. I’ve stayed at hotels where there’s a $10+ charge/day for broadband. I’ve stayed at hotels where they charge you to use the health club. I’ve stayed at hotels where they charge a couple of bucks for every local call you make. I don’t think I’ve ever stayed at a hotel where they hit you up for all three. That sounds like the “hotel nickel-and-dime trifecta” to me! This is a nice hotel, but I’m already tired of the excessive surcharges and won’t be staying here again.

Airline Beef

I make anywhere from 15 to 20 or so business trips per year. Until recently, I really haven’t had any major complaints with the airline industry. If you’ve been flying lately though, you may have noticed that many airlines are starting to enforce limits for checked baggage. I’m not talking about the number of bags, since I generally only check one. It’s the new weight limits that are irritating me…

If I’m going away for several nights I often check my largest bag. Being in the publishing business, I often take books and other heavy items with me. Until a few weeks ago, none of the airlines cared whether my bag weighed 30 pounds or 60 pounds. If you crack the 50-pound limit now though, they generally slap you with an additional service charge ($25 on Delta, for example). USAToday ran an article on this last week.

OK, I understand they don’t want people taking hundreds and hundreds of pounds of bags on flights. I also realize they’ve got to set the limit somewhere. But this is nothing more than a scam by the airline industry…the same industry that struggles to break even every year.

Here’s what’s so silly: If my bag weighs 55 pounds, all I have to do is take 5 pounds out and carry it on with me. Or, if I’ve got a second bag, I just need to rearrange things so that neither bag exceeds 50 pounds. It still results in the same total weight on the plane though! Also, I don’t ever recall getting a credit for those day trips when I didn’t check any bags.

From now on, I’m going to pack a bag in a bag. I’ll fill a duffel bag with enough items in my main bag so that I can easily take it out and check it separately if necessary. It’s not so much the extra cost that I object to, it’s the fact that the airlines are trying to find new ways to pad their bottom line. What’s next? A special fee because I’m 5 pounds over the ideal weight for someone my height?!