The Travel Factory Blog

My initial working career was as a teacher, coach, and administrator at the high school and university levels for 13 years. Those responsibilities certainly prepared me for the travel business which I entered in May, 1976. I have been a partner in the business since 1981, primarily specializing in group business. My initial group efforts were with ...high school and college groups, especially athletic teams and senior trips. Then we escorted many groups doing mission efforts to France, Denmark, Norway, Australia, Korea, Brazil, Japan, Taiwan, and Great Britain and the Holy Land. Domestically we’ve planned and escorted groups to Las Vegas, Reno, Hawaii, San Francisco, Phoenix, and Idaho. Read more... More

Answering Important Travel Questions

Answering Important Travel Questions

There are many travel blogs nowadays on the world wide web, and I'm not impressed with the idea that I have a huge population of listeners to our show or readers of my blog each week. But I do know that some have quite a few hits, and rightfully so.

One that I rely on quite often is provided by the owner of a very successful agency named Churchill and Turen, LTD. I'm not certain that Richard Turen who is an owner and a long-time, well-respected travel agent, writes answers to all of the questions posed on their site, but he has received my attention for many years with his comments and insight.

A question that comes up often in my association around town and with some of my clients was posed to him in a recent issue. The question was, “why doesn't lower fuel costs equal lower air fares?” This person had just paid $2.10 a gallon to fill up their car, so why did he have to pay an additional $120 more for fuel surcharge for an airline ticket when he knew the airlines were certainly enjoying lower fuel charges and have been for some time.

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The Panama Canal

The Panama Canal

Have you ever been to the Panama Canal? Well, I have, and it is truly an engineering marvel; how it was ever built and in such an ugly environment is almost beyond imagination. I've been fortunate to have gone through her twice and am planning on going again next March.

We have had some folks who have expressed an interest in going over the past few years, but I've purposefully held back because they have been constructing another canal and I did not want to go again until after it was finished. They were scheduled to be through with it in '14, then it was '15, but there were always delays of some sort or another. Well, just last week I heard that on June 26, this coming Sunday, they were going to open it for business. Here it is, 9 years after starting and $5.4 billion later, ships large enough to carry up to 14,000 containers compared to 5,000 that they can carry now, will be inviting paying customers to “come on down”. In a short while, the larger cruise ships will be able to navigate through there too, but I'm sure they will be doubly sure it is working exactly like they want it when they take passengers through those locks.

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Here They Go Again....Changing The Rules

Here They Go Again....Changing The Rules

Just noticed last week that American Airlines is changing the way they award frequent flyer points. They are just following the lead of Delta and United in the manner in which they reward their frequent flyers.

They are basing the perks on how much the passenger spends on tickets, not how many miles they fly.

American started all this frequent flyer process back in the middle 70's, and they now enjoy the loyalty of over 100 million members, making it the biggest and oldest major airline loyalty program. It was easy figuring when they started; fly one mile, earn one mile.

Nowadays they are in heavy competition for the high-paying customers, so their strategy now is to cater to those elite, high-paying travelers. Most members will earn five miles for every dollar they spend on base fares and carrier-imposed fees. That multiple rises to 7, 8, or 11 for the very elite. Starting January 1, miles alone will not make you elite....you have to spend an annual minimum of $12,000 for air travel to reach the executive platinum level.

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Tooting Your Own Horn

Tooting Your Own Horn

Travel agents are notorious for not “tooting their own horn”. Seldom do we go around telling everybody how good we are.....unlike Muhammad Ali!! By the way, I met him one time at the airport in Chicago......it was just him and me and Veronica (his squeeze at the time and eventually one of his wives). We had the whole concourse to ourselves.....unbelievable moment. It was while I was still coaching and we talked about basketball, boxing, and before I left them to be alone for a while, he graciously offered his autograph. Very nice man....but boy, could he “toot his own horn”......and could back it up too.

Travel agents can easily back up their boasts in regard to providing our clients with sincere, experienced, concerned travel advice. Typically though we don't do it enough, especially in this day and time. We do so much behind the scenes in taking care of flight schedule changes, delayed circumstances, and other situations that we have no control over, but we get involved because they are our clients, and we want to be of service. Back in the 70's and 80's when the airlines were paying us for our services, we had the money to promote our travel products and ourselves, but since 2000, that promotion budget dried up.

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Security Checkpoint Snags

Security Checkpoint Snags

Your head would have to be in the sand the past few weeks if you haven't been aware of the long wait at the security checkpoint lines at the airport. Lots of airline customers have their “nose out of joint” about the hang-ups and delays causing them to miss their flights or onward flights because they couldn't get through security lines in time to make their connections.

The complaints have hit some congressmen too, and so the U. S. House of Representatives are considering legislation that would reduce the long lines at the nation's airports. When that the legislature gets involved, then you can expect they will try to solve the problem with more people, and will throw more money at the problem, which of course, will require a hike in “security charges” on to the ticket.

According to one article I read, if signed into law, the Checkpoint Optimization and Efficiency Act of 2016 will require the Transportation Security Administration to assign “behavior detection officers” to man checkpoints instead of their current assignments (whatever that is) and also give local TSA directors additional flexibility to make changes in staffing that will result in shorter wait time. The bill also requires that the TSA review the allocation of screeners and canine teams at each airport with an eye towards reducing wait times. It will also order the TSA to expand the PreCheck trusted traveler program.

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Awesome Vacation Options

Awesome Vacation Options

We just returned from a great vacation experience.....cruising the British Isles!! We started with a two-night introduction to the attractions of London....even a London theater experience with The Lion King and Jersey Boys. And if you've never been to Harrods in London, it is an amazing shopping extravaganza. Just watching people in that place is great entertainment!!

Princess Cruise Line took us to a very important and interesting island during WWII, Guernsey, then to the Ireland stops of Cork, Dublin, and Belfast. We journeyed on to Scotland, visiting Glasgow, the Orkney Islands, Invergordon, and Edinburgh where we enjoyed a tour of the Glamis Castle and a walk around the legendary St. Andrews golf course, where the game originated. Because of a union strike at the port of LaHarve, we missed that stop, but Princess substituted a stop at Brugge, Belgium. It is known as the “Venice of Belgium” because of the canals in and out of the city. Passengers could also take an excursion over to Brussels too, so all was not lost, and it turned out to be a very interesting port substitute.

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New Trends In The Cruise Market

New Trends In The Cruise Market

Most of the cruise lines are introducing new and different attractions on their ships in an attempt to appeal to a different demographic and to present something new to past guests. Besides the “bigger is better” approach that some lines are taking, other lines are presenting a different way to do what they have been doing. Following are some of the things that are being implemented this year.

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Traveling With Nickels And Dimes

Traveling With Nickels And Dimes

If you have taken an airline flight lately, you'll quickly note that the price you paid for the airline ticket is really more than it should have been; several charges were added that were not explained upfront. “Passenger Facility Charges”, “Fuel Surcharges”, three or four other “Taxes”, service charges all add up to your final payment. The problem is that the airlines keep looking for other ways to implement additional charges without the consumer knowing about it.

The hotels are doing the same thing with what they have termed “resort charges”. These are daily charges that are added to your room and payment is required upon check-out. When you were shopping for the “best” hotel, which translates to, the “least expensive” hotel, these “resort charges” were not revealed. They really started cropping up about 2-3 years ago, especially in Las Vegas and Hawaii, and now really all over the United States. Interestingly enough, these fees are what the cruise lines call “non-commissionable” fees, so they don't have to account for commissions to the travel agents who recommended and booked the reservation.


When asked what benefits were received as a result of having to pay a resort fee, the explanation is usually that it pays for the use of the phone in the room (who nowadays uses the phone in a room?), it covers free internet, daily newspaper, parking (even if you didn't have a car), free in-room coffee, or a pool umbrella (which they never used). If one has to pay a daily resort fee, all those services are not “free”, as they like to proclaim!!

The Travel Trouble Shooter who has a weekly column in the Dallas Morning News, Christopher Elliott, indicated recently that the average resort fee in the United States is $17.30 per night. Note that is average. I've recently booked a resort hotel in Hawaii where the resort fee was $40 a night, that's the high end, but Mr. Elliott also said that properties adding fees to their billing in 2015 increased 25% when compared to the year before.

The secret when shopping is to remember that the rate you are finding might be too good to be true. You have to dig a little deeper nowadays to make sure the overall charge for a night's stay is what you expect it to be when you booked it.

Most travel agents are aware of the additional fees and inquire about them when booking a hotel for our clients. We often have to read the very small print in the hotel description, but it is important that we reveal all that we know about the charges to our clients. The problem is that sometimes that important information is not disclosed until check-out time.

Our encouragement is that if you are shopping for hotels on the internet or on the phone, be wary of the rate that sounds too good to be true. Ask questions before you commit.

Another good way to be confident is to consult your experienced travel agents at The Travel Factory. We have your interests at heart, so give us a call anytime at 698-1421 or 800-760-4040. A face-to-face visit is preferable, and we are at 4150 Southwest Drive, Ste. 120, Abilene, TX, in the Plaza at Park Central between Rosa's and Chick-Fil-A.

 

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Another Real Good Travel Bargain For Big Country!!!

Another Real Good Travel Bargain For Big Country!!!

Last month I reported on an amazing travel vacation investment with Viking River Cruise, cruising down the Rhine River in November 2017. It was a smart decision to plan for a vacation in '17.

Today, let me give you a tip on a more recent travel vacation that will really get you excited. It is especially good for couples who are celebrating anniversaries, birthdays, or any other special celebration. The cost is very inexpensive when compared with a week's vacation on land, or even one of those all-inclusive vacations to Mexico or Jamaica.

I'm referring to the Rudy Cruise on September 11-18, 2016. Rudy Fernandez has planned a cruise for his friends and listeners to KEAN and other TownSquare Media stations for the past 10 years on a Caribbean cruise out of Galveston. This year we will be on Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas, a new ship in that market. They spent several million dollars in February while the ship was in dry dock, refurbishing her and putting many other enhancements for the enjoyment of their guests.

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Traveling Safely

Traveling Safely

We continue to get questions about the safety of traveling in Mexico and Europe. We have just recently returned from a few days in Cancun, Mexico and I can safely say that of the entire 3 days we were there, there was never a safety concern. We were in downtown Cancun area, a very busy street, and I did a little shopping by myself, but never felt nervous about my safety. The airport was very busy both going in and departing, but the transfer agents who were helping us with our luggage were very professional and accommodating, and interestingly, we did not see any policemen in the area.

One of the concerns that some folks have is safety in Europe, especially since the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. Speaking from personal experience, we had just landed in Budapest on Thursday before the Paris attacks, but in that large city, we did not have any moment of insecurity. We even went on a walking tour with a local guide for about an hour in the inner city and saw no evidence of overt security measures being enacted. In all of the cities we visited in those seven days down the Danube we didn't feel overly concerned about our safety.

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TIPS FOR TRAVELERS

TIPS FOR TRAVELERS

It's nearing the time for vacationers all over the country as well as those here in the Big Country to begin their summer vacations. Whether you are traveling by auto, air, or ship, we want all our friends and guests to be traveling safely.

A lot of the time we get complacent in traveling and let our guards down when it comes to being safe and aware. One of the reasons for that is we are comfortable here at home and we think it should be like that wherever we are. That is not always the case, even here in these wonderful United States. So in preparation for traveling safely, let me suggest a few reminders.

    • Keep credit cards, ID (passport or driver's license), and cash in a front pocket, not the back pocket. And you might consider having your hand in your pocket over the wallet if you find yourself in a crowded bus or train.

    • Carry purses with a long strap and have them over the shoulder, preferably beneath a coat if

      in the winter time.

    • Avoid wearing flashy jewelry and clothes that quickly draw attention. If in a foreign country baseball caps or shirts with English words identify you as “tourist”.

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Cancun......Continues To Be Worth It!!!

Cancun......Continues To Be Worth It!!!

Just returned from a great three days in Cancun. Funjet Vacations invited many of their top agents from around the United States to gather for meetings and discussions of new selling opportunities in Cancun and along the Mayan Riviera.

We stayed at the beautiful Hyatt Ziva, and what an experience!! They purchased that property which used to be a Dreams Resort, spent $50 million in refreshing and changing many things, and are now presenting it as a family vacation resort. If you have ever been to Cancun, it is located right at the northern tip of hotel zone in Cancun, in fact, our room looked out over the lighthouse and the beautiful all-color-of-blue water and beach.

The hotel has 12 unique restaurants, bars, and lounges, and remember, it is an all-inclusive property. So that means you don't pay for anything while there!! Kids love it....ice cream whenever you want it, a candy store that dazzles, and a great hamburger joint with a real 1957 rebuilt Chevy in with a table set up in the front seat. There also is a Kids Club with a water park and a tree house.

Another plus is that they have 3 infinity pools, including an adult-only pool, and three over-sized whirlpools. Coming soon is a Dolphin Encounter where one can swim with the dolphins in a safe environment. And it wouldn't be a proper resort without a spa, so they have all kinds of treatments available from the head to the toe in a beautiful facility.

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A Real Travel Bargain!!!

A Real Travel Bargain!!!

Folks are always asking me for some real good travel bargains, some tips on some inexpensive places to go. Well, I'll explain one that beats just about any bargain I have ever heard of, for sure the best one I've ever sold. The Rudy Cruise out of Galveston has always been a real good cruise bargain, but this one will almost top that one!!

We reserved some space on a Viking River Cruise ship for November 25, 2017 going down the Rhine River from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland. It's a 7-day Christmas market cruise where we visit several excellent ports in Germany like Cologne, Heidelburg, the French port of Strasbourg, and a day it the Black Forest. The price starts as low as $1,874 a person for a first floor room, based on availability at time of booking. A French Balcony starts at $2,624 a person; a Veranda on the Second Floor will put you back only $2,874.

Those prices include all your meals, and they are really good, take it from me. Also, beer, wine, and soft drinks are complimentary at lunch and dinner. They have coffee, tea, and cappuccino available at all times of the day, and if like the last ones we were on, cookies and muffins were available just about all day.

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What's New In The Cruise Industry?

What's New In The Cruise Industry?

Today I'm referencing an article by David Swanson in his post “Beyond the Guidebook” for some excellent insight into the cruise industry in 2016.

The cruise industry carried more than 23 million passengers in 2015, and this year there are nine new oceangoing ships that will make their debut. Would you believe there are millions of Americans who have never cruised? Many of those who cruised in 2015 were repeat guests, because they have discovered that this is absolutely the very best way to vacation. So, for those who haven't cruised, the lines are targeting you, so what's new?

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Avoiding Travel Scams

Avoiding Travel Scams

It's been a year or so since I've brought up the subject of travel scams, so I thought I would resurrect that subject again. What brought it to mind was a conversation I had with someone recently who indicated that they had been notified by phone that they had been selected to win a free cruise, and if they were interested, and give the caller a credit card for the $99 in tax, they would throw in 3 free nights at a resort in Florida or a hotel in Las Vegas....take your choice. I just shook my head.....

In the first place, there is no “free” cruise. Someone has to pay for it in some form or fashion. In the second place, it's not “free” if you need to supply your credit card for a payment for anything. Further complicating your “winning” will be the common experience of the cruise being “booked” or not available on the days you want to travel.

Generally the scam operators will not give you full and complete information until you've given them your credit card number. Once you do that, you will find that there will be restrictions of some kind or conditions that would make the trip more expensive or impossible for you to take.

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Traveling Disney World

Traveling Disney World

Last week we talked briefly about the financial success the Disney brands were experiencing, and why not? It's the happiest place on earth!!!

It has become so massive that to see it all takes several days to do it right, and still get to do a little relaxing. You'll pay a little more to stay on the property at a Disney hotel, but you'll love the perks, especially if you are driving because the parking is free. They have great swimming pools too.

They have Disney FastPass service where you'll be able to reserve a time to visit some of the attractions, entertainment experiences like the fireworks shows and parades, and it is included with your Parkhopper pass which provides admission to all the attractions. They also have the MagicBand that everyone wears that provides admission to your room, attractions, and shows; you can even purchase food and merchandise with the MagicBand. Of course it is synced to your room, so the charges go to the room. Oh yes, they have the Memory Maker...a photo package that will not only provide you with great professional pictures of your experience but also save you money.

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Sometimes Up, Sometimes Down, Somebody's Happy, Somebody's Sad

Sometimes Up, Sometimes Down, Somebody's Happy, Somebody's Sad

Travel Weekly reported last week about the good fortune, or hard work, of the Walt Disney Co.’s Park and Resorts division. They reported a record first-quarter net income of nearly $1 billion. . .a nice 22% increase in operating income over a comparable period last year. Overall, Disney saw is net income increase 20% for fiscal first quarter and revenues rose 14% to $15.2 billion.

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Traveling To Mexico?

Traveling To Mexico?

On Jan. 19, the U. S. State Department updated its Mexico travel warning, but the update once again avoids most of the country's tourism destinations.  The warnings were directed mostly to border regions and areas along major drug-trafficking routes.  There were no advisory for Mexico City or the states of Guanajuato, Quintana Roo, and the Yucatan.  Other than Mexico City, these are the areas where the major tourist resorts are located.

As reported in Travel Weekly by the president of Delta Vacations, John Caldwell, “Delta Vacations has not seen any recent increase in concern from our customers about security in Mexico”.  He indicated that the majority of their business was in Puerto Vallarta and just north of PVR in the Riviera Nayarit. That is the area on the Pacific coast south of California.

Last year Mexico ranked Number 9 among the world's 10 most visited countries.  More than 32 million tourists visited Mexico in 2015 which is an increase of nearly 10% from 2014.

The editor of Travel Weekly, Arnie Weissmann, recently interviewed Mexico's Secretary of Tourism, Enrique de la Madrid, and he indicated in the interview that the safety concerns are understandable, but those concerns have lessened considerably in the past few years.  He had an interesting comment regarding relations with tourist, especially those from the United States.  He said, “Sometimes between Mexico and the U.S,, there are misconceptions, but tourism is the best ambassador, the best way to get closer.  We have great oceans, deserts and mountains,  but our biggest assets are Mexicans interacting with visitors.  This is a service industry, and Mexicans are very open, candid and friendly.”  He said,  “I heard recently an expression I really liked; that instead of just moving the umbrella on the beach, we move the sun.”

Another recent concern for Mexico as well as some of the Caribbean islands is the threat to tourist from the Zika virus.  Mexico's tourism agency said the Zika virus does not pose a threat to tourists in their country, citing the low number of cases, 34, in the country in rural areas far from popular tourist destinations.  Mexico tourism also said major tourist destinations and businesses have mosquito-eradication practices in place and that the country is prepared to contain the virus.

So far, we have been promoting and selling the Mexico tourist product without reserve.  It's the fastest way to get to a destination from Texas, about 2 hours and 15 minutes,  so you get to spend more time on the beach or doing your thing when you go on vacation.  And, the prices recently have been very good, so we encourage all our friends to give the experienced travel counselors a call at 698-1421 or toll-free 800-760-4040, or stop in for an excited visit to talk “VACATION”.  Now is the time to plan for that summer away.

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Debunking Some Travel Myths

Debunking Some Travel Myths

Recently the U. S. News had a column talking about some travel myths that were not altogether true. I thought I'd review a few of those and add my own comments about them.

We are always getting the questions “what are the least expensive days to travel”, and we have usually said Tuesday, Wednesday, and in some cases Saturday. For the most part, that holds true because there is a lot of commercial travel on Mondays and Fridays, and domestic travel is usually heavy on Sundays, both of which increases the price. On the other hand, the founder of Airfarewatchdog.com, George Hobica, says “there's really no magic formula”. Research show that to find the best deals, purchasing your tickets between one and four months prior to your trip will likely yield the lowest rates.

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Up and Coming Hawaii

Up and Coming Hawaii

One of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States, beside Las Vegas and New York City is (Polynesian drum roll, please) Hawaii!!! The latest Travel Weekly reported that the final 2015 numbers aren't in yet, but the prediction is that it will be the record-setting year for visitor count in the 50th state.

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