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

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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Transportation Security Administration Pre-Check Program

Transportation Security Administration Pre-Check Program

We've had several questions about this program that the TSA instituted back in 2011, then at only designated limited locations in the United States. Eight years later, there has been more participants and more designated locations, so folks who have heard about it are inquisitive about how it works and is it effective.

It does work, and it is effective, especially for those folks who travel by air fairly extensively. It saves time by reducing the time one stands in line at the security check stations, plus you don't have to essentially undress to get through the line.

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Las Vegas Travel News

Las Vegas Travel News

One of the more popular destinations that we book every year is a 3-4 night trip to the “city that never sleeps”, Las Vegas. There have been some interesting changes that have developed over the past few months that makes one raise their eyebrows. One in particular is charging for parking. No one has ever had to park in Las Vegas, even at the downtown hotel/casinos. And visitors have been able to park at the Strip hotel/casinos at their parking garages for free.....but things are changing.

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Cruise Shopping

Cruise Shopping

Typically the “best rates” will be found during the re-positioning cruises as the season changes.  They take ships that were stationed in the Caribbean and move them to Europe in the spring and then reverse them in the late fall; some of the ships were in the Caribbean and they move them to Alaska in  mid-May and then reverse the move in mid-September.  Also, booking a cruise 8-10 months out will generally provide the best rates of the year, because several cruise lines are abandoning the policy of getting rid of unsold space 2-3 weeks before departure with deep discounting.  Instead they are holding the line until 30 days before sailing and not discounting any more until it sails....even if some cabins go unsold.  Off season in September and October in the Caribbean is also usually bargain months.

So, how do you go about selecting the best cruise for you and your family?  The first step is hooking up with a reputable travel agent, the more experience the better.  Have a good handle on what you want to spend and how long you want to get away.  That gives that experienced agent a good idea about which cruise line and ship to suggest.  Another clue for the agent is the size of the family that is being considered, and that will dictate how many rooms will be required.  Another consideration is whether you want to fly to the cruise embarkation city or will you be able to drive.  For many folks who live here in the Southwest, Galveston is an ideal port to drive to, especially if there a numerous people traveling.  Pricing is also dictated by the cabin category; inside, outside, balcony, or suite.

The experienced travel agents at The Travel Factory here in Abilene have over 100 years combined experience in arranging cruises and tours for many families over the years, and they would be more than excited to be able to help you manufacture the family cruise vacation of a lifetime.  They have already planned and are taking reservations for 4 group tours in 2016.  The first one is a British Isles tour from May 8-20 with visits to Ireland, Scotland, and Great Britain as well as an extra excursion planned for Paris or Normandy.

The annual Alaska cruise/tour is set up for July 4-16, 2016.  This is the 22nd group that they have planned and it is selling very briskly.  Princess Cruise Line will recall our group inventory next week  so we encourage anyone interested to contact us immediately for the best price.

On September 11-18, our 11th group with TownSquare Media and host Rudy Fernandez will enjoy the services of  Royal Caribbean Cruise Line on the Liberty of the Seas out of Galveston.  We have negotiated the very best group prices; we are anxious for all our friends to go along with us.

October 15-22 are the dates for our beautiful cruise in Hawaii on Norwegian Cruise Line's Pride of America.  This is absolutely the best way to see the Hawaiian Islands, so give us a call today for more information.

We can be reached at 698-1421 or 800-760-4040; better than a computer screen is a real live agent at 4150 Southwest Dr. or if you must; www.thetravelfactoryabilene.com gets to our web site.  

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Traveling Amid Terrorism

Traveling Amid Terrorism

One of the main concerns of the traveling public today is “is it safe” to travel?

Common sense tells us that it depends on where you plan on traveling and if there has been any United States State Department warning of traveling to that destination. We are discovering that in today's world, terrorism knows no boundaries, and even though it has been relatively rare, it is slowly becoming a concern for a lot of folks.

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I Want The Cheapest Airfare You Have

I Want The Cheapest Airfare You Have

One of the most often statements we receive when the phone rings inquiring about airfare to a certain destination is, “just give me the cheapest fare you have”. Well, of course, in this day and time, that is a loaded question. Do you just want the base fare, or do you want us to add in the tax and service charge, and depending on the carrier, do you want all the other ancillary charges that you would be subject to?

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The Plus and Minus of Airline Cards

The Plus and Minus of Airline Cards

I remember back in the late 70's, early 80's when the airlines began awarding points for mileage flown on their airline, the reward being a free ticket (you'd have to pay the tax), for every 10,000 miles earned. Now it's up to, for most destinations, 25,000 miles for domestic tickets and 50,000 for international destinations.

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Hawaii....Paradise Vacation!!!

Hawaii....Paradise Vacation!!!

As one publication promoted, “The Hawaiian PEOPLE, the HISTORY of the islands, the CULTURE of the islands---they're what set a Hawaii vacation apart from others”.

Over the years we have had the privilege of sending many good friends to the Hawaiian islands for their unforgettable vacation....and as that publication announced, those attributes were all mentioned when reviewing their vacation on their return.  There are many things that draw guests to the islands, among them are the relaxed ambiance throughout the island, the beautiful beaches, sightseeing opportunities, the natural wonders, and last but not least, the safety aspect prevalent throughout the islands.

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Influence Of Cruises On U. S. Economy

Influence Of Cruises On U. S. Economy

Over the past 3 years since I've been publishing this Travel Factory Blog I've had several sessions discussing the impact of cruising as a wonderful vacation option for both the individual as well as for families.  It just has something for everyone, and the service provided by those serving on board make you feel really cared for and appreciated.

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Motion Sickness...The Bane Of Travel

Motion Sickness...The Bane Of Travel

The moment we visit with someone about considering a cruise vacation, they make the comment that they haven't entertained the idea because they didn't want their vacation ruined because of motion sickness.  I can understand their concern.....I've been there.  But things are different now on cruise ships compared to an oil tanker back in 1962.

Motion sickness is caused by fluid movement in your inner ear, which controls your sense of equilibrium.  Once your inner ear acclimatized to motion over time, or with the help of medication, the symptoms disappear.  I remember that the first time I boarded that fully loaded oil tanker in Corpus Christi, for the first 3 days of stormy weather, I was spending more time near a latrine than at my job.  But after that, I was on it for the next 88 days in a hurricane and some other ocean storms and did not get sick....so obviously I acclimated.

We have been on multiple cruises over the years as well as airplane flights and have never had motion sickness problems again.  There are some things you can do to help prevent motion sickness.  In ships or planes, try to sit in the middle where there is the least motion and in cars or buses, sit as close to the front as possible.  Keep your eyes steady and focused on a steady point in the distance.  Reading usually doesn't help, neither will eating greasy food or drinking alcohol.

There are several natural remedies that help in treating and preventing motion sickness.  Some folks get relief with the wrist bands that presses on an point on your wrist to relieve these symptoms.  Some studies have shown that ginger reduces the effects of motion sickness.  Another popular remedy is to drink a Coke with some saltine crackers.

My wife is very prone to motion sickness, so much so that she refused to go cruising with me for more than 5 years after I had been in the business.  I read in some travel trade magazine that a patch worn behind the ear, scopolamine patch, would do the trick.  To get a patch required a prescription,  so we secured the prescription and made cruise reservations.  We have been on more than 70 cruises since 1981, she has worn a patch on every one of them, and has never been sick!!!  For her, those things work.  One gets two patches with the prescription, so for a week's cruise, she puts one on Sunday then the other one on Wed.  The only negative she has experienced is that while reading her book or Kindle, around Thursday or Friday the print will get a little blurry, but with proper arm adjustment she can continue reading.

Of course other medication like Meclizine,  Ativert, or Dramamine can be taken to help with this problem, but the main side effect of these pills is drowsiness.

Our best tip is that if you would like to take a cruise and the notion that you might have motion sickness, you'll never know unless you try it, so see your doctor for a prescription for the patch and visit with your travel agent who, no doubt, would suggest an Alaska cruise along the Inside Passage. 

By now, your favorite travel agent should be located at The Travel Factory, 4150 Southwest Drive, Ste. 120.  Many questions are easily answered face-to-face, so call and make sure we are available at 698-1421 or 800-760-4040. 

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Travel Protection... Is It Worth The Money???

Travel Protection... Is It Worth The Money???

About a year ago I had a presentation on the value of protecting one's travel investment with travel protection of some kind.  At that time one of the tour operators we were using automatically included that option with each quote.

They are now treating the travel protection as an option, and not including it, so if they client wants it, they have to choose between two types of coverage:  Pre-travel protection, or All-inclusive coverage which includes pre-travel and during travel.  The all-inclusive in my estimation is the best way to go, even though it is a little more expensive.

There are several reasons for my suggestion.  One reason is that it includes a price guarantee that if the price of your hotel or charter air goes down after you have deposited, they will give you the lower price.  Also, the kids insurance becomes half-price.

Some folks say, “oh, I'm going, no matter what”.   We have experienced situations where this mantra blew up in their face.  Some we've heard before and had to deal with are:  getting pregnant, lost a job, passport expired and wasn't aware of it until checking in, jury duty extended longer than expected, the bride got cold feet and absolutely refused to fly, the wife surprised the husband with a trip and on the day of departure he refused to go, developed an illness the day of departure that required hospitalization for 6 days.  Under those circumstances, the all-inclusive coverage would insure that they would get their travel investment returned.

One of the objections we often get is that “I don't believe in insurance”.  This operator says that the All-In-One Travel Protection isn't actually an insurance plan; it is an optional travel protection plan that includes: the ability to cancel for any reason and receive a refund, low price guarantee, a special hurricane benefit, no revision fees if you need to make a change, and during travel coverage.  The during travel coverage is the only “insurance” part and it offers protection if anything happens on your vacation.  That situation came real this last summer when a client of ours was swimming in one of the resort pools and gashed his arm very deep that required a physician's assistance.  The property personnel got him to the hospital in Cancun, stitched it up, and provided a return trip when it got infected the next day.  All that attention did not cost them anything.  You just never know!!!

The main thing I like about it is that you can cancel your trip for ANY reason.  Most travel insurance coverages allow you to cancel for COVERED reasons: sickness, accident, death on you, your traveling companion, or immediate family member.  The one offered by this operator is coverage for ANY reason.....even on the day of departure.  We have had several instances where this coverage was a life saver.  I remember one where traffic was stalled because of  a wreck on I-20, and it delayed this couple from being able to make the flight, and it was the last one of the day.  ANY reason coverage allowed them to get their money back.

The experienced travel counselors at The Travel Factory will be more than happy to help you manufacture the vacation of your dreams, and will no doubt, suggest some kind of protection of your travel investment.  Come by to see us at 4150 Southwest Drive, in the Plaza at Park Central, between Rosa's and Chick-Fil-A.  A call would do the trick too:  698-1421 or 800-760-4040.  Or to know more about us, visit our website:  www.thetravelfactoryabilene.com.

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Do Fliers Have Rights?!!

Do Fliers Have Rights?!!

Someone the other day thought he had a right to a little space in his seat on a Southwest Airlines flight when a lady laid her seat back as far as it would go and was virtually in the man’s lap. When she wouldn’t raise her seat back to a more comfortable position for him, he just choked her!!! The pilot declared an emergency and took the plane back to the airport where security folks were waiting to take the man off the plane. My question was, did they take the woman off the plane??

Where’s being nice, being civil and considerate when we travel?

So the question arises, how much seating space do I have a “right” to? The standard seat size is 17.2 inches wide with a 31-32 inch seat pitch, some planes as short at 28 inch pitch. According to one writer, it is unfortunate that the seat pitch varies not merely by airline, but from plane to plane within each airline’s fleet. That seat pitch has fallen from 35 inches to the current 31 inches and the width from 18 inches before airline deregulation in the 70’s.

And what about the traveler “of size” who has to pull up the seat arm to sit down and still extends over into the other seat, my seat and arm rest? Southwest Airlines takes care of this situation requiring “customers of size” to purchase another seat.

And have you noticed? The seats as well as the seatbacks are getting harder!!! They have taken some of the padding out of the seatbacks to give more room. Of course all this reduction in size and pitch is to give the airlines more seating capacity, and increased capacity means more income…..which, of course, is the bottom line for the airline. They are now enjoying record profits, not the least of which is because of the restructure of the seating.

There have been some consumer groups that are trying to get the government to force the airlines to change their policy on seating, and are calling not only a comfort problem but also a safety and health issue. Airlines on the other hand say that the government should not regulate, but allow market forces to set seat size. I say, which “market forces”? Just not fly, in this day and time?

My opinion is that there has to be a little give each way, however up to this point it has been a one-way “give it to the consumer” to the benefit to the airlines. If there is enough consumer outcry to the point that the government gets involved, then I’m sure the airlines will do something about it. This incident on Southwest Airlines should certainly get somebody’s attention.

Everyone still needs air transportation, and the experienced travel counselors at The Travel Factory are prepared to help you with your travel needs so contact us today at 698-1421 or 800-760-4040. We exist to serve the travel needs of the good folks in the Big Country.

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TIPS (To Insure Prompt Service)

TIPS (To Insure Prompt Service)

Among the many questions we get from travelers regards tips to those persons who provide service to us while they are on their trip.  Of course, a lot of what we tip depends on the type of service we experience, whether it is in a restaurant, in a taxi, at a hotel, or with a tour guide.

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