The Travel Factory Blog

Travel Tips, Stories, Deals and Info...

The Travel Factory employs 4 full time agents with 100 years total experience in the travel industry. Our agents specialize in cruise, tour and resort vacations as well as corporate incentive and school groups. Our mission is to provide the best, most courteous, most detailed, most informative service. Our slogan, "Building vacations to your specifications" says it all.

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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October... National Plan A Cruise Month

October... National Plan A Cruise Month

Did you know?   Who would have thought….but it IS a good idea!!!  The Cruise Lines International Association has declared October to be “National Plan A Cruise Month”.  I am of the opinion that ANY month is a good month to plan a cruise, and the best tip of the day is to allow an experienced professional travel agent help with the plans.  They know the ships and after visiting with you a while will know which ship will match your personality and needs.

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Another Outstanding Cruise Experience

Another Outstanding Cruise Experience

For the life of me, I just can’t see how a person can have a better vacation than at least 7 days on a cruise ship!!!  We just finished our tenth cruise out of Galveston with a bunch of great folks on the Rudy Cruise, this time on Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s Navigator of the Seas.  Not once did we have to decide “where we gonna eat tonight, honey”; never once did we have to make up our beds or clean our room (and they did it at least twice a day); never once did we lack for something to do, even if it was only getting involved with a novel or two; never once did we wish there was some kind of entertainment available after dinner; I could go on, but that’s the kind of vacation I want to have, a complete getaway from the daily normal back home.

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Airlines - High Blood Pressure Topic!!!

Airlines - High Blood Pressure Topic!!!

I try not to bring this up because just the thought of it makes my face and ears go red with additional pressure, but recently I read another column by one of the best watchers of airline antics in our area, Tom Parsons, of Dallas Morning News fame, and his comments sent me into one of those “hissy-fits” my grandmother used to have.

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Let’s Talk A Little Las Vegas!!

Let’s Talk A Little Las Vegas!!

I’ve checked, it’s been almost 10 months since I have mentioned Las Vegas in my weekly missive, so I thought I’d re-visit that topic.  Of course, Las Vegas changes almost as much as you change clothes, so almost every month something is different.

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More Travel Questions And Answers

More Travel Questions And Answers

Last week we talked about some travel questions that we periodically get, and hopefully we were able to give some answers that help our listeners and readers as they plan their trips.  We have some more questions to address today.

How can I find the best travel insurance?  Some folks say they want some cheap insurance, but that usually means that they will have less coverage in case of a cancellation.  The reason most folks purchase travel insurance is to protect their investment in case they have an emergency that requires them to cancel the trip.  And most travel insurance policies cover the cost of the trip if you cancel because of a “covered” reason…sickness, accident, death of one of the travelers, a next of kin, and some even cover in case of the death of a business partner.

We often sell the insurance provided by the tour operator or cruise line.  They don’t self-insure, rather use a third party insurance carrier.  The cost is usually 8-10% of the cost of the tour.  Travel Guard is a travel insurer that we sell for independent tours, and often we find that they have more coverage for about the same price as the cruise or tour company.

Why do I hear that the cruse line has better fares than I can find through a travel agent?  That’s not true, otherwise travel agents would discontinue selling that cruise line.  Virtually all cruise lines will have the same price product as the travel agent.  Often the travel agent might have some group amenities like on-board-credit, bottle of wine, photos, or fruit in the room that the cruise line is not offering.  When the cruise line sells direct, they are not discounting the commission they would have paid a travel agent for selling and servicing that sale, so the consumer is paying for services they never receive when booking directly with the cruise line.

When is the best time to book a European river Cruise?  The best time is right now—the boats do not hold but 190 persons, so it doesn’t take many phone calls to fill them up.  Some folks wait until they are able to book the air, and make their commitment at that time.  Many successful river cruisers book their reservations 10-14 months in advance.  Because of the lack of rain and snow the past few years, the rivers have been very low on some of the rivers causing them to have to bus between some ports.  In contrast, some years they have had too much rain and snow and the boats can’t go under the bridges.  Just like any other travel, the weather is no respecter of our vacation plans, so go anyway, and determine to enjoy the adventure of travel no matter what the weather does.

The experienced and professional travel agents at The Travel Factory are eager to answer travel questions, better still will be able to not only help you plan and sell you the vacation of your dreams, but will be available to answer your questions before you go, and be available to help if needed when you return.  Give them a call at 698-1421 or 800-760-4040, or see our website at www.thetravelfactoryabilene.com.  You can even make reservations with Funjet Vacations at that site and still enjoy the service of our experienced agents.

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Travel Agency Questions And Answers

Travel Agency Questions And Answers

A travel agency, if they are a good one, not only sells airline tickets, cruises, car rentals, hotels, and travel insurance, but they also serve as a free library of knowledge of all things travel…..and if they don’t know the answer to the question immediately, they will more often than not, find the answer.

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Passport Tips

Passport Tips

There’s a real good country and western song out called “Don’t Wait” and that is my theme song for this column today.  You just never can tell when you might get an invitation to go to an exciting international destination, and if you have a passport in hand, you are READY!!!

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Cruising From Texas

Cruising From Texas

Time’s a-changing again!!!!  For the past three years, Texans have enjoyed the benefit in the fall and winter of having the presence of four cruise lines cruising from Texas ports. 

Carnival has been a constant, year around participant with 4 and 5 night cruises and 7-night cruises out of Galveston since 2006.  Two years ago, Royal Caribbean joined them out of Galveston on a year around basis.  Three years ago, Norwegian Cruise Line began 7-night service from a Houston port, and Princess also joined in with 7-night service from Houston.  Great competition!!!....which resulted in great prices for the Texas travelers.

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