Friday, April 26, 2013

Recycling Airplanes

The airline industry is one that produces excessive amount of material, from technology to uniforms to seat cushions, that can often go to waste quickly. Safety regulations require replacing seat covers, life vests, and other materials after a few years. Logo changes or mergers can reface many planes, uniforms, and check-in areas, overhauling tons of materials in a matter of months.

Major recycling efforts have been pioneered by several airlines, such as Delta and AirFrance-KLM. Useless fabric from seats and uniforms have been remade into bags, wallets, quilts, and even carpets. Carpets are recycled into new carpets, or when its utility has run out, is passed onto the cement industry as secondary fuel. Meal trays are remolded into cutlery, and retired aircrafts are carefully looked over for reusable parts.

There have also been philanthropic efforts by airlines such as Finnair. Old uniforms are used for cleaning up oil spills, and blankets, clothing and furniture are sent to refugee camps among others in need.
Either approach is a great step in utilizing the full life cycle of products and materials. Kudos to these airlines for leading the pack!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

High-Tech Hotels

Gone are the days where hotel Wi-Fi was questionable and phones were used to call room service. These 10 hotels are pioneering future-forward technology that offer us a glimpse into a new generation of lodging. Here are a few things you can start saying good-bye to:

Do-Not-Disturb Signs: The Hotel 1000 (Seattle) offers silent, infrared doorbells that detect body heat in a room. This signals to housekeeping whether the room is empty and also gives you the option of pressing a do-not-disturb button when you leave.

Automated Wake-Up Calls: Hotels like the Aria Resort & Casino (Las Vegas) has guestrooms that allow you to customize the lighting, temperature, and music that you would like to wake up to in the morning. The room has automated drapes, lights, and a TV that turns on as you enter, and you can customize their functionality throughout your stay.

Boring Bathrooms: The Hotel Bel-Air includes heated floors, an in-mirror LED television, and the Neorest 600, a toilet that has a control panel for flushing, seat heating, and deodorizing.

Altitude Sickness: Stay at the Scarp Ridge Lodge (Crested Butte, CO) for your ski trip, and be provided with additional oxygen to customize the altitude to whatever you are used to.

Generic D├ęcor: At citizenM Times Square (New York), use your electronic, handheld mood pad to design your space with lighting, music, digital art, window blinds, mood-enhanced wake-up calls, and more from the comfort of your bed.

Read more about these hotels and other technolodges here.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Expect Travel Delays

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and his staff have briefed the public, warning of significant delays in air travel next week. Sunday will mark the start of FAA furloughs, and there is concern that not enough air traffic controllers will be working to support operation of all runways.

Air travelers are cautioned to expect delays of 10-30 minutes at most airports, with very heavy delays at 13 major airports: JFK, LaGuardia, Newark, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, O’Hare, Midway, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Charlotte. These could be anywhere from 45-210 minutes depending on the location.

There is some controversy over whether this is where the spending cuts should come from within the Federal Aviation Administration; eyebrows have been raised at projects such as uniform purchases and other costs that could be set aside to prevent furloughing. But for now, passengers should expect delays as the FAA works to ensure safety on airlines.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wings for Autism

Airports can be a stressful place for everyone, so imagine what a struggle they can be for a child with autism. Wings For Autism, a program run by Autism Support in Natick, MA, has pioneered an outstanding effort to give autistic children and their families more opportunities for travel.

In partnership with the Boston Logan International Airport, TSA and several airlines, “Wings for Autism” events take place twice a year and allow children to practice the airport and flight experience. Children are exposed to the sights and sounds of the check-in process, security checks, and boarding. While the plane never leaves the ground, engines are left running to simulate the sounds of take-off. Families even get the chance to tour the cockpit and be served as they would by a flight attendant onboard.

Although it can take much longer for an autistic child to become comfortable with traveling, the opportunity for discovery and acclimation can make a huge difference, and also makes families feel understood and aided in the process. Reception of this event has been huge, with 300 families in attendance per event and several airports opening their own events across the country.

Airlines are also using this as an opportunity to raise awareness within their staff of the challenges of autism, hoping to teach staff how to be responsive and most helpful in situations where a child is distressed during the boarding or flight process. The organization hopes this will aid children and their families in having the ability to travel, and feel supported along the way.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Tax Deductions Tips for Business Travel Expenses

Hopefully by now your tax return is signed, sealed and delivered, and you can breathe a sigh of relief.  But it’s hard not to wonder if there are any deductions out there that you could have claimed and didn’t.  When it comes to business travel deductions, there is a lot of grey area.  Within this grey area, filers can sometimes be aggressive with their deductions and the IRS looks at all business travel expenses VERY closely.

Here are some tips to keep in mind throughout this year about deductions and business travel so you can be better prepared for your 2013 filings:

-If you’re an employee traveling for business and your company does not reimburse all of your expenses, you can deduct your out-of-pocket expenses that exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income.  If you’re self-employed or a small-business owner you do not have to reach the 2% mark, all your out-of-pocket expenses are deductible.

-Anything work-related is fair game including airfare, lodging, meals, gasoline, baggage fees, taxis, phone calls, supplies, dry cleaning, gratuities and even a drink at the bar!  The key is, according to the IRS, the expenses must be “ordinary and necessary.”  So a glass of wine with dinner while you are out of town is acceptable, but 10 drinks for you and your spouse throughout the night is not. 

-Be prepared to provide documentation of any and all deductions you claim.  Keep your receipts and write on the back: the reason for the expense, the person you met with, the location and the date. 

-If you need help tracking your travel expenses, there’s an app for that!  Try Expense Manager for Android or Expensify for both Android and iOS; both apps are free.

-Instead of keeping records of all your meal expenses and deducting the actual costs, you can use a standard meal allowance which varies based on the city your visitng.

-Don’t mix business with pleasure.  The purpose of a business trip has to be primarily business if you plan to deduct it, however you are allowed some personal time.  Say you have a business trip to New York but you also have family in the city that you want to visit while you’re there.  You fly in on Tuesday with your spouse and take a vacation day Wednesday.  On Thursday, you have an all-day client meeting and on Friday you take the client out to Lunch before you head home.  Your reasonable expenses on Tuesday and Friday are deductible as your travel days, as are your expenses on Thursday when you meet with your client.  Your expenses on Wednesday and your room on Tuesday night are not deductible because they were not necessary for your client meeting.  It should go without saying, but we will say it anyway- none your spouse’s expenses are deductible.

-Convention and conference attendance can be tricky, but as long as you stick to the “ordinary and necessary” principle, you will be ok.  A conference directly related to your profession in Denver is perfectly acceptable and your hotel, registration fees and flights are deductible.  Should you opt for the conference in Paris instead, you will have to justify why you couldn’t get the same benefit from the meeting closer to home.  Ancillary ‘meet and greet’ events sponsored by the conference organizer are deductible.  Make sure to keep a copy to the program or brochure that lists the excursion as a networking event being held in conjunction with the conference just in case.

No one wants to miss out on legitimate deductions and no one wants the stress and possible penalties that can result from an audit.  It’s a fine line between what can and cannot be deducted, so just make sure your expenses are ordinary and necessary and you 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Making a Hotel a Home

In our industry and many others, frequent travel is the name of the game. Unfortunately, many studies show that days or weeks on the road can lead to high stress as well as poor eating and sleeping habits. As a way of life, this can add up and take a toll on your mental and physical health. USA Today shared a great article with tips to stabilize your health and happiness on the road. We love and use many of these practices, and hope you do too!

A common theme in our own office and with travelers interviewed is to consistently bring a couple of home comforts. Whether it is framed pictures of loved ones, your own pillow, or a favorite scented candle, they provide consistency and can be a reminder of the personal connections with family or friends.

Another major focus was taking measures to be physically healthy on the road. Travel with your own beverages and healthy snacks, so eating out and room service don’t take a toll on your body and make you feel sluggish. One woman interviewed even asks the hotel for a vase and buys flowers for her bedside, as the aroma and presence of plants can have a soothing effect. For relaxation, most hotels have iPod docks now so you can use your favorite music to decompress. One therapist emphasized the importance of keeping your routine. Sleep, exercise, and even watch TV shows as you normally would at home; this can aid sleeping disorders.

Our last recommendation is to alter the room to suit you. Though it can sometimes seem like a hassle on a short trip, unpack your suitcase so you aren’t living out of your luggage. If you want the furniture rearranged, move it. Make the best use of the natural light in the room. If you prefer a room with a tub, or away from the street, or facing away from an early sunrise, ask the reservation staff in advance and they can often accommodate you.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Hidden Discounts on Hotel Rooms

Calling all savvy travelers! Here are some little known secrets to ask about when you are booking a hotel room. Work with your travel agent or reservation staff, and you may just end up scoring a great deal on your trip. Don’t forget to go directly to the staff rather than an online party for better luck, and be knowledgeable of more common discount options such as AAA, student rates, or AARP so you can compare the rates quickly. Happy travels!

Resident Discount
Some hotels will offer locals living within a certain radius a discount, especially during nonpeak travel seasons. Make sure you have your driver’s license as proof of your residence!

Day-of-the-Week Discount
It is common knowledge that booking a room Monday-Wednesday will save you some money compared to weekend bookings, but ask your reservation agent or the concierge if there are other discounts available on the property for those days as well. Some hotels offer savings on spa services, green fees, shopping and dining.

Corporate Discount
Many hotels as a policy will honor your corporate affiliation even when you are not on company business. If you do not travel often and are unsure of the company’s preferred hotel chains, you can get this information from the person responsible for making travel arrangements in the company. Be sure to have a company card or ID for proof- you can also obtain certain discounts through government employment such as universities, military, police and fire departments.

Out-of-Order Discounts
Hotel rooms can be marked as out-of-order for a variety of reasons- some big, some small. Ask whether any of these rooms are available at a discount, and you might save big by foregoing a broken TV or other minor issues.

Good Samaritan Discounts
If you find yourself stuck unexpectedly due to a broken-down car, storm, or other hardship, explain the situation to the front desk and see if they can discount your room. Many are able to offer this last-minute.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Smartphone Travel Photo Tips

Sometimes, business travel takes us to incredible places but we don’t always travel with a professional camera to capture some of the sights we see along the way.  Use these tips to take amazing pictures with your smartphone! 

Keep it Handy
First things first, make sure your phone and your camera app are easily accessible.  No amount of photo tips will help you if you miss the shot altogether.  Make sure you know how to open your camera app as quickly as possible.  With the iPhone, you can access the camera without even unlocking the phone.  With some android phones, you can reassign buttons to launch the camera quickly. 

Clean the Lens
Your phone spends a lot of time in hands, pockets, purses and other places that present opportunities for oil, lint and dirt.  Make sure you clean the lens often!

If your phone as an HDR (high-dynamic-range imaging) setting, USE IT!  This setting gives your pictures a greater dynamic range between the lightest and darkest areas of the image which will more accurately photograph the scenery the way you are seeing it live.  Current Androids and iPhones come with HDR settings, if your phone doesn’t, there are apps you can download to take HDR images.  The pictures here give an example of an HRD photo (right) compared to a standard photo (left) taken with an iPhone.

Avoid Using the Zoom
Your smartphone cannot magnify the image by moving its lens.  So when you digitally zoom in, the phone is essentially making the pixels larger and using the information available to make the image larger.  Pretend the zoom does not exist and get closer to your subject.  If you have to, crop the image later instead of using the zoom.

Rule of Thirds
This Photography 101 composition concept never fails!  Most phones today come with a setting to add gridlines to your screen when you are taking a picture.  The grids will divide the image up into thirds both horizontally and vertically.  Using the rule of thirds, place the interesting or focus element of the photo on one of the four intersections of the grid.  This gives your photo visual interest and balance.  Additionally, your horizon should run along one of the horizontal lines and not though the center of the photo.  As a bonus, you can use the grid lines to make sure you don’t take a crooked snapshot!

Your phone does best in natural light found outdoors.  Although the technology has come a long way in a short amount of time, we still have a long way to go for smartphone photos in low light situations inside and nighttime photography.  You’ll get the best results in the morning or evening, when the sun is not directly overhead to flatten your colors and create intense shadows.  Even shade during the middle of the day will also serve you well or you can try using your flash midday to fill in dramatic shadows for a more even look.

You don’t have to be a photoshop expert to improve your photos with a few quick edits.  Boosting the contrast, sharpness and/or saturation can make a huge difference!  Your smartphone likely offers a few of the basic corrections and may even offer some artistic effects.  If you want more, try apps like Snapseed, PicsArt Photo Studio, Adobe Photoshop Express and the ever-popular Instagram.  All available for free in the iTunes App Store and the GooglePlay App Store.

External Lenses
Although you can take great photos with just your smartphone, you can go the extra mile by purchasing a small external lens for your phone.  There are tons of companies selling external lens with prices beginning at just $20.  You can select from wide-angle or fisheye to capture a whole room in one shot, telephoto for a powerful zoom, macro for intense detail in your up close and personal shots.  Check out the Photojojo store here or search for reviews of various lenses available for your phone to see what will suit you and your photography best.

Practice and Explore
Finally, it’s essential to practice and explore to become a pro-smartphone photographer.  Study a little travel photography to get a sense of what the real pros do and what you like best.  Silence your inner critic and challenge yourself to take tons of photos, even when you think it won’t come out well.  You can give yourself assignments like: take 20 photos each hour while exploring the city or every time you take a picture, try at least 5 different angles.  The practice will help you understand what works and what doesn’t; plus, you might get a surprisingly good photo when you wanted to take a pass.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Planning Allergy-Friendly F&B

Dietary restrictions have taken on a whole new level of importance in meeting planning. Whereas accommodating dietary needs used to mean the simple addition of a vegetarian option, increased awareness of food allergies and lifestyle choices have opened up a realm of possibilities- from gluten-intolerance to vegan to a peanut allergy.

While some of these allergies are mild, many can lead to severe illness and life-threatening reactions. Meeting planners are in fact required by law to make accommodations under these circumstances. With such a diverse range of needs from attendees, several steps can be taken before and during a meeting to ensure that everyone is well-cared for throughout a program.

Before the meeting:

  • When planning the menu, be proactive in asking which dishes cause more or less issues with food allergies. Many hotels and catering companies are designing dishes that can accommodate a variety of dietary restrictions, such as dishes that are not only vegetarian but also free of common food allergy triggers.
  • Ask attendees about any dietary restrictions well in advance through registration or other correspondence. When sending out query cards, try to include inclusive but specific restrictions so you know exactly what to prepare for.
  • Schedule buffets with customizable options as frequently as possible. Ask your catering staff to place allergy cards with all buffet ingredients.
During your meeting:

  • Eliminate allergens from the start. If you have a significant population that has a food allergy or intolerance, work with the chef to make substitutions or menu changes to the standard menu. Chefs are used to accommodating different requests, and will be able to make these changes while still creating a delightful dish.
  • Set aside special meals when you can. It’s not uncommon that after a week full of banquets and buffets, a slew of non-vegetarians opt for the veggie burger if they have a choice. If you haven’t  made enough of a dish to accommodate all the attendees, consider making a separate plate or an entirely separate buffet available, and explain the set-up to attendees.
  • Be discreet. If you prepare correctly, the kitchen should be able to bring out a special meal without a fuss. Take extra care to make sure it comes out at the same time as the rest of the table, and you can even keep it relatively close to the standard meals. When attendees are accommodated seamlessly, it makes them feel valued- and that is always our goal!

Thanks to our friends at M&C magazine for inspiring this article!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Lost and Found Website Launched for Hotels

It is common knowledge to any traveler that once you have left a personal item in your hotel room, checked out, and left the premises, the odds of getting it back are slim to none. Employees still manually log items left behind by guests, which leads hotel staff up a blind alley trying to locate an item someone contacts them trying to find.

Enter, a brand new website that has officially launched today. Now, hotel employees can type in a description of the lost item, the location it was found in, and other helpful information. Guests can do the same, and they will be notified if there is a match. Once they have been notified, guests can fill out a form that offers them shipping options; the website will then generate and forward a prepaid shipping label to the hotel staff.  

30 hotels have already jumped on board with the company’s inception; the site is a free service to hotels, and fosters a very strong loyalty and value for the brand with guests. Chargerback hopes to expand this much-needed service to rental cars, cab companies, and airlines.  

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Make April Less Taxing!

With April 15th just around the corner, stress can heighten at the prospect of bad news when you file your taxes. For others, there may be a nice refund on the horizon. Either way, hotels across the country are giving you a reason to celebrate and take the weight off your shoulders. Tax season conveniently coincides with the off season for many resorts. Together, they make some sweet deals that you can treat yourself to in the name of Uncle Sam.

  • Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza is offering drink specials priced at $4.15. Drinks include “In the Red Bloody Mary,” “In the Black” Russian, and an “IRS Blues Martini”.
  • The Hotel ZaZa in Dallas and Houston will both have $1 themed cocktails  paired with a $1 room upgrade on April 15th. Come stay, and receive a $100 ZaSpa credit.
  • Paired with its daily complimentary wine hour, the Hotel Monaco in Portland, OR will also be offering celebratory champagne or some chocolate to share in your remorse. They will also be partnering with the Red Star Tavern to offer $4.15 cocktails, and a free one if you show proof that you came out owing Uncle Sam money.
  • Miraval Resort & Spa in Tucson is offering a “De-Taxifying Botanical Body Wrap” treatment reduced from $215 to $99 (tax-free of course). Similarily in San Antonio, the JW Marriott San Antonio Country Resort and Spa has a “Tax Day Retreat” spa treatment reduced from $140 to $99.

Learn more about these deals and others here.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Supreme Court Upholds DOT Fare Rule

Today, the Supreme Court upheld Department of Transportation regulations requiring that advertised flight fares include all taxes and fees.

The airline industry cited their free-speech rights stating that the rule prevents them from emphasizing the impact of government imposed fees and taxes.

The rule upheld today requires that the total cost of the ticket, including all taxes and fees be shown more prominently than the base price of the ticket. Airlines can, however, still show the break down in ticket pricing.

The decision also includes a ruling on consumers' '24-hour cooling off period', protecting ticket purchasers' ability to cancel a ticket within 24-hours of purchase with no penalty. Airlines that do not allow the 24-hour cancellation period are required to allow 24-hour ticket holds.

The case is Spirit v. United States Department of Transportation, 12-656.

Read on for more information: Bloomberg Businessweek.