Friday, November 21, 2008

Best and Worst Airlines 2008

By Staff

Feel like you’re spending more and more time at the gate or on the tarmac? It’s not just your imagination. Delays are bedeviling air travel these days; the carriers with the poorest records averaged nearly one-hour delays on their latest flights, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

That’s just some of the data we uncovered researching on-time percentages from September 1, 2007, to August 31, 2008. Mining that data, we put together a list of the best and worst airlines for delays. This list has changed quite a bit from 2007, even more so than our list of the Best and Worst Airports—there are newcomers in both categories, and some airlines have changed dramatically. How come?

While there are industry-wide efforts to improve on-time performance, perhaps more effective are the steps that individual airlines are taking. US Airways, which had the lowest on-time performance in 2007, with just 68 percent of domestic flights taking off on schedule, began offering its employees bonuses for improving conditions. In 2008, its punctuality record ranked near the top. And the worst offender, American Airlines (running last during the first eight months of 2008), is also changing its ways. The carrier has scheduled longer periods between flights to give staff more time to prepare planes, and it’s building up its spare-parts inventory so that repairs can be made more quickly.

Ultimately, airlines save money by being punctual. And in this economic environment, it’s clearly in an airline’s self-interest to get to the gate on time.

So who’s acting self-interested? Certainly not the two airlines that dropped off our best carriers list from 2007, Aloha and AirTran. But one of the airlines that moved into the list did so in a big way: US Airways was No. 3 on the worst carriers list last year, with fewer than 68 percent of its flights arriving on time. This year it’s at 79 percent and No. 3 on the best list.

And the worst? Last year’s worst carrier, Atlantic Southeast, dramatically improved its on-time performance from 2007, moving from 63 to 72 percent. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep them out of the top five. Gone from the 2008 list are JetBlue and US Airways, but taking their place are two other large carriers: American and United.

Original Article: Best & Worst Airlines 2008

Contact a Professional Travel Agent today to get started planning your next vacation!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Most Luxurious Cruise Ship in the World

Hapag-Lloyd’s MS Europa has been rated as the only 5 star-plus cruise ship in the world for the eighth year in a row by the Berlitz Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships.

Just what sets this ship apart from all the others? Quite a few things actually, but service and space are the two biggest. The Europa has the highest passenger-space ratio in the cruise industry, with the smallest cabins starting at 290 square feet! Every guest cabin is a suite, with separate living and sleeping areas, walk-in closets (which are unheard of in the cruise industry), spacious bathrooms that feature a bathtub and separate glassed in showers, and over 80 percent of the cabins have their own balconies. Also, each guest cabin has a mini bar stocked with complimentary beer, juice and soft drinks.

This ship also has the highest staff to passenger ratio of any cruise ship, with a crew of 280, and never more than 408 guests on board. All of the staff must have years of experience in the hospitality industry to even be considered as a crew member on board the MS Europa.

Every day aboard this ship is a spectacular dining experience. There are 4 restaurant choices, and fare includes Haute Cuisine, Euro-Asian and Italian, as well as the Lido cafe, and a very extensive wine list that includes vintages from some of the finest wineries in the world. International show stars perform in the ballroom and concert hall regularly.

Some other amenities aboard include a saltwater pool with a retractable roof, spa and salon, fitness room, 21 course golf simulator, bars and lounges, library with internet access, a boutique and jewelry store.

The MS Europa offers 10-20 day cruises all over the world, including Europe, South America, South Africa, Australia, Tahiti, China and the Caribbean.

Contact a Professional Travel Agent today to book your next Cruise Vacation!

Friday, November 14, 2008

5 Best Places to Travel in a Recession

By Brian Walsh

The economy is in meltdown, consumer spending is dwindling and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is seriously considering priming the monetary system with change he found inside his sofa. That just means you need a vacation more than ever — and the good news about the bad news is that the financial crisis has made some typically pricey destinations suddenly affordable.

Thank the 98-lb. weakling — the U.S. dollar — which, over the past several years, has made foreign travel outrageously expensive for Americans. Today, given the financial crisis, investors see the U.S. as safer than other markets — even though the downturn is largely the responsibility of Americans — and are flocking to the dollar. (Apparently there's no financial penalty for irony.)

For Americans, that means many foreign destinations have effectively become 25%, 30% even 50% cheaper than they were just a few months ago. You may feel a bit like a financial vulture visiting these countries but, hey, this may be the dawn of Depression 2.0. No one's turning down cash these days — not even from ugly Americans.

ICELAND Drop in currency value since a year ago: 51% No developed country has suffered as much from the credit crunch as Iceland, which has seen its banking system and its currency, the kroner, all but collapse. The silver lining in an Arctic cloud: what was once one of the most expensive, if memorable, destinations in Europe has suddenly gone budget. Iceland Air flights from New York City start at $500 round-trip, and decent hotels in the hip capital of Reykjavik — like the Centerhotel Thingholt— are as low as $60 a night. Sure, if you go in the late fall or winter you'll get only about five hours of sunlight a day — but Icelanders know how to make those hours count. Move fast — tourist agencies are reporting a huge spike in visitors to Iceland.

CANADA Drop in currency value since a year ago: 21% If Canadians didn't want us to make fun of their traditionally weak currency, why did they call it the loonie? A year ago, the joke was on us — a Canadian dollar was actually worth more than its American counterpart. Fortunately, economic catastrophe has reasserted the natural order of U.S.-Canadian relations. From the cosmopolitan charm of Montreal to the amazing skiing of Whistler (and, in between, Saskatchewan), America's neighbor to the north is a great place to spend strengthening greenbacks. Bonus: Global warming will make those biting Canadian winters just a little bit more endurable.

AUSTRALIA Drop in currency value since a year ago: 28% The Aussies' unoriginally named currency almost managed parity with the American dollar in recent years. Not anymore. The Down Under dollar now gets you only about 66 cents. But that opens the Land of Thunder's many delights to the American budget traveler — once, of course, you mortgage your devalued home for a plane ticket. Round-trip tickets from New York City to Sydney are going for about $1,400. On the upside, when it's winter in the North, it's summer over there. (Except financially — then it's winter everywhere.)

GREAT BRITAIN Drop in currency value since a year ago: 23% Admittedly, it's difficult to put England on any kind of budget-travel list, given that a brief, one-way trip on the 145-year-old London Underground will still run you more than $6. But compared with a year ago, when you needed more than $2 to buy a single coin with the Queen of England's face on it, Britain has gotten considerably cheaper — relatively. Book a spin on a "champagne flight" on the London Eye — the giant Ferris wheel (and millennial white elephant) on the banks of the Thames — for a mere $692. Or don't.

SOUTH KOREA Drop in currency value since a year ago: 30% For South Koreans, the current economic meltdown has a sickening familiarity. During the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the South Korean won lost 52% of its value against the dollar. Things haven't gotten that bad yet in 2008, but there are still plenty of sudden bargains in the Land of Morning Calm, long an unjustly ignored travel destination. Bewildering Seoul boasts dramatic mountains, spicy street food and gorgeous royal palaces. Beyond the capital — where almost half the country lives — South Korea has arty port cities like Busan and cultural centers like Gwangju. And anywhere in the country you can get soju — the potent rice wine that will enable you to forget the recession, along with everything else.

For all your international travel needs talk with a Professional Travel Agent.

US Dollar Still Strong for DownUnder Travel

Day dreaming about a vacation is the first step to making it a reality. But do you find yourself wondering how to accomplish such a trip with the economy so up-in-the-air? Especially with all the media hype? You are in luck! There are still many great countries offering fabulous travel opportunities where the US dollar is strong and Americans are welcomed with open arms by delightful locals.

Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and the South Pacific can offer a great getaway, a trip to remember and destinations where your dollar will go a lot further. Trade in your greenbacks for some downunder travel and tell your friends to stop watching the news and get on a plane with you!

Today, it only takes $0.66 USD (United States Dollar) to buy $1.00 AUD (Australian Dollar) and only $0.57 USD to buy $1.00 NZD (New Zealand Dollar). Thinking of checking out Fiji? It will take only $0.55 USD to buy $1.00 FJD (Fijian Dollar). Compare all this to it costing $1.27 USD to buy $1.00 EUR (European Euro) for travel throughout Europe. See the huge advantage of taking that vacation downunder? It’s a steal!

To give you an even bigger picture:
If you buy $1000 AUD, it will cost you only $660 USD
If you buy $1000 NZD, it will cost you only $570 USD
If you buy $1000 FJD, it will cost you only $550 USD
If you buy $1000 EUR, it will cost you $1270 USD

You can see the enormous benefits of considering a trip to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. Check-out one, two or all three countries for a great value. Click on the country to see great trip opportunities to Australia, New Zealand and/or Fiji. There are many great Cruises to choose from as well!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rave Reviews from Oprah about the epic movie "Australia"

From: The Australian
By: Ashleigh Wilson

FRESH from her endorsement of Barack Obama, influential American television host Oprah Winfrey has enthusiastically thrown her weight behind Baz Luhrmann's epic film Australia.

With Luhrmann scrambling to complete the much-anticipated film before its official release in two weeks, Winfrey dedicated her show on Monday to the production starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman.

And while Kidman used the show to reveal a photograph of her daughter Sunday Rose, and Jackman spoke about his love of Sydney Harbour, it was Oprah's celebrity endorsement of Australia that will be credited with building excitement for Luhrmann's film in the US market.

"Congratulations on your imagination, your vision, your creativity, your direction," she told the director.

"Our hearts are all swelling because, my God, it's just the film we needed to see. I have not been this excited about a movie since I don't know when."

Winfrey dedicated her entire show to Australia ahead of its November 26 general release. The show was pre-recorded last month, and featured a specially constructed replica 1930s outback cattle station where the film is set.

Winfrey's endorsement will also delight Tourism Australia, which has based its advertising campaign around the film.

"It's the best movie I've seen in a long, long, long, long time," Winfrey said. "It is epic, it is magic, it is a spectacle and the scenery is so gorgeous you can barely stand it. Australia is going to make you jump on a plane and go Down Under."

Luhrmann's movie received more valuable publicity when he appeared with Jackman in New York yesterday at a Museum of Modern Art film benefit honouring the director.

In his interview with Winfrey, Luhrmann told how, as a child, he fell in love with "sweeping epic" films.

"I'm not pretending we're Gone with the Wind, but a film like Gone with the Wind has something for everyone," he said. "It's a really inclusive, big film. It has comedy and romance and action and drama."

During the show, Kidman said she had agreed to do the film without seeing the script because of Luhrmann's involvement.

He views the world, she said, in a "very unique way".

"He just called me up and said: 'I'm thinking about this film'. And I'm like: 'I'm in. I'm yours', because I feel also that there are directors that bring out something in you that nobody else brings out," she said.

Jackman said Kidman convinced him to do the same.

After months of shielding her daughter from the media, Kidman flashed a photo of Sunday Rose that her husband, Keith Urban, had taken. She said her daughter looked so much like Urban she called her Keithette.

Original Article: Rave Review of the Movie "Australia"

For all your international travel needs talk with a Travel Agent especially if you'd like to go to Australia!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Need Some Sun This Winter?

Most of us here in the U.S. spend our winters in cold, wet weather which can be a bit… well, depressing. I know many people, including myself, who always try to make sure to get at least one “sun break” during the winter. If you’re thinking about taking a vacation to a sunny destination this winter, this is a great time to start planning!

Our winter is the ideal time to travel to pretty much anywhere in the South Pacific, including Australia, New Zealand , Tahiti or Fiji, since it is their summer! While airfares to these places can be a little higher during these months, keep in mind that with the current exchange rates between U.S. dollars and Australian or New Zealand dollars makes it very affordable once there!

Same thing goes for South America, whether it be Brazil, Argentina, Peru or Chile, our winter is their summer. If it is a laid back, sunny getaway with great food and wine that you crave, any of these countries are a great choice!

Hawaii is a good place to vacation during the winter too, as long as it is not over major holidays or mid-winter school breaks. Those weeks tend to book up about a year in advance and are very pricey. Otherwise, it’s a great location for a winter getaway, with average temps in the low – mid 80’s, beaches not as crowded as other times of the year, and hotels often have lower rates. Besides, it’s just a 5 hour flight from most west coast cities!

The Caribbean has a year round tropical climate, and hurricane season is over by mid-November. Some of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean include Jamaica, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico and Barbados. Many hotels on the islands offer promotional rates in the winter months, too.

Southern California is a great place for those who don’t want to leave the country, or travel very far. Los Angeles/Anaheim/Disneyland area is always a good choice for families. While it’s not going to be as warm as the Caribbean, you can usually be on at least mild weather. Also, January-February is usually the slowest time of year for Disneyland, meaning little to no lines.

Contact a Professional Travel Agent to get started booking your winter vacation today!

Friday, November 07, 2008

New Travel Rules and Regulations You Should Know About

There will be some changes in 2009 that travelers should know about, including some new rules and regulations.

The biggest change for U.S. citizens will become effective on June 1, 2009, passports will be required for all U.S. citizens re-entering the United States. This includes entry from Mexico, Canada and all sea ports (such as cruises). From what I understand, the US Passport Agencies are pretty backed up right now. If you are planning a trip outside of the US over the next year and do not currently have a passport, or need to renew yours, make sure to allow ample time, like 2-3 months.

As of January 12, 2009 the Department of Homeland Security will begin the Pre-Travel Authorization Program for U.S.-Bound Travelers from Visa Waiver Countries, as part of the 9/11 Commission Act. It will be mandatory for anyone planning to visit the U.S. to have an electronic visa before boarding the plane. This will allow screening of passengers before they travel to the U.S.

Another change coming in early 2009 is that all airlines will be required to quote the TOTAL price for all tickets to or from Europe. They will no longer be able to quote the airfare and the taxes separately. This includes all airline taxes, airport fees and fuel surcharges.

This year the State of New York enacted the New York State Passenger Bill of Rights. This means that airline passengers in New York who are delayed on planes for more than three hours will not be without basic amenities including: water, snacks, fresh air and working restrooms. And if they feel their rights are violated, they can report it and the airline could face penalties of up to $100,000 per passenger per violation. It’s possible that those same standards could eventually go into effect nationwide.

Contact a Professional Travel Agent for more information regarding current travel rules and regulations, or to start planning your next trip!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Considering a Trip to South America?

A client of ours just returned from a trip to Argentina. This is his review of the country.

The Argentina trip was fantastic. It was way beyond my expectations. My itinerary was just about perfect for my interest level.

Buenos Aires is a great city. Mendoza wine, food, and scenery are spectacular. Iguazú Falls is one of the natural wonders of the world.

The Hotel Bel Air in Buenos Aires was very nice. It was clean and the staff members were attentive and helpful. English was spoken by all front desk staff, although some staff members were more helpful than others. The hotel probably would be 4 star ranking. The location in Recoleta is good but not close to the subway system.

Buenos Aires tours were good. The ½ day city tour is a good idea for a first time visitor. Buenos Aires can be a little overwhelming and it is good to have an orientation to various areas of the city. Tourists only visit a small portion of the city anyway.
One final thing I did in Buenos Aires was taking the boat to Uruguay (Colonia del Sacramento). This is worth a day trip to experience another country. I would not do this if you have only a few days in Buenos Aires, but with the enough time, it was worth a visit.

The trip to Iguazú Falls was well worth the time. This is a sight than cannot be appreciated just by the photos. It is like the Grand Canyon, spectacular in pictures but even more awesome in person. Puerto Iguazú is probably the best option to stay in.

The tours in Mendoza were spectacular. There are two English language tour companies, Ampora and Trout & Wine. Both are excellent small tour group companies. I took two wine tours and one Andes tour. The food, wine, and scenery are absolutely amazing. I would recommend either of these companies to your clients.

My overall impression of Argentina was extremely positive. I like the people, food, wine, and scenery. The cost was very inexpensive in US dollar terms. In other words, what a great place to visit! Safety and security were not significant issues (of course common sense is always necessary when traveling). I was comfortable walking the streets of Recoleta at night but I do not stay up late. The late time for dinner was a struggle for me to get used to. I may be back to visit the southern part of Argentina in the future.

I would recommend Argentina without reservations to your clients!

Call a Travel Agent today to get started planning your trip of a lifetime to South America, or anywhere else in The World!