I spoke today about how to avoid travel scams at the New York Travel Festival. If you missed my talk, Spike the Baby (And Other Rules for Dodging Travel Scams), you missed a lot of detail about various scams both tried-and-true and newfangled.
One element of my talk was a brief list of resources for finding out the latest scams and knowing how to ward them off. Here are some key links for doing your own country-by-country research before you set off on your own.
Recent travelers keep warnings current on the many excellent travel sharing boards such as Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree and BootsnAll (although beware that some people think that voluntarily overpaying for an inferior product qualifies as a “scam” — it doesn’t), here are a few additional links that you should keep in your bookmarks. Be warned that the State Department’s Travel Safe mobile phone app is not updated with the speed of international events, so it’s best if you avoid using that and stick to the Web-based warnings pages, which are updated more attentively.
Because the U.S. State Department doesn’t have the good sense to create easy-to-use URLs for its most important travel update pages, I have taken the liberty of creating shortlinks that you actually stand a chance of remembering at the moment you need them most.
My NY Travel Fest talk was about avoiding scams while you’re on the road. I gave a separate talk, with its own list of prescriptions (click here for that), at the recent New York Times Travel Show, and it covered ways to protect yourself when you’re still at home, booking travel.
As I said during my talk today, if you should fall prey to a scam, don’t beat yourself up. Stuff happens, and there are professionals who devote every one of their dastardly brain cells to devising new methods of outwitting you. The happy fact is that major scams are fairly rare. Don’t be afraid.
I come right after Matthew Keys, the Reuters social media editor who was subsequently indicted with aiding hackers. (Can’t say Dan isn’t still ahead of the big stories!)
But it’s what Dan Rather said about me that had me sideshifting from amused to bewildered. I think I confused the fella.
He seems really bewildered by my twitter bio. I mean, it’s an honor just to be noticed, but anytime someone feels obligated to say the phrase “all due respect,” you know they probably don’t have much.
For the record, pop historian is an established term these days. Both the esteemed Simon Schama and Stephen Ambrose have worn the mantle. And I proudly do, too. It allows me to keep talking about the past without having to publish research papers that put people to sleep.
On April 20, a new breed of travel show will make its inaugural appearance. It’s called the New York Travel Festival, and as my friend Valarie D’Elia describes it, the TravFest “promises to reinvent the consumer travel show.”
Travel shows, if you have never been to one, are often big meeting halls full of lots of kiosks where semi-informed representatives jockey to hand out brochures about whatever they’re selling. In a separate area, you’ll usually find conference rooms, and at the head of those rooms, long tables where travel experts sit dutifully behind their name tags, pouring Dixie cups of water from a sweating pitcher and trying not to say anything too earth-shaking. Traditional travel shows are, ironically, a somewhat passive experience for audiences who presumably go because they’d rather be in motion somewhere.
Not this one. The New York Travel Festival is about vigor and action. Walking tours of New York City are built into the schedule. There will be food tastings. Experts will tell you how to explore corners of New York that most guidebooks and magazines shrug off. Even the panelists have been tasked to challenge each other — intellectually, not like the WWE — by taking opposing views of the same topic.
Today I promised the standing-room-only crowd at my New York Times Travel Show seminar that I would post links on my website. They’re out of context, but they’re here, plus a few major points from my talk this afternoon. The booking engine resources can be found at my colleague Reid Bramblett’s site, ReidsGuides.com.
Cleaning up business access to your Facebook page:
Main page, left column, low down > App Center. On the next page, low left column > Your Apps. There, you can click “Settings” of each one to see what each one can harvest. Click little grey Xs for anything you don’t want to allow.
You probably don’t need to buy rental car insurance. Many credit cards offer CDW insurance as part of standard benefits, and if you have car insurance at home, you probably have personal liability, too.
Your rental car company may try loading on fees for returning a car full, early, or driving it too little. These will only show up on the final receipt. Inspect it clearly.
Use several browsers and use a new one with each search
Clear cookies and cache between searches (use Options or Preferences to find the place to do that)
Try without signing in at all
Is that insurance company valid?
US Travel Insurance Association: www.ustia.org > Find a Member
– Always do “the check-around”, meaning never use the links you’re given. Verify on your own.
– DON’T USE THEIR LINKS. Find your own way to verify. Social media is far quicker than standard customer service.
– Check BBB.org
– Put as many hoops between you and the vendor as you can
– Use credit cards. Federal law requires refunds for services not delivered. No credit card? Visa TravelMoney has many of same protections
– Go through a known vendor or a site that accredits
– Hover over links to check where they go
– Block attachments for people not in your contact list
– Read the fine print
– Print everything
– Photograph plenty (including rental car when you pick it up)
– Keep a regular online backup. If you got malware, you may need it for a full software restore.
– NO MORE WIRE TRANSFERS, or PayPal, or debit unless the company is 100% reputable
If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out!
Hey! Guess what? I’m speaking this Saturday, January 19, at 2 p.m. at the 10th anniversary New York Times Travel Show at the Javits Center in New York City. The topic will be online booking scams. I’ve got a dozen to warn you about, and alongside me will be my brilliant colleague and longtime friend Reid Bramblett, who’ll be supplying his own golden nuggets about how to save money while booking online.
Come to the show, browse the weird and inspiring fare at hundreds of booths from destinations and vendors from around the world. Here’s a link for $6 (half-price) tickets to get you moving.
As you know, I’ve done a ton of consumer reporting (many of the clips are linked on this site), so it’ll feel pretty satisfying to take down some of the nastier predators at such a well-attended forum.
This clip isn’t in the reel. Man, are you missing something.
Well, it’s an old but decent reel that’s been re-stuffed with my CBS stuff and some Shark Tank tidbits. Solid upholstery given a new fabric.
Video editing is not my forte but apparently being a camera hog is, because I had hours of stuff I rejected to boil my media appearances into this fast-paced somethin’ that covers live network stuff, live IFB hits, location shoots, and hosting.
I am sort of stunned by the amount of stuff I have done, actually. And I thought this kind of thing made me nervous. Guess not.
I have permanently embedded this sucker in the sidebar to the right, so if you don’t watch it now just feel free to ignore it there.
You already read my blog, and thank you for that. I put a lot of thought and effort into my topics and writing here.
I always post some of my other goings-on through my Twitter feed. Not everyone follows my tweets (and even those I do can’t keep an eye on my feed 24/7), so I’ll round up a few links to a selection of the coolest things I’ve been up to in the past few months.
BBC World: Expert appearance on Fast Track, discussing the South Korean theme park boom. I’m at 4:04 and 9:33. And they spelled my name wrong. I’ll know I’ve made it when they don’t spell my name wrong. Then again, that’s what Condoleezza Rice has been saying for years.
I have also hosted four “The Savings Experiment” segments for Bank of America: on filing your taxes, buying drugstore items, and cable TV service (which is in post-production). I’ll embed those in a future post.
Since mid-December, I’ve been appearing on CBS’s The Early Show more or less weekly. Strangely, I find it easier than my weekly segment on Fox Philly partly because at CBS, I can actually have a conversation with the person sitting across from me. Part of the reason is because the staff is truly nice, and I’m always at ease there. But it’s also because for the other kinds of interviews I do, which are satellite interviews, I stare into a camera and listen intently to the voice in my ear, so all the action is in my brain. For these live on-set interviews, I can read the face of the person talking to me — even if they’re lucky enough to have a script, IFB, and TelePrompTer. It’s more of an interaction, which brings out the best in me.
Here’s a weird thing that’s come out of my appearances: Two weeks ago, my brother, who lives in Florida, called me early in the morning. He was totally wigged out. He’d been filling up his car at a Shell station after dawn that morning, when, unexpectedly he heard his brother’s voice coming from the gas pump. “All of a sudden, I heard my brother’s voice talking to me!” he told me. It was like I was a ghost or something. Well, that’ll wake you up in a hurry!
He looked up, and there I was, on a little TV screen, giving him a few minutes of consumer advice while he filled his tank. Since then, reports have been filing in. I was last seen by a colleague dispensing consumer advice at Mobil station in Virginia, too.
Vaudeville may be dead, but I found an unexpected new venue: I’m a big star at gas stations nationwide.
Anyway, here are a few of my recent segments.
If you sit through this next one (you can do it– I had to walk through it and navigate a lawn mower while I was at it), you’ll hear the host call me “John” at the very end. She must have been thinking of the esteemed former NBC reporter, John Cochran. I’ll take it.
New light bulbs are coming! But not even the fanciest new TV could have picked up the fact that for this one, I was wearing cuff links shaped like little light bulbs. A web site that purports to be dedicated to combating media bias took me to task for, um, not complaining that the government was forcing people to adopt new bulb technology. Yes, criticized by an anti-bias site for not showing a bias. America!:
I was kinda proud of this next one, as silly as the topic is (“tree-mendous deals”??). That’s not only because it was the first time I appeared on The Early Show, but also because I was lucky enough to be one of the last people that Harry Smith interviewed in his final weeks on the show.
I’ll get some more up later. I don’t like doing it because it means I have to watch myself here and there.
No one likes listening to the answering machine and realizing what they sound like. So can you imagine facing yourself on national TV?
I didn’t take many videos of my little sojourn in JFK during the blizzard, partly because I was busy strategizing a way out of there, and mostly because AT&T made uploading anything except the simplest tweet or photo such an impossibility. I got one video, the McDonald’s one, out (which was good for Fox News, which played it ad nauseam as I spoke on Neil Cavuto’s show, while I tried to explain it was a flare-up and not the norm).
What I didn’t get to tell Fox News was that the McDonald’s fracas happened in part because just before I started shooting, a posse of JFK ground crew had cut the line and bought up lots of food. Mind you, JFK was closed at the time, and would be for another 8 hours or so. But passengers who had been waiting for two hours on line were summarily told to go away, and they didn’t like it.
JFK employees were part of the disaster during the snow-in. They commandeered buses — one American Airlines pilot, trying to get to his base at Terminal 8, never got there because they forced the driver to go somewhere else. They also didn’t clean anything — hours-old puddles of vomit, all paper out in the bathrooms. But they did get my plane out, although I’m not convinced that wasn’t partly because the news channels had selected me as the spokesman for all of us, and I was aboard it. This next video happened 13 hours later when the surly and uncommunicative Virgin Atlantic crew, who had never delivered on a single promise nor been plain about what the real situation was (and in fact kept hiding in closets and behind doors to talk to each other), got on the P.A. system at gate 28B and told us there would be another two-hour delay. Rather than commiserate with us, they treated What should have been simple, and perhaps even welcome news (after all, we weren’t cancelled) turned into an explosive situation. Passengers, who had felt lied to and strung along for 32 hours and who resented being dragged to the airport at all, combusted in fury. Port Authority police officers were on hand to make sure they didn’t rush the desk and hurt these stone-faced, incompetent Redcoats.
The discord went on for ten minutes. I didn’t catch it all because CBS Radio called me and wanted a live update on the air, and besides, I couldn’t upload what I already had. (And for the record, I didn’t make first contact with a single news organization; every one of them found me once I started tweeting about what was going on.) Josie, the head gate crew woman, did manage to talk in depth to one passenger, who seemed calmed, but she seemed to avoid addressing everyone with the same extensive frankness. The head of the ground crew came inside and tried his ham hand at calming us down: Obviously, after 30 hours of feeling diddled and lied to, the passengers weren’t having it anymore, and some British passengers even offered to come out and help shovel. When this grounds crewman said something I didn’t hear and fled out the door, one of the Brits threatened to burst through the door after him.
Finally, a flight attendant emerged. It was Vincent, who was in charge of first class. Vincent, as someone who lives on the front lines of customer service and crowd control, was the first airline or airport employee who knew how to talk to us. As someone who derived his interaction skills somewhere other than a training manual, he knew that what we needed was to be spoken to like equals, off the prescribed script. He put himself on our level, saying frankly that even the crew was so weary of this situation that they had volunteered to go on “minimum hours” so we could get out of there faster. He said he saw a light at the end of the tunnel and that although it was hard, we all had to be patient if we were going to reach it.
Most crucially, he told us to stop talking to Josie and her stone-faced gate crew, whom the passengers had by then nicknamed “The Rottweilers.” If we had questions, he said, we should ask him directly, and he’d be honest. I’m convinced that by not trying to pawn us off the way the robotic and mistrustful gate crew had done, Vincent defused, or at least lengthened the fuse on, this powder keg.
We did indeed leave two hours later, Vincent aboard with us. Here he is, with fellow flight attendant Tina, as we got on. He’s holding her gingerly because he’d just been coughing into his hand.
Vincent doesn't seem to want to take solo credit for saving the lives of the Rottweilers
Vincent, posing with colleague Tina, tamed the frothing mob
I recognize that 32 hours in an airport is not, in the scheme of things, a serious problem. It was reversible and ultimately, perfectly safe. I’ve been through worse in my life, and there’s worse to come. But I am a consumer reporter, and finding myself in the middle of a big unfolding story about unwise corporate decisions, I covered the story, and because of my reach as a reporter, the new channels picked up on it. Across the same airport, there were hundreds of stories that were just as messed up, but they went untold. And ultimately, very few of our stories were much more than intense annoyances. The battle to get what we paid for may be an unwinnable one, but at least it’s not grave.
This is a new one. I’m blogging from the floor of Terminal 4 at JFK. The short version: Despite the fact that a ferocious snowstorm was approaching full gale, Virgin Atlantic refused to cancel my flight to London. Unable to change my travel without incurring a $250-plus fee, I was forced to go to the airport even as the snow poured down. You can predict what Virgin, unaccountable, could not: We ended up stranded on the tarmac — we were on the plane for 4 and a half hours. And by the time they got us back to the gate, every path out of JFK had shut down. No cars, no rail.
I’ve been here for 22 hours. So I did what any travel writer/consumer reporter would do. I started tweeting about it. Never nasty. Just how it was — which was nasty enough.
The flight that shouldn't have left, before it did
And the blizzard made that little snowball into an avalanche. Word spread. Virgin’s ineptitude and recklessness compounded with a larger story of thousands of people stranded here. And then then food started running out. By this morning, despite having had only an hour’s sleep (beside a pleasantly monotonously whirring baggage belt), I had talked to GMA, WNBC, CNN, CNN International, the Associated Press, and just now, CBS and the CBC. Each one called me just as soon as the one before had posted their coverage. Another snowball effect.
Only now am I seeing my first taxis outside the window, except I can’t take any of them now; we’re supposed to try again at 7:30pm, or about 28 hours since I got here.
I’m fine. Don’t worry ’bout me! Worry about Virgin Atlantic, which apparently failed to learn anything from the standstill at Heathrow last week. When I called it on Saturday begging to be allowed to rebook myself to get out of the way of the blizzard, it told me I’d have to pay up. Now I’m living in an airport, and I’ll never get the stench of KFC out of my clothes.
Last night, I asked Josie, a Virgin Atlantic worker, for a blanket from a bag her colleague was holding, and she refused to give me one. She said some passengers hadn’t gotten one. I said I was one of them. She still refused. I have a feeling they were going to “Upper Class” passengers. I rode out the subfreezing night, which kept racing through the terminal’s regularly opening doors, by layering. It was inexcusable.
For its greed before the storm, irresponsibility during it, and intractable silence afterward, 250 of us are paying the price. But this snowball of attention is making this transit Purgatory more tolerable. It’s a lot easier to get through an uncontrollable, ineptly managed situation if you feel you have a voice — whether that’s on GMA, CNN, or written as you sit on freezing cold butt cheeks on the stone floor of the Terminal 4 arrivals hall.
It’s not all right when you contract for a service and you’re treated with disrespect, and it’s not all right when companies fail to properly prepare for obvious obstacles and then demand that you shoulder the punishment.