7.2.06

work: How to save money - part 2

Sorry for being away for so long, we have just changed the accounting system nationwide and things have got a little out of hand, requiring us to work longer hours, thus draining all the necessary energy to logon when getting home from work.

I was writing on how to save money...

[... Business travel is what generates good cash for airlines, hotels, car rentals etc. They know that the key element to business travel is flexibility and that’s what you’re really paying for.

However there are ways to save on your travel expenses!]...

FLIGHTS:

- Book well in advance, the more availability on the flight the lower the fare
- Check with different airlines, their fares can differ widely. I know you like to earn points, thus always fly on the same airline, but airlines have the habit of changing their fare system form year to year now, according to changing markets and demands, so what can be a relatively cheap airline can get expensive and vice versa.
- Always check if there is a low-cost airline option (unless you're snobbish about them, which is understandable).
- If your travel dates don't allow for a low fare because of lack of minimum stay (what is better known as 'Sunday rule' requiring you to stay at least the Saturday night, or a minimum of days), then consider purchasing 'crossed tickest'.
Example: you need to travel from from MXP (Milan) to MAD (Madrid), or from MAN (Manchester) to FRA (Frankfurt). You need to leave in the morning, do business during the day, and return on the evening. A same day return ticket could cost you around Eur850. In this case you should purchase a return ticket from MXP to MAD (setting the return after the next Saturday) and a return ticket from MAD to MXP (again, setting the return after the next Saturday). Each ticket should cost you around Eur200 if booked reasonably in advace, and you only need to use the outbound portion of each ticket. At the end you should have saved more than 50%.
- If you are not absolutely certain about your travel dates, if plans could change, or if you're that kind of business traveller that often has to change travel plans, then pay a little more but do purchase a fare that allows for date changes with some sort of penalty (usually around $100/Eur50.
- Find youself a good travel agent and treat her/him well, be nice to them and don't get on their nevers... their help could prove priceless when having to assess your flight options.
- Don't purchase tickets on the internet unless it's a low-cost airline or you are absolutely sure that you are paying a reasonable fare. Reservation systems are not intelligent and us travel agents have a number of tricks to find availability on full flights, set up a waiting list to get it confirmed at the cheaper rate that would normally be available at the time, etc.

If you can't get what would sound to you as a decent fare, write me an email.


HOTELS:

- According to the area you live in (Europe, North America, Asia, South America etc.) find a good chain offering 3/4* hotels, and try to stick to that. Because:
a) you know what you get, and minimum necessary standards are always guaranteed
b) you can usually earns some form of loyalty points, sometimes even on your frequent flyer card
In Europe for instance you can use NH Hotels or AccorHotels (Mercure, Novotel, Sofitel). Worldwide you can try Best Western or Utell. See the links section for web addresses.
- If you are travelling to a city where all hotels are full because of a congress or fair, then you have 3 options.
a) Pay a disgustingly high rate to stay in that city.
b) Look for a bed & brekfast; yes things might get a little cosy and you might lack the comfort of anonimity, but then again, give it a try, you might find a little friendliness not to be that bad after all. Or look for guesthouses in the outskirts, there are quite a few especially in Europe and North America (I believe they are called Inn over there).
c) Book in the neighbouring city. Example, you need to do business in CGN (Cologne), in Germany. Book a room in DUS (Dusseldorf). Get a flight to DUS, rent a car, do your stuff in CGN and go back and forth in your rented car. On the day you leave, check-out, take your car, drive to CGN airport, leave your car there, and flight back out of CGN (saves you having to go back to DUS).
- Always ask the hotel for their best fare and keep in mind the cancellation policy. If it's a special non refundable rate, then ask them for their best refundable rate, and assess the risk according to your plans and the possibility that these might change.

CARS:

... next ...

26.1.06

personal: Great film at the cinema

I definitely want to go to the cinema this weekend to see Munich. I studied the story when I was preparing my university dissertation on 'The aviation terrorism of the Middle East'. It's breathtaking, sad, and extremely human.

There's a really fantastic book on the subject, it's not a mere manual, or history book, but rather the event told as a story by those who lived it. It's a really good read. "One Day in September" by Simon Reeve; you can find on amazon.com and even read a few pages of it. There's a documentary with the same name too.

work: How to save money

Among our clients there is a big chemical company. Their travel policy states that within Europe all travel has to be in economy. When they travel from Italy to Germany returning the same day, a ticket in economy class costs around €850, on LH (Lufthansa), and a ticket in business class costs €860 (depending on the route, but that’s a fair estimate). Yes, only €10 difference. Still, they travel in economy class. Isn’t that stupid?

If you work for a company who doesn’t care about travel expenditure, have fun and enjoy all your freedom. But if you have to be careful about your travel budget, then there are a few things that you should keep in mind.

The first and most important rule to follow is to keep in mind not to save every possible penny just for the sake of doing so. What might look to you as a saving in the first instance, could turn out to be an extra expenditure in the end.
For instance: air tickets including a saturday night stay are usually much cheaper. But the comparison between the two air fares is not a realistic saving; you have to take into account the extra night in a hotel, the extra dinner at the restaurant, the extra 24h at the airport parking, etc. How much are you really saving in the end?

Business travel is what generates good cash for airlines, hotels, car rentals etc. They know that the key element to business travel is flexibility and that’s what you’re really paying for.

However there are ways to save on your travel expenses!

… next installment tomorrow, I’m off to bed …

work: Travel Agents mistake too

I cost my company €124 today.

The problem of us travel agents is that if we get things wrong, it can be really difficult, or impossible, to get them right again.

A client called me today. He had a ticket from BLQ (Bologna) to PEK (Beijing) connecting in FCO (Rome) with AZ on the domestic rounte and CA (Air China) on the intercontinental sectors.

The problem was that I had spellet his first name wrongly. A C insted of a G. Usually as long as it’s not your surname it’s no problem, you just need to give indication on it in the reservation. But he wanted a new ticket.

It is not possible to change the name of a reservation, if you do so, the system cancels all reserved flight automatically. So I rebooked all segments, but made a mistake and booked the wrong segment from BLQ to FCO, the 06.55 instead of the 14.25. I only noticed after having cancelled his old reservation. Damn, the 14.25 was fully booked except for the full fare. The Air China fare of €980 allowed to add domestic routes with AZ only in a very low economy class, but with the class I had available the cost would rise to €3200.

So I had to issue a ticket going FCO–PEK–FCO–BLQ for €940 and a separate BLQ–FCO for €164.00.

I had sent the ticket to his secretary 6 days before, either she or him could have had a look at it before couldn’t they?
Damn, sometimes I really hate this job.

One piece of advice to all of you. Always check whatever your travel agent sends you. And check your travel tickets and documents. We are human and it’s always best to prevent mistakes like these.

24.1.06

work: Soon to be... a major motion picture

Just joking.

Next post will be on what to save money on, and what not to save money on... when travelling, that is.

I must get down to setting up my blog in Italian too.

Good night, and sleep tight.

21.1.06

personal: New Year's unexpected gifts

Having resolved not to make any resolutions for the coming year, a) because I'm too lazy, b) because I never meet the target, I have instead been surprised by a 'resolution' making its own way in. I was getting a bit fed up of the way in which I tried to fill the gap left by loneliness, getting to the point where I was overdoing things hoping to get so tired about it that I would eventually stop. But it didn't work. Then all of a sudden I stopped and thought about it, probably some little part of my mind grew up too, and here I am, stilly lonely, but definitely fresh, revived and full of my usual optimism.

18.1.06

work: Problems at the Airport?

I'm a traveller, I have worked in an airport (actually 2), and am now a travel agent; hopefully all of this has helped me to get a good enough picture on how things work. And hopefully I will be able to give you a few useful tips to use when you have problems at the airport.

First, always follow two basic rules (regardless of how politically incorrect the first might sound):
1. If you belong to the male kind of the human species, then always look for a counter the position of which is being attended by a lady; but if you belong to the female kind of us humans, then do everything you can to find a man to give you assistance at the airport. Sounds a bit dodgy put down in these terms, but jokes a part, trust me! Once, this and a smile got me from BLQ (Bologna) to LHR (London Heathrow) with 53kg of baggage when I was only allowed 20kg, and all for free.

2. Always be pleasant. No matter how mad or frustrated you might be, always count till 10 and put on a smile and a pleasant attitude. Airport staff always have the 'right end of the gun' – so to speak – no matter what the situation is. Remember, it all depends on who is assisting you. You might find the person who abides by and applies rules in the most 'anal' of manners, or that who will be prepared to go out of her/his way to help.

That said, there are other small tips that might induce an airport member of staff to give you better assitance:
1. Enrol in the frequent flyer programmes of the airlines you fly less too, and carry your card with you when you travel. Always make sure to show your card to the airport clerk, but without showing off. Even if you belong to the lowest tier of membership, a card can get you further. But don’t wave it in front of them in an arrogant way expecting special treatment; it is better if you let them know in a casual manner… for instance, when you approach them show your ticket, boarding pass (if you have already checked in), and frequent flyer card.

2. Create a situation where you get the airport clerk on your side. That could be by cracking a joke appropriate to the situation, making some irony on the situation, making the person feel as if you’re lost and clueless (not dumb, but fairly ‘blonde’) and cannot deal with the situation without their help. If you manage to do this, you’re already more than half the way toward the solution of your problem.

Trust me when I tell you that in an airport, everyone wants to get the plane off in time and as smoothly as possible. And believe me, it is not always the airlines fault, there can be a number of reasons causing problems to a flight:
- air traffic control restrictions, i.e. too many planes in the air, so yours might be grounded for a longer time and accumulate delay, or be delayed because the your flight will be carried out by a delayed incoming aircraft
- weather conditions like fog which restrict the number of aircrafts that can land and take-off, or ice and snow that can cause the airport to shut down
- delays that accumulate on several aircrafts at the same time causing delays to operations such as cleaning, catering, fuelling etc
- long queues at security check, resulting in delayed boarding
- technical problems, after all hasn’t your car ever broken down?
- strikes, luckily in most countries workers have a right to it

These are some of the problems you might face at the airport. Remember though a very important thing. If the problem is the fault of the airline or its handling agent’s operations, then you should expect a certain deal from them; however, if the problems are a cause of ‘force majeure’, like weather conditions, or a strike, then anything that the airline does to help you must be accepted gratefully. For example, if a foggy evening means you have to spend the night in Paris, be grateful if the airline manages to accommodate you on the first flight the next day, but don’t expect them to pay for your hotel stay, fog is something out of their control and they should not be expected to pay for it. Still, you can ask them to help you make a reservation in a hotel nearby.

OVERBOOKING
This is a malpractice done by most airlines. On most flights things go smooth, but sometimes passengers have to suffer the consequences from it. Once I was coordinating operations for a flight with 164 seats available and 190 passengers booked on it. The flight left with 150 passengers and 14 empty seats. This means 40 passengers didn’t show up at the airport.
However, when things go wrong it can be quite painful, and this is the scenario where you are entitled to expect the most from an airlines, in the reason of meals, hotel accommodation, next flight out even if it is another airline, etc.

TECHNICAL FAILURE
Happens. As I said before, I’m sure your car has broken down at one point in the past too. This is where you don’t want to rush an airline to get things right; rather, you want them to take their time to fix the aircraft in a safely manner to enable you to get back home in one piece. If the flight is considerably delayed, do ask the airline for a meal or refreshment. If the flight is cancelled, then you should be entitled to the same treatment as that for overbooking.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL RESTRICTIONS
Probably some of you have already herd the term ‘slot’. It’s a time frame set by the ‘radar guys’ which limits the time by which a flight has to depart. For instance, if your flight is at 07.30, there might be a slot at 07.40, this means that ATC (air traffic control) needs for the flight to leave on time, and if it doesn’t, then they will produce another slot that might restrict the flight from taking-off for another hour or even more. If everything goes smoothly, then an 'on time slot' is no problem; but then just take the enormous morning queues that form in airports at security checks, these might delay the passengers arriving on time at the boarding gate, thus delay boarding, sometimes causing it to miss its slot.

… got to go to bed, will list more tomorrow.

God there can be so many problems that they are all cramming up in my mind now.
Here is an interesting one.
A client calls on Monday morning, he's in AMS (Amsterdam) really angry because his flight from BLQ (Bologna) was late and he missed his connection to Helsinki. Flying KL (KLM). He asked me at what time there was another flight to HEL and told me that a) he rushed to the gate of his original flight to HEL, the aircraft was still there, but as boarding had closed, they wouldn't let him on; b) at the KL counter they told him that as he had an electronic ticket they could not fly him on the next available flight operated by AY (Finnair) but he would have to go on the later KL flight.
What really pissed him off was the fact that the aircraft was still there and he wasn't let onto it. He could not understand why they did this.
I myself instead was more annoyed by the fact that they didn't rebook him on the next AY flight.
A. Ok the aircraft is still there, but it's not a bus where the driver can just open the door again; people don't understand this, especially those who arrive at check-in 20 minutes before departure, they think it's just a matter of walking on. Probably the flight had a slot and was meant to depart shortly. When there is a slot and the aircraft is ready to take off, the pilot send a 'ready to go' message to the control tower, in order to improve the slot. At that point, if the door opens or other operations are carried out, the flight is no longer 'ready to go' and the control tower doesn't like that; if you miss a slot after having given a 'ready to go' warning, because you're actually not ready, rest assured you're slot will dramatically worsen, making life difficult for all the other passengers... and for those who have to take flight operated by that aircraft who will be running late all day. So it is perfectly understandable that he wasn't let on the flight.
B. The guy had paid around €850, it's a good deal of cash for a flight from Italy to Finland. Now, I understand that airlines don't like giving a client away and paying money to another airline with which they don't have a partnership (such as a fellow member of their alliance); however, the delay was caused by KL and according to EU law they should have rebooked him on the AY flight. But airlines play on the ignorance of passengers and whenever possible they try to do pretty much what they like. If someone is travelling on a very cheap ticket, and is obviously a toursit, then a few hours delay will probably not make a big difference; but for someone travelling on business, one or two hours delay can mean losing important appointments and clients.

16.1.06

work: Know Your Rights

Let's talk about Passenger Rights. Outside of the European Union territory they are valued individually by each airline. Airlines based in the EU and flights departing from the EU instead have to abide by specific EU laws and regulations called 'Passenger Rights'. They have to do so at all times and not only when flying from a EU country.

There's a tricky bit though. The EU has produced a 'Passenger Rights Poster' which you can find scattered around EU airports; however this poster leaves a lot to interpretation, and as things can get quite costly for airlines, these always do their best to interpret regulations in their favour, as much as possible.

Let's take for example, overbooking, something probably a lot of you have experienced.
The Air Passenger Rights poster states that: "... The airline must also give you:
• a choice of either a refund of your ticket (with a free flight back to your
initial point of departure, when relevant) or alternative transport to your
final destination, and
• meals and refreshments, hotel accommodation when necessary (including
transfers) and communication facilities.

Very well. Let's take a bet. You're stuck in Paris because AF (Air France) has overbooked you on a CDG (Paris Charles de Gaulle) to DTW (Detroit) flight. At this point there are no other direct flights and the only way to reach Detroit is by connecting somewhere in the United States. Fine, keep calm! The next connecting solution to Detroit is in 2hours with UA (United Airlines) via ORD (Chicago), however 6hours later there's an AF flight to Cincinnati with an onward connection to Detroit with DL (Delta). Trust me, AF will tell you that they cannot put you on the UA flight but that you can only go on the later AF flight. LIERS!
Try flashing the Air Passenger Rights poster to them, and they will quite rightly say that they are providing 'alternative transport to your final destination'. The text of the EU legislation properly states: "passengers shall be offered the choice between ... (b) re-routing, under comparable transport conditions, to their final destination at the earliest opportunity." Probably 'earliest opportunity' still leaves some room for interpretation, however this should give you more room for manouver when discussing alternative plans. In the case stated above, the UA flight was the earliest opportunity.

You can find the links to the poster and legislation in the list on the right. Print them out and carry them with you when you fly, they might come useful... though I wish you wont need them too often.

personal: Bad Luck

Nobody interesting at the party... a complete waste of time.
Doesn't mean I've learnt the lesson yet though.

Peace

15.1.06

personal: Fingers Crossed

Going to 'one of them' parties this afternoon.
Just hoping to meet again someone I met last time whose contact I hadn't managed to get hold of.
Hoping to be quick about it though, would like to see my friends this evening.