Travel Expert and Radio Talk Show Host Stephanie Abrams - Travelers411 Travel Radio Shownotes - January 08, 2011
"Travelers411" Radio Show - January 08, 2011
Security line at Dublin Airport Airline Fee Disclosure, Using Travel Agents, and Comparison Shopping for Airfares with the Business Travel Coalition, Washington, D.C.; Fine French Dining in the Pacific Northwest at Relais & Chateaux Lumiere Restaurant, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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Hour 1

Topics Include:

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Kevin Mitchell, Chairman, Business Travel Coalition, Washington D.C., USA.
www.madashellabouthiddenfees.com

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams and the "Travelers411" Radio Show discuss changes in the airline industry with Kevin Mitchell, Chairman of the Business Travel Coalition in Washington, D.C. "We're hoping things will go more smoothly in 2011," Stephanie says. "So many people felt the pain of weather in 2010, from snowstorms to earthquakes and volcanoes. Business travelers take a hit more often than leisure travelers because they travel more frequently, too."

Masses of luggage piled at Newark airport.
Masses of luggage piled at Newark airport.

For Kevin, an important issue is the fees that many travelers only discovered at the airport. "So many consumers – business and leisure travelers alike – showed up at the airport and were surprised by hidden fees," he says. "They can add 20 to 40% to your ticket cost." The U.S. Department of Transportation is considering a ruling that will force airlines to disclose fee schedules to travelers, which Kevin hopes will pass.

Waiting for arriving travelers in Dublin, Ireland.
Waiting for arriving travelers in Dublin, Ireland.

Even experienced travelers like Stephanie are being hit with unexpected fees. "I ran into a situation where I put together a last-minute trip to Las Vegas," she recalls. "I tried to make the reservations online, but the site was so busy that it wouldn't work. I called and made the reservation with a real person, but I ended with an additional $100 in fees. There was a $75 fee for the close-in booking, because I had booked within 21 days of departure, and $25 for doing it over the phone because the website didn't work! When you add luggage fees, it's almost the cost of another ticket."

Waiting for arriving travelers in Dublin, Ireland.
Waiting for arriving travelers in Dublin, Ireland.

Between the rise in fees and fare increases, Kevin believes that airlines have shot themselves in the foot. "The recent snow debacle in New York City was the worst storm in 60 years," he says. "And in the middle of that, the airlines put in a fare increase. It's going to drive a lot of people to travel agents. Those stranded could not get through to customer service because the airlines have eliminated thousands of customer service employees. It was the same with the volcano: those who booked online were screwed, while those who booked with travel agents called them up and got on the next flight out."

Security lines at Dublin Airport in Ireland.
Security lines at Dublin Airport in Ireland.

Stephanie agrees, pointing out that it's much easier for travel agents to fight airlines than individual consumers. "It may sound archaic, but you can't fight an airline by yourself," she says. "You have no chance at all." She saw an interview with a supposed travel expert on CNN that advised passengers on delayed or canceled flights to get in the customer service line and call the airline. "What do you think the airline is going to do, provided you even get through?" Stephanie asks. The interview inspired her to blog about what travelers should actually do in case of unexpected flight delays.

Terminal 5 in Hethrow, London, England, UK.
Terminal 5 in Hethrow, London, England, UK.

Airlines are also trying to prevent consumers from comparison shopping. Travelers can currently browse sites like Orbitz to see several fares from different airlines at once. Orbitz was started by a conglomerate of airlines who pooled resources to develop the website and display their own fares. The site made a profit by charging a small extra amount, from $5 to $30 on each fare. Now, American Airlines is looking to pull out of travel website Orbitz.

Geroge Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas.
Geroge Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas.

"Travel agents get all their fare data from global distribution systems," Kevin explains. "The agents are then able to put together a comparative display. There's a move by American Airlines to change that. American is trying to force Orbitz to sign up for a direct connection service. Orbitz [and travel agents] would get data by connecting to a pipeline to the American Airlines reservation system. Each travel agency would have to have dozens of direct connect pipelines, which is highly inefficient."

American Airlines lounge in Geroge Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas.
American Airlines lounge in Geroge Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas.

"Worst of all," Kevin adds, "the move will eliminate comparison shopping. It's designed to drive customers to airline websites, where there are no comparisons." This is not a new trend. In 2002, according to Stephanie, airlines started to push travel agents to make bookings through airlines' websites. "It's a lot less expensive than having a global distribution system [GDS] in the office," she explains. Today, 79% of travelers start shopping on the Internet; 28% end up at suppliers' websites, according to Kevin.

Baggage claim at Chicago O'Hare airport.
Baggage claim at Chicago O'Hare airport.

What does it mean for travelers and travel agents if American Airlines leaves Orbitz? "American Airlines wants to change the model altogether," Kevin insists. "Orbitz is just the first step. American wants to force GDS out of business so that travelers have to go to all kinds of places to get content, airfares, and ancillary fees. They want to drive as much traffic to their site as possible. This is not to save costs – GDS is not that expensive. But if they can drive consumers into the walled garden of their website, they can get another 10-15% in fares because consumers don't have expert advice or comparison shopping.

Tarmac at George Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas.
Tarmac at George Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas.

"It goes back to spring 2009, when American Airlines' CEO said that he sees a day when agencies will pay American for access to fares and fees, or what the industry calls 'content'" Kevin continues. "Outside the industry, that's a joke. I can see paying for articles I want to read. But paying to have access to a product I want to buy? It's just ridiculous."

Arrivals and Departures monitors at George Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas.
Arrivals and Departures monitors at George Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas.

Stephanie agrees that the industry has changed. "Airlines used to pay travel agents a base of 10%," she says. "If you were a top-producing agent, you could earn more based on the volume you delivered. The public started balking when airlines stopped paying commissions and agencies started charging a service fee – they had to make money somewhere. People thought they would save that fee just by booking with the airline directly. And now there are fees at every turn."

American Airlines plane on runway at Miami International Airport in Miami, Florida, USA.
American Airlines plane on runway at Miami International Airport in Miami, Florida, USA.

Although airlines argue that 50% of all travelers book through airlines' website, Kevin does not believe this indicates the websites' quality. Rather, it reflects airlines' taking away agent commissions. "There's no more incentive for agents to sell particular airlines," he says. "This has resulted in low-yield traffic, because agents aren't out there promoting the industry and the value of travel."

Hethrow welcome sign at Terminal 5 in Hethrow Airport, London, England, UK.
Hethrow welcome sign at Terminal 5 in Hethrow Airport, London, England, UK.

Southwest is one carrier that does not post its fares on websites other than its own. "For a long time, Southwest had a culture of independence," Stephanie says. "When online reservation systems were charging for placement on their systems, Southwest refused to pay. And they were very successful at playing on the fringes. But at the time – and to some extent, now – they are a regional carrier." Kevin points out that Southwest has a very simple operating model, which allows the airline to pursue a virtually web-only strategy. Other carriers are more complex, so their distribution costs are much higher.

British Airways plane at gate at Hetrhow's Terminal 5.
British Airways plane at gate at Hetrhow's Terminal 5.

Kevin agrees, however, that Southwest has done a good job of promoting itself as a low-cost carrier. "They've been great at putting their brand into the marketplace," he explains. "Customers have the impression that it's the cheapest in every market. If you have that perception, you're going to shop there. But a lot of the time, they're not actually the lowest cost provider."

Airport checkin stations at Chicago's O'Hare airport.
Airport checkin stations at Chicago's O'Hare airport.

Another problem that Stephanie and Kevin have with airlines is that as public companies, they often do what is best for the stock, not for the average traveler. "It's been fashionable for hotel, cruise, and other travel companies to go public," Stephanie says. "I've watched them shift from what's good for the customer to a focus on what's good for the stock. And the traveler gets lost in the shuffle. That's why the best advocate for the traveler is not the traveler, but his or her travel agent. Agents are part of professional groups that go out and fight on behalf of clients as a whole."

Related Photo Galleries:
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Travelers411 Community Forums - This interview's thread:
http://www.travelers411.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2743

For more information visit www.madashellabouthiddenfees.com


Guests Include:

Kevin Mitchell, Chairman, Business Travel Coalition, Washington D.C., USA.
www.madashellabouthiddenfees.com

Hour 2

Topics Include:

Link to this segment

Chris Gonzalez, General Manager, Relais & Chateaux Lumiere Restaurant, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
www.lumiere.ca
www.relaischateaux.com

Travel Expert Stephanie Abrams and the "Travelers411" Radio Show discover French cuisine in the Pacific Northwest with Chris Gonzalez, General Manager of Relais & Chateaux Lumiere Restaurant in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Though Vancouver has a reputation as a rainy, dreary city, Chris is reporting on a sunny, mild winter day, with temperatures near 60 degrees Fahrenheit. "We get our fair share of rain, but it keeps things green around us, so we don't mind a bit," Chris says, adding that the rainforest-like landscape produces great mushrooms, seafood, and more.

Relais & Chateaux Lumiere Restaurant, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Relais & Chateaux Lumiere Restaurant, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Visitors to Vancouver generally fly into Vancouver International Airport, but can also take the ferry or drive from Seattle. Lumiere is worth the trip; Chris describes it as one of the finest dining destinations in Vancouver. The restaurant just received a 5-diamond designation. "It's the only restaurant in Vancouver and all of British Columbia to get that title, and one of only six restaurants in Canada," he says. "So it's a destination for people from Vancouver and all over the world."

Relais & Chateaux Lumiere Restaurant, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Relais & Chateaux Lumiere Restaurant, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Lumiere Restaurant is one of two establishments in Vancouver to be associated with Daniel Boulud; the other is DB Bistro Moderne. "Lumiere is not a bistro at all, though, but a fine dining experience," Chris clarifies. "DB Bistro is immediately adjacent, but offers a much more casual interpretation of French cuisine. So we straddle that line between the two restaurants. One has a convivial bistro atmosphere, while the other has linens, hand-blown stemware, and a certain manner in offering the tasting menu."

Relais & Chateaux Lumiere Restaurant, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Relais & Chateaux Lumiere Restaurant, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Lumiere has been open for 12 years and began its partnership with Chef Boulud two years ago. DB Bistro, however, opened in 2008. Boulud has just 13 restaurants around the world, including 6 in Manhattan, two in Florida, two in Vancouver, and one in London, Singapore, and Beijing. "Just imagine – Daniel Boulud, wines from British Columbia, and the bounty of great ingredients from the Pacific Northwest," says Chris. "I can't imagine a better conflation than that."

Relais & Chateaux Lumiere Restaurant, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Relais & Chateaux Lumiere Restaurant, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

When Lumiere's owner first approached Boulud, there were no celebrity chefs in Vancouver. "It's a restaurant-savvy city and a great place to dine, but there was certainly no one of Daniel Boulud's caliber," Chris adds. "He was named the James Beard House Chef of the Year, and his Restaurant Daniel was ranked eighth in the world by San Pellegrino's Greatest in the World list." Along with Restaurant Daniel, Lumiere is one of only two fine dining establishments helmed by Boulud.

Relais & Chateaux Lumiere Restaurant, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Relais & Chateaux Lumiere Restaurant, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Lumiere is in the Kitsilano neighborhood of Vancouver, just outside of the city's downtown core. "It's right near Kits Beach, which is a beautiful area for sailing and has several yacht clubs, Stanley Park, and UBC, the beautiful university here," Chris explains. "So it's very close to downtown, but far enough away from the hoi polloi that it feels a little neighborhood-y." Lumiere's Vancouver location is also ideal for passengers on Alaska cruises, whom the restaurant frequently hosts.

Travelers411 Community Forums - This interview's thread:
http://www.travelers411.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2744

For more information visit www.lumiere.ca and www.relaischateaux.com


Travel Tips:

Visitors heading to Lumiere or Vancouver may want to stop in Seattle, Washington. Stephanie highly recommends a visit to Seattle's Museum of Flight and a stay at an MTM Luxury Lodging Property. "The building at the museum makes you feel like you're in the open air – it looks like a glass-enclosed football field," she says. "Plus you're looking out at the runway, so you see planes taking off and landing. The big exhibit areas look like the World's Fair. They're just huge rooms filled with full-sized aircraft."

Seattle Washington's Museum of Flight.
Seattle Washington's Museum of Flight.

Stephanie saw the film "The King's Speech" over Christmas and encourages listeners to check it out. "It's amazingly well-acted, a fantastic film," she says. "It was filmed in England, too, so there's wonderful scenery of London and its environs." The film follows Albert, father of the current queen Elizabeth II, as he overcomes speech difficulties to lead the British people through World War II. Because Albert was a German name, the prince took the name George VI when he became king.

Cliveden House in Taplow, Berkshire, England, part of the National Trust.
Cliveden House in Taplow, Berkshire, England, part of the National Trust.

In the November 2010 issue of "O: The Oprah Magazine," Stephanie read a survey called "What Would You Do?". (It's on page 176 of that issue.) "Question five was, 'Your doctor suggests your recent health issues are stress-related. She tells you to cut your hours and take regular vacations,'" Stephanie recalls. "I didn't have to read any of the options. Get up and go and say it's doctor's orders. Take two trips and call me in the morning!"

The Mirage Casino and Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.
The Mirage Casino and Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.

On a trip to Las Vegas over Christmas 2010, Stephanie found herself in the middle of a snowstorm. Though her arrangements worked out, other passengers found themselves stranded. She offers tips on her blog to passengers who run into flight delays, including getting a day pass to airline lounges. "Don't sit out there with the masses and make yourself miserable," she advises.


Guests Include:

Chris Gonzalez, General Manager, Relais & Chateaux Lumiere Restaurant, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
www.lumiere.ca
www.relaischateaux.com

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