Deja Vu? All eyes on the skies as busy holiday travel season opens
Plus: Travel tech startup Sherpa solves visa pain points | Fees, fees and more fees | Silver lining in Amazon layoffs?
Los Angeles International Airport -- Barbara DeLollis
Happy almost Turkey day,
And we all know what that means: We're about to see some of the busiest travel days of the year and the launch of a holiday season that many fear will be a repeat of the summer that we’d all just as soon forget. The Transportation Security Administration expects some 20 million people will be screened between Friday, Nov. 18, and Sunday, Nov. 28, nearly back to 2019 Thanksgiving holiday levels.
Yes, airlines have been working hard to remedy the staffing and operational issues that came to define travel hell this year. And Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is flexing his regulatory muscles by levying record fines on airlines for bad behavior (more on that below). But, honestly, only time will fix the true root cause of delays and cancellations — pilot and other airport and airline shortages.
Needless to say, we’re happy to be staying home (and taking the week off) for Thanksgiving. But if you’re traveling, we recommend you check the Department of Transportation’s helpful dashboard before you go so that you know your rights. It shows you the varying refund and expense reimbursement policies of the 10 U.S.-based airlines, should your flights be delayed or canceled.
Of course, getting a speedy refund or voucher might not help get you to grandma’s in time for turkey. But it might help ease the pain.
Also this week, we talked to the founders of a new company working to ease the stress – and cost – of securing visas for your next big, global adventure.
And while we have your attention, here's the link for your friends to use to subscribe to Travel Essential!
First, here’s the new we’ve been watching:
Courtesy Frontier Airlines
Buttigieg fines airlines over slow rolling refunds — In yet another message to airlines to get their act together, the U.S. Department of Transportation this week fined six airlines $7.5 million for delaying refunds owed passengers for canceled flights. Frontier Airlines was the only U.S. carrier hit, for a whopping $2.2 million, writes Leslie Josephs on CNBC.com. Other carriers fined were Air India, TAP Portugal, Aeromexico, Colombia’s Avianca and Israel’s El Al. As we noted last year, the DOT penalized Air Canada for the same issue.
Airbnb fans revolt – For at least 15 years, hotels and resorts have been inventing new fees to help property owners boost revenue. Turns out Airbnb’s no different, with backlash growing on social media over a lack of up-front transparency of the extras that can blunt otherwise seemingly cheap nightly rates. Our own recent example: We just booked an apartment in Nice, France, that charged $110 for cleaning (more than the $95 nightly rate) and a $55 service fee. Still, the final $460 tab for a three-night stay in a one-bedroom apartment in Old Town was about a third cheaper than nearby four- or five-star hotels (which have their own fees and taxes.) And hey, there’s a kitchen, fancy espresso machine, washer and dryer and a fireplace!
Speaking of fees, Ugh! airline extras soaring — The top authority on airline fees and ancillary revenue, IdeaWorksCompany, just announced its annual forecast for how much airlines are expected to rake in this year, and it’s not good news for consumers. Airlines are expected to take in nearly $102.8 billion in fees, compared to last year’s $65.8 billion. It’s still behind the record $109.5 billion from 2019. But it’s a significant gain that IdeaWorks founder Jay Sorensen attributes to a mix of higher passenger volumes, greater use of airline-co-branded credit cards and the fact that the public’s simply getting used to paying extra charges for everything from checking bags to upgrades or simply securing a seat assignment in advance.
Uber wants to move our love (and money) beyond the back seat – Over the last week, Uber’s been hyping its expanded partnership with Viator, a tour and activities booking platform that sells some 300,000 tours and activities around the world. Uber now offers activities ranging from Rome street food tours to monument-by-night tours of Washington D.C. in 10,000 cities, according to PhocusWire. Just go to the app to find offerings near you.
Amazon layoffs: A silver lining for hotels? — Amazon this week joined Meta and Twitter in laying off thousands of people. And that could spell good news for labor-strapped hotels, according to Patrick Scholes, the veteran hospitality analyst at Truist Financial. “With layoffs/slower hiring at Amazon warehouses and the like and in the technology sector, these being businesses that likely drew employees away from the hotel sector in 2020-2021, employee availability is shifting back to the hospitality industry,” Scholes wrote in a recent report.
A page from Jeri's visa-packed passport
Travel-tech startup Sherpa takes off with digital cure for the visa blues
By Barbara DeLollis
Ever have to shell out hundreds of dollars for a last-minute visa? Spent hours on hold trying to reach an embassy about the status of your document? Or had to cancel a trip because the photo required with your visa application was rejected? (Yes, that happened to one us, um Jeri.)
A new travel startup called Sherpa promises to ease the often painful, complicated and expensive world of travel documentation with a new automated system that helps you start the eVisa application process when you book your travel -- and at fees much lower than traditional visa providers. By using technology to automate the application process, they charge convenience fees starting at just $10 (depending on the visa) on top of the foreign government’s visa fee. For U.S. citizens, those government visa fees can range from about $30 for the Kenyan eVisa to $177 for the Saudi Arabian eVisa.
“During the 1990s, there was a trend towards more travel openness with visa-free travel,” Sherpa CEO Max Tremaine told Travel Essential in a recent Zoom interview. “That trend has reversed. More and more travelers are needing these documents, all the time.”
Sherpa went live with two airlines in 2019, and grew quickly once Covid hit, making the ability to cross borders quickly and easily top of mind.
Rather than relying on a stand-alone website for consumers, Sherpa offers its service through partners – now at 200 and counting. You may have used Sherpa's data or visa services if you’ve recently traveled with airlines such as American Airlines, Air Canada, British Airways, Korean Air, KLM, Air France, Icelandair, Flynas and Cathay Pacific. Others using Sherpa include travel management companies CWT, TripActions and Reed & Mackay and online travel agencies such as Booking.com, Expedia, Flight Center, Fareportal, TUI and KIWI.com.
Example of visa assistance from Sherpa -- Courtesy Sherpa
At the heart of Sherpa is an extensive database of global passport and visa requirements, border procedures, health declarations, passenger locator forms, quarantine rules and other border protocols. The data helps travelers access the forms they need. In addition to visa rules and fees, U.S. citizens, for instance, can find information on passport validity and and vaccination requirements for more than 200 countries and region.
Figuring out how, when and where to get visas can be difficult on a good day, let alone when we’re racing against a deadline for a business trip. Many of us have nightmare stories of paying $500 to a visa expediting service or scrambling to reach an embassy before an important trip because we either didn’t understand we needed a visa or our application was rejected.
By using Sherpa's technology, travelers can find the visa needed for their specific destination and passport then submit their application with easy-to-use forms.
Example of visa assistance from Sherpa -- Courtesy Sherpa
Need for visas expected to grow
And Sherpa expects travelers’ need for digital visa assistance will only grow. Today, for example, U.S. citizens visiting any of the 26 countries in Europe known as the Schengen Zone do not currently need a visa. But starting in November 2023, they will need to register with the all-electronic visitor tracking system called the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) to board a plane that’s going to Europe. Sherpa plans to include the ETIAS as part of their visa offerings, so their airline partners can ensure that passengers obtain the documentation needed to board their flight.
“The landscape has changed over the last two years,” Tremaine said, “and even veteran global travelers can be caught by surprise." For example, he mentioned South Korea's launch of the Korea Electronic Travel Authorization in September 2021. "When travel to South Korea started again, that new requirement left some travelers scrambling at the airport," he said.
The company also expects to add more airline partners, Valerie Bertouche, Sherpa vice president of marketing, told Travel Essential.
“The pandemic complicated travel requirements for travelers so they turned to their travel providers for guidance," she said. "Continuing to guide customers is not only a necessity, but it’s also a differentiator for our airline partners."
In 2021, Sherpa announced that it had closed $8.5 million in financing led by Silicon Valley based venture capital firms.
Missed past editions? A few of our favorites!
CANADA -- Service stole the show on this French Canadian sailing
LAS VEGAS -- Sin City's Covid-era makeover
ALASKA -- Can you touch an iceberg?
CARIBBEAN -- Our new favorite (lesser-known) island
WINDY CITY -- Chicago, Chicago, That toddlin town
EUROPE -- Sailing the Rhine River
GREENSBORO -- An unexpected delight in North Carolina
BIKER CHIC -- Riding -- and dining -- with Harley-Davidson!