Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Introducing Planet Travel's Better Value Travel

It is been two months since we posted to our Planet Travel Insider Blog.

We have been busy traveling.

In May we spent ten days touring Ireland with fellow staff members in preparation of several group tours planned for later this year and next spring.

Another staffer just returned from spending three weeks in France and Germany.

And finally we are making plans for another inspection tour of Las Vegas later this summer.

In between trips we have been working to upgrade our Planet Travel website The Beta version of the site will be available later in June. You will find easier to navigate, chock full of travel content, and the latest travel specials will be just one click away.

Later this month we will be introducing two new concepts: Value travel pricing and the "no unhappy customers promise"

We believe traveling cheap is not necessary better. Over night air trips with thee stops to get to your destination to save $30.00 is not good value. Staying at a cheap hotel with questionable location is not good value. As your trusted advisor we can help you find the best values available during the planning and booking process of your next trip without compromising your ability to deal with real live friendly people at very competive prices. And remember we are your lifeline in case something goes wrong or in case you need to change things while you are traveling. We will be soon be upgrading our system with 24-hour-seven-days-a-week assistance to our clients anywhere in the world they may be traveling at no additional charge.

Because we value long term relationships we have introduced "no unhappy customers." If something goes wrong, we will do everything we can be make it right. You have our word on it.

More to share later.

Hold the presses Las Vegas room rates are heading downward

The Las Vegas Review Journal reports today that insiders are speculating an upcoming price war in room rates as the demand for strip rooms dropped sharply in the second quarter.

Good news for fellow travelers.

For more details click on this link:

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

An Unexpected Once In A Lifetime Encounter With Pope John Paul

We were actually headed toward checking out the McDonalds located just a few yards away from the Spanish Steps in Rome on a cold windy December 8th two years ago. We had read in none other than Rick Steve's guide that this McDonalds was worth a look. Earlier that day we inquired about the Feast of the Immaculate Conception at our hotel, also noted in our guide books as a major holiday in Italy. Our hotel desk clerk was no help. Neither were the Rome newspapers any help. No events were listed for December 8.

Imagine our surprise as we walked into the Piazza di Spagna to find workers erecting temporary fences around the column and statue of the Virgin Mary. The column itself was surrounded by scaffolding. It was being cleaned. People, mainly older Italian women, were standing patiently behind the fences, watching the growing number of uniformed police gather around the statue.

By chance we had happened upon the chance to see Pope John Paul in person lay a wreath by the statue of the Virgin Mary.

We waited more than three hours on that cold gray Monday afternoon pressed against the fence cameras poised for a chance to see the Pope. He arrived. Spent some time blessing the elderly and the handicapped brought to the celebration in wheel chairs. The crowd was yelling "vive El Papa." Police were everywhere. What was once a crowd of a few hundred when we arrived had grown to thousands. The Pope spoke to the crowd, kneeling at a podium, praying for the gift of peace. You could see him shaking as a spoke. Two aides had to help him get to the podium. One aide was always at his side, whispering in his ear.

We were just a few feet from the great man during the ceremony. Now we were even closer as he climbed into his Popemobile. It stopped right in front of us as he prepared to leave the piazza. He blessed the crowd as drove away, just inches from were we standing. The crowd was clapping, screaming, hollering for the Pope. Some women were crying. Genuine affection.

We never made it to the McDonalds that day. The crowd was too much to manuever. But it is the unexpected pleasures of travel, in this case, a chance sighting of the Pope is what matters.

News of John Pauls death brought back memories of that cold gray December afternoon. Travel memories that will last a lifetime. That's why we are in the business.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library And Museum Sneak Peek

We had a chance to visit the new Lincoln Museum located in downtown Springfield, Illinois this evening. Although some exhibits are not quite finished yet, the musuem staff felt confident enough to show it off to staff and family tonight. The Treasure Gallary featuring items owned by Lincoln and is family is still not finished. However, it will be up and running in plenty of time before the scheduled official opening on April 16, 2005.

Both the libary and the museum buildings are spectacular. They are well designed. The furnishings are beautiful. They are very well done. Kudos to everyone involved.

Their web site touts a combination of showmanship with scholarship. The museum certainly fits the showmanship side.

In fact showmanship gets a grade A. The two multi visual presentations we saw Ghosts of the Library and Lincoln's Eyes lean heavily toward special effects and less toward historical content. Ghosts features a process called Holavision. Holavision allows a live actor to interact with smoke and ghost Lincoln during the show. It is live special effects and done very convincingly. During the Lincoln's Eyes presentation the floor shakes, cannons fire, and your seat jumps. In the meantime the show tells the Lincoln story with an emphasis on the controversy surrounding the Emancipation Proclamation all in 20 minutes.

Content gets a D. Now the emphasis of showmanship and the inevitable comparison and criticism that the museum is too close to Disney World has some merit. But we don't think that this was the purpose of creating the museum. It is really a non-historical, dare we say dumbed down, popular approach to Lincoln and his time with Scholars have the library and its vast collection to use. Families and tourists have the museum to visit and enjoy. Each building serves its audience well.

We understand that the museum will have a $7.50 admission charge. Visiting every exhibit and viewing every show should take an average visitor less than two hours. Setting aside the appropriateness of charging and admission to a state owned facility, we believe that the museum will have tough time justifying the cost for such a short visit. However in their defense the Clinton Presidential Center charges $7.00 and we bet there isn't one cannon fired in the place.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Las Vegas' seven deadliest sins...don't include the Imperial Palace

The Chicago Tribune's March 13, 2005 Travel Section article "Vegas's Seven Deadly Sins" really hammers the venerable Imperial Palace.

Author Steve Friess writes "The Casino Gold deal at the Imperial Palace (3535 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702-731-3311). The IP thrives mainly because of its center-Strip location, but that's no excuse for blowing $85 a night for a weekend of tramping through an obnoxious casino with a section where cards are dealt by low-rent Elvis and Michael Jackson impersonators. The Casino Gold package—which wisely replaces their notoriously horrific room-of-mirrors-everywhere Luv Tub offerings of years past—includes a gym day pass that's invalid on Fridays and Saturdays, passes to a squalid buffet that's invalid for dinner and a why-bother $5 blackjack matchplay. Granted, the newly updated deluxe rooms are more palatable and the free passes to the auto collection are worth a half-hour of fun."

As an alternative Friess recommends the new off strip Westin Casuarina Hotel and Spa (160 E. Flamingo Rd.; 702-836-9775) . This property is newer and significanly more expensive than the Imperial Palace. Despite what he says we believe the location is not "at least as good" as the Imperial Palace.

When selling Las Vegas to first time visitors we often recommend staying at the Imperial Palace. Why? Location. A friendly looser casino. And the most affordable room rates in the center strip area . No one will confuse the Imperial Palace with the Bellagio. The elevators are slow and crowded. The buffets can be better. We've eaten at better ones for less money. But the Imperial Palace remains one of the few, if any others still exist, non-corporate locally owned casinos on the strip, a leader in hiring handicapped employees, and great value for someone visiting Las Vegas wanting to walk to the great surrounding Mega resorts. You can't beat the location. The rooms are clean. The monorail station is an easy walking distance at the back of the resort. The Casino Gold package is meant to keep you playing at the Imperial Palace. As far as one of Las Vegas' deadliest sins, don't rule out the Imperial Palace. It is find.

One Billion Air Passengers

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prediction of domestic air passenger growth to almost one billion passengers by the year 2010 is good news for us in the travel industry. The number of air passengers will be almost double from current levels. The FAA prediction is a warning about the need to meet demand with capacity. Does the crystal ball predict longer security lines and more crowded airplanes or more flights and more streamlined efficient security screenings? Already Chicago's Ohare airport has been subject to FAA enforced restrictions in landings because of limited capacity. The FAA predicts more growth for smaller regional airlines and smaller growth for the major legacy airlines. The airline business model continues to evolve to the more efficient and profitable low cost carriers such as Southwest, AirTran and Jet Blue. All in all the good news for the travel industry is growth in demand hopefully as partners with the government to meet the growing capacity.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

New Planet Travel In House Reservation System

After being on vacation for two months our new in house reservation system in up and running. Check it out. It is powered by Sabre, the most powerful travel reservation system available anywhere. It is easier to use. It offers more features, especially when searching for hotels, than before. It is non biased. Its search results includes the premier low-cost carrier Southwest...not included on Orbitz. You can book airfare, car rentals and hotels world wide. You can't on Orbitz. After testing a few hotel searches it returned better prices than Orbitz's touted low fare saver rates for our test run in St Louis for Memorial Day weekend. And probably the best feature is it serviced by Planet Travel locally. Have a problem you can reach one of our friendly agents seven days a week for assistance.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Airline Airfare Sale

The major and the minor airlines(legacy and non legacy) have just announced major airfare sales for the next two weeks. With fares starting as low as $49.00 each way plus tax, now is time to book summer air travel. We watched with amazement this morning as the new fares went into effect as fares quoted just this morning, fell as much as $50.00 each way when we went to book the tickets. Good news fellow travelers. Get the best rates while they last.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Planet Travel's Low Roller Trip To Las Vegas

Are you planning a trip to Las Vegas soon. Although it is still in the planning stage, we have penciled in May 22, 2005 to May 25, 2005 for this springs annual "Planet Travel's Low Roller Trip To Las Vegas" With prices starting at just $269.00 per person plus tax for hotel and air this is too good of a deal to pass on for a destination that is getting pricier. More details in a week.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Avoid Sundays

While pricing a May 5 weekend Las Vegas trip for a client today, I recommended a Friday- Monday return, rather than returning Sunday. Why? The pricing for the three night weekend air and hotel trip was less returning on Monday then on Sunday. The difference being the airfare for the Monday return was more than $100.00 less then returning on Sunday. You can save money by being flexible. Sunday is by far the busiest flying day out of Las Vegas. Security check point lines are the longest on Sunday. Flights are most crowded on Sunday. Delays occur more frequently on Sunday. Sunday night in Las Vegas is our favorite times to walk the strip. Crowds have disappeared. Catch a front row seat to view the fountains at the Bellagio. The city seems to catch its breath. Restaurants that you couldn't get a reservation for on Saturday night welcome you. Shows that are impossible to find seats Saturday, have availability. Really.

Insider Tip: When is it best to fly if you want to save? As a rule avoid all three day holiday weekends. Fares are generally less flying Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Picking one of these days will reduce the cost of your trip. Do you have to fly on a Monday or a Sunday. Choose the earliest or latest flight times to catch the few remaining bargain seats.

Monday, February 21, 2005

60 Minutes weighs in on the new Las Vegas Visitor

Mid way through Lesley Stahl's report about the Cirque Du Soliel entertainment juggernaut (Not quite yet... at least the MGM Grand properties including the MGM Grand feature Cirque Du Soliel shows) taking over the Las Vegas strip, I was struck by the description of the new Las Vegas visitor.

"The profile of the “typical” Las Vegas visitor has changed dramatically over the last couple of years. Retirees from Middle America, who play the nickel slots, don’t come to Vegas anymore. With Native-American and riverboat casinos popping up across America, they can find slot machines closer to home.

Today’s Las Vegas visitors are wealthier, younger, more international – and far more sophisticated. "

Bobby Baldwin an executive with MGM Grand is interviewed for the story and adds his perspective about why Cirque Du Soliel is so popular with the new Las Vegas Visitor.

"Casino owners in Las Vegas used to practically give away show tickets, hotel rooms, and food, just to lure people to the slots and the tables. But that strategy doesn’t work with the new breed of visitor.

"They're very finicky as to what they eat, where they sleep and what kind of shows they go to see. And before they didn't care," says Baldwin. "They just wanted to play blackjack or shoot dice and get out of town."

But they didn’t have shows like "O", with all of its “how’d they do that” numbers. There’s 1.5 million gallons of water on that stage, and all of the costumes have to be replaced every couple of months because the chlorine eats away at the Lycra.

"I think people plan their trips, particularly vacations, with the idea that "O" or one of the other Cirque du Soleil shows will be on the itinerary," says Baldwin.

And that has turned the entire economic equation of Las Vegas on its head.

"I make just as much money off of you as a company, whether you gamble or you don’t gamble, because most of our revenues are non-gambling," says Baldwin. "In the Bellagio hotel, 60 percent are non-gambling, and 40 percent are gambling."

He adds that "we make money off of everything," which includes shows, restaurants and the incredible shops. "

As I write this post, I am watching the A & E show Ceasars 24-7. The show features gambling, crazy guests that want a new bed because the one in their room is too high, behind the scenes stories from various staff members and the high rolling whales that all the strip casinos covet. But gambling remains the centerpiece of the show. This perspective is much different from MGM Grand's philosophy. No mention of the new breed of guest. So maybe 60 Minutes overstated their case.

So I guess the message is if you are heading to gamble in Las Vegas avoid the MGM Grand properties and head for one more open to the old breed of gamblers.

Insider Tip: The best places to gamble in Las Vegas are not found on the strip. Follow the locals to the outskirts casinos that cater to them to find the best odds, the best food values, and venues more friendly to the low roller gamblers.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Las Vegas Sticker Shock

The popularity of Las Vegas continues to grow. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCA) just announced record breaking visitation and hotel occupancy levels for 2004. LVCA predicts even greater occupancy for 2005. Visitors have returned to Las Vegas at a level preceding September 11th prior record breaking pace. And with good reason. Today Las Vegas offers more than gambling and cheap buffets. It really is the ideal three day getaway destination. You can travel the world in a just a few blocks. The Danny Ocean character in the movie Oceans Eleven described it best, "Las Vegas, America's playground."

With the record return of visitors, 95 percent of the strip hotel rooms are occupied during the weekend now, get ready for room rate sticker shock. We have already written briefly about the increase in weekend fly/hotel vacation packages prices to Las Vegas. And we believe the trend will continue. The average price of nightly hotel room during the weekend will rise to average rate of $200.00 this year for some of the more popular new mega strip resorts.

However, there are still ways to avoid Las Vegas sticker shock. In the next few weeks we publish some of the ways we have found to spend less getting and staying in Las Vegas. Stay tuned.

Insider Tip: Room rates rise dramatically in Las Vegas on Friday and Saturday nights. Avoid the strip during the weekends and you can sometimes cut your costs by more than a half. If you plan on visiting the strip during the weekend, head north. The northern strip hotels offer the most affordable rates during the weekend. The new strip monorail now makes the travel up and down the strip in minutes nullifying the disadvantage of staying on the northern end.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

More and more our clients have opted for an "all inclusive vacation." When you think about it an "all inclusive" really makes sense for a short getaway-long weekend. For one price you can purchase round trip airfare, transfer to the resort, your room, all drinks, activities, meals and activities. With some five star resorts pricing at $600.00 per person including taxes for a three day weekend in Cancun in April, an "all inclusive" really is a remarkable value. In contrast some Las Vegas weekends now price at a minimum $400.00 per person for round trip air and north end strip hotel only. Meals and activities are extra. It is easy to see why many of our clients are opting in for the "all-inclusive" getaway.

Insider tip: Because of the increased popularity of the "all-inclusive" vacation it pays to book early. Most charter flights are already sold out in March. Booking 90 days ahead of time will save you money.

Stranded in a hell hole motel update

My American Airlines stranded in the Bahamas client called this afternoon with a graphic tale of the motel she stayed at courtesy of the airline. Imagine the cock roaches so bad you had to sleep with the light on in order for you to avoid being attacked in bed by the creatures. Smells so bad that it made her instantly nauseous. Sheets that haven't been laundered since last year. You may have an idea of this motel from hell American Airlines arranged for her stay last Friday night because mechanical problems delayed two flights, causing her to miss the ship's departure. She had managed to talk to supervisor of customer service at Carnival cruises today. He promised a quick response from the cruise line. We will keep you posted.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Just another day in paradise

It is not even 8:00 a.m. and the telephone is ringing. A client is very upset. His spouse and her girlfriend not only missed their Carnival cruise ship departure because of not one but two airplane mechanical problems. The overnight accommodations provided by American Airlines turned out to be a dirty cock roach infested motel. The promised transportation between the hotel and ship never appeared. American is blaming Carnival for the problem and Carnival is blaming American. I am on hold with Carnival for more than hour with still no remedy in sight. My point to Carnival is simple. If American is doing to this my clients, they are also doing it to other Carnival clients. We have to make amends. Carnival finally agrees to look into it. Now my client won't answer her telephone, so I can't check in with them.

Insider tip about cruising. That ship leaves without you. Never book airfare the day of the ship's departure. Always fly in the day before.