“Transparent” Airfare Act of 2014 passes the House

(I’m a man of very strong political opinions, probably many of them will run contrary to yours.  All of that is ok, my views should have very little impact on you and vice versa.  I’ll try to be as apolitical as possible in the following post, but might fail in that effort.  If you don’t want to read about political stuff on a travel blog, I understand.)

Yesterday, the US House of Representatives passed the hilariously-named Transparent Airfare Act of 2014.  This legislation reverses an FAA ruling in 2012 that forced airlines to advertise the full cost of a ticket instead of just their base fares.  This makes it possible again for airlines to advertise an airfare of $79 only to show you a price of $140+ once you’ve gone through, entered all of your information, picked your seats, etc.

Sure seems transparent to me…

The resolution passed on voice vote.  A voice vote in the House means that no representatives really had any issues with the bill on either side of the aisle, so it moves over to the Senate with unanimous “consent” from the House (consent isn’t the right word, it really just means that no one objected to it).

What follows are a list of facts about this bill (trying to keep my views out of it as much as possible): Continue reading

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The TSA wants to pay you $15000!

Are you smart?  Smarter than whoever designed the current TSA process?

But seriously folks.  The TSA recently just got a whole lot richer and apparently wants to slang some of that money around.

Continue reading

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Arizona for the weekend?

Every year my company holds a photography competition across all of our offices (about 20 worldwide).  It’s a lot of fun, there are four categories, and they use the submissions to decorate our offices.  Needless to say, since there is a winner, I take this very seriously.

I made the finals with this picture last year, from my trip to New Zealand:

Stirling Falls, Andy Luten, 31 August 2013

Stirling Falls at Milford Sound

I was happy with how the picture turned out and the judges were as well, since it made the finals, but it didn’t win.  Boooooooo.  I think the main reason is because it doesn’t as much look like a waterfall as it does a gargoyle/demon rising up out of the water.

Anyway, the competition just started for this year.  I’m going to Machu Picchu next month, but wanted to try and get some other pictures “in the bag” before then.

On a very much related note, I had 2 weekend nights to use at any Hilton in the world as part of my Citi Hilton Reserve Visa.  I had neglected using these, instead favoring Hyatt of late.  Well, last week I looked at those certificates and realized they expire at the end of this month!  Not wanting to miss out on the nights, I started looking for reasonable options, and by “reasonable” I mean one of the nicest places I can get to without spending a bunch of money.  Oh, and I’d need to be able to take some good pictures as well.

The Boulders
Just north of Phoenix is a Waldorf Astoria resort called The Boulders.  It gets good reviews and is supposedly a very unique property that embraces the rugged landscape of the American southwest.  They had availability, which is unsurprising due to how hot it currently is in that part of the world, so I booked it.

Hotel portion is complete, so what about the pictures?

Antelope Canyon
Near Page, Arizona (Motto: “Not in the middle of nowhere, just west of it”) is a slot canyon that you’ve probably seen on some Buzzfeed list of “18 of the World’s Most Surreal Places”.  It’s a bucket list item for any photographer.  Here’s why:

Antelope Canyon

The only problem with this whole idea is that Page, Arizona, is nowhere near Phoenix/The Boulders (about a four hour drive, one-way).  Also, I don’t shoot with a DSLR camera, only a high-end fixed lens handheld.  However, I managed to find a space on a photographer’s tour of Antelope Canyon (which is hard to do on short notice) and, let’s be honest, I’ve done a lot more ambitious stuff just for the sake of a road trip.  They say it’s dumb to try and do Antelope Canyon as a day trip from Phoenix.  I say it’s epic.

What will make this trip a little easier?

Silvercar is a new rental company that is unique in the fact that it only rents out silver Audi A4s.  Their business model is unique: all cars have navigation and satellite radio, you’re not charged outrageous prices for gas (just market prices plus a $5 refueling fee), and you start the rental by scanning a QR code on a vehicle with their app.  Silvercar charges a flat rate of $59/day, but they frequently offer $50 off your first rental, which made the price of a 2-day rental not much more than a regular rental.  They happen to be available in Phoenix and had availability during my trip, so I went ahead and booked one.

(if you’d like, use my referral code if you book with them, it’s ALUTEN, I get $25 off a rental and you do too!)


All in all, should be a great trip, you’ll hear about it soon!

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Why your airplane tickets just became even MORE expensive

Shortly after the September 11th terrorist attacks, the TSA was introduced to oversee security at all US airports (and establish standards that must be met at international airports where flights depart for the US).  To pay for this, a fee was instituted on all airline itineraries: $2.50 for a one-way trip, $5 for a nonstop round-trip, and $10 max for a roundtrip with a connection.  This fee was capped at $10 per round trip itinerary. Continue reading

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Going to the French Open

My first night in Paris was nice and relaxing.  I was chomping on some Pringles from a random Carrefour Express near the Park Hyatt Vendome (where I was staying), and happened to see some highlights of the French Open on ESPN.  “Wait, that’s going on right now?  As you can tell, I’m a MASSIVE tennis fan.  While I admit I don’t follow it as closely as others, I always enjoy watching the majors throughout the year.  I’ve long been a fan of Roger Federer for the same reason I’m a fan of the San Antonio Spurs: they’re boring, quiet winners.  Federer has a ruthless efficiency, even as he’s gotten older.  The French Open features a clay surface, which has notoriously not bode well for Roger, but he had started reasonably well this tournament, so that was good.

Wait, I was watching highlights of Rafa Nadal from that day’s match, and they usually alternate the big names day to day, so that would mean that Rog…wait, seriously?  Could it be?  COULD I RANDOMLY STUMBLE UPON ROGER FEDERER PLAYING IN THE FRENCH OPEN?!

Spoiler alert

Spoiler alert

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Park Hyatt Paris Vendome: Eurabia, Part V

In the points and miles world, there are what people call “aspirational” hotel properties.  These are properties that cost an enormously prohibitive amount of money for most people, but even the most average of joes can stay there using points.  We’re talking typical nightly rates upwards of $1000.  Among the most well-known are the Conrad Koh Samui, the Park Hyatt Sydney, the Conrad Maldives on Rangali Island, and the property in front of which I found myself on a cloudy Tuesday about midday: the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome.

The Park Hyatt Paris Vendome

The Park Hyatt Paris Vendome

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MH17: what do we do now?

People crave control.  Control over their surroundings, control of how people think about them, and control over their physical and emotional safety.  It’s just part of the human condition.  We usually fear the unknown, i.e. what we can’t control.  That’s why some people are afraid of flying.  They bring up a certain point that is 100% true: when you step on an airplane, you’re giving up much of your autonomy and entrusting your safety (and that of your family) to 2-3 people flying the plane and 3-10 crew taking care of the passengers.

As a fairly frequent flyer, I’ll admit that I’m a very nervous flyer.  I don’t like turbulence.  What I have to continually remind myself is turbulence means there is air around the wing, which is actually great news, because that’s what generates the lift necessary to keep the plane airborne!

Yesterday, a Malaysia Airlines 777 was shot down near the (now “disputed”) border of Russia and Ukraine.  It appears to be a random act of violence directed at what the perpetrators thought could’ve been a military aircraft.

All of this leads to a really important question:

What do we do now?

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Please read headlines with a grain of salt: Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crashes in Ukraine near Russia

Very sad news from Eastern Europe.  A Malaysia Airlines 777 with 280 passengers and 15 crew has crashed in Ukraine.

In the days ahead, you will see lots of speculation about what caused the crash, especially with the military actions in the area.  Like I mentioned in my post about the near-miss, headlines are about grabbing attention and page views, a lot of media has transformed into “newsertainment” in recent years.

The best thing we can do right now is keep those aboard the plane (and their families on the ground) in our thoughts and prayers.  The truth will eventually come out about what happened, but rampant speculation in times like this doesn’t help anyone.



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Paris, A Stroll: Eurabia, Part IV

Ah, Paris.  City of Lights.  City of Romance.  City of [stereotypical French laugh].

Anyhoo, this was my first time back to Paris since 1997, so I was curious what had changed since the last time I was there.  What I found was absolutely amazing…

A street.

A street.

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Venice: Eurabia, Part III

Ah Venice.  The culture, the canals, the gondoliers, the billions of cruise ship passeng….dang it.

Let’s get right to it: Venice is touristy.  But that’s ok.  You just have to go into Venice expecting it. Continue reading

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