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An empty airport can be a very loud place. Moving walkways squeak, the soundsystem blares with a soundtrack of Rihanna and Nickelback, a carpet cleaner steers his roaring machine ever nearer and, in the particular case of Las Vegas-McCarran International Airport, slot machines on low volume still ring, ting, beep and buzz.
During a 10-hour overnight layover at LAS this last weekend, we were faced with a dilemma: pay a Friday night room rate (plus resort fee and taxi) at a Vegas hotel or suck it up and hunker down for the night on the floor at the airport. Partying was outwe'd just flown in from Hong Kong and our greatest desire was only for warm food and a few hours of horizontal-ness.
After settling for an Auntie Anne's pretzel dinner, we sauntered around the terminal on sleeping zone reconnaissance and, somewhere near the start of the D gates, we spotted our salvation in the form of a stark white wall and two doors of lapis lazuli blue. The American Express Centurion Lounge!
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Whether you're a frequent flyer or an armchair traveler, there are certain details it's nice to review before making plans for that next big trip. Every week, we'll squeeze our mindgrapes and share tips to make sure you're the best informed flyer in seat 1A...or 38K.
This Week: The 5 Things Everyone Should Do Before Booking a Flight
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Gone are the days when backpacking around Europe for several months meant little more than buying a Eurail pass, a guidebook, and quick-dry underwear. Even a weeklong trip requires more preparation than that, but luckily technology can make it all so much easier in the long run.
So, with summer travel kicking off and your flights hopefully booked, here's the three updated tools you need for Europe travel:a
· Chip-and-pin credit card
First off, any credit card you're using abroad should be one that does not charge foreign transaction fees. It does not feel good to get hit with a fee every time you swipe that thing, and there's plenty of options for no-foreign-fee cards. Adding to that, get one that also includes a chip. We've
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Trust the fun new social media stuff to be released during the SXSW Interactive Festival these last few days. The one we're most immediately excited for can actually benefit people outside Austin, but ya gotta be an American Express card holder and a Twitter user.
Got an AMEX in your wallet and a Twitter handle? Okay, great. Read on:
Register your AMEX with the short online form here, get a confirmation email (see sample image below), then go about tweeting specific hashtags to score automatic AMEX statement credits based on your purchases at participating vendors...like Virgin America, the first travel brand to experiment with this technology.
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YESSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!! Finally finally finally US credit card companies are getting wise to the need for cardholders to have EMV-enabled cards, which you may better recognize as the ones with the embedded chip on the left side.
We've been following the progress of this since earlier this year when both Wells Fargo and Chase began issuing limited amounts to their highest spending, heaviest traveling cardmembers. Now the technology has finally trickled down to the level of Chase's British Airways Visa Signature.
This card, thanks to generous past sign-up bonuses and the fact it has no foreign transaction fees, is now carried by many American frequent flyers who will no doubt benefit from being able to shop like the rest of Europewith the chip-and-pin instead of a swipe-and-sign. Like us, who've felt the sting of being turned down because a register was no longer equipped for our archaic VISA (example: Amsterdam Schiphol train station).
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Who likes free stuff? Everyone, duh. Who like free frequent flyer miles and free stuff? Hopefully you've got your hand raised in the air, saying "me me me" like an anxious little know-it-all in an elementary classroom, because if you're in Chicago or Washington DC select days in the next few weeks, United Airlines would like to give you some.
On August 31 (that's today) through September 1 (tomorrow), Chicagoans should head to Pioneer Court to meet Olympic athlete Dan Jansen and try their luck at picking a bag off a pop-up baggage claim carousel to win everything from 1 Million MileagePlus Bonus Miles to DSLR cameras, to trip giveaways and Tumi gift cards. You're not guaranteed to win anything, but it can't hurt to tryplus it's free.
The Washington DC event is a repeat of the Chicago fun, just September 19 and 20 in the Main Hall at Union Station with Olympic athlete Kerri Walsh. It's all a celebration of the new United MileagePlus Explorer Card with Chase Bank. No, you don't have to sign up for the card to try your luck, but in case you are ready to sign some paperwork to get the new United/Continental merger credit card, they'll be ready for you.
The event details:
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We’ve made it pretty clear how we feel about not having a chip-and-pin credit card when traveling to Europe and beyond, so we’re slightly excited to hear about one more option hitting the market. Unfortunately, like the other two we’ve mentioned, this card is definitely for the high roller travelers.
The Citi Executive AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard—say that twice—is the latest to hit the credit card market. It’s got all kinds of perks, but the one that we’re most interested in is the ability to use it at bike-sharing kiosks, automated ticket machines, and other spots where it’s chip-and-pin or else. The downer of this card is that it comes with a $450 annual fee, but at least it looks like it will be available to everyone—assuming you have the credit score and cash to score one.
The USA is pretty tech-advanced, right? We've got Apple, Silicon Valley, domestic airlines with fleetwide WiFi; it all sounds like America has it great...until you get to Europe and try to pay for anything with a credit card. Rejected! Why? Because Europe has fancier cards embedded with a computer chip, connected to a pin, which then don't get swiped, but inserted into machines to pay for things. These cardsappropriately named "chip-and-pin"are making things very difficult for US travelers.
While it's true that Europe suffers from more credit card fraud than the US, hence the extra security measures of the chip-and-pin, that doesn't mean that we should be left out of the fun and technology. Actually, we're left out of far more than that.
Paris' Velib bike rental kiosks famously don't accept any of the "old swipey" cards; they're chip-and-pin only. Corner stores have taped over the swipe portion of their card machines. We spent 15 minutes teaching a cash register girl at the Isle of Man airport what a swipey card was and how to properly charge us for our stupid postcards and pop. Then, just this past weekend, while attempting to buy a train ticket from Schiphol Airport to Amsterdam Centraal, we were alarmed to find that neither the machines nor the human-staffed ticket counters accepted swipey cards. Stuck without Euros, we considered bartering with travelers who did have chip-and-pin cards.
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The USA isn't all that bad when it comes to adopting the latest technology. After all, we’re always the first ones to get iPhones and iPads while the rest of the world has to sit there and wait! However, the one area where America is behind the times is when it comes to credit cards. The folks overseas—especially in Europe—have magical little chips in their cards that add a little more security to each transaction. It’s really not that great, but it is frustrating when we can’t do stuff abroad because we don’t have the chip dealies.
Some of the biggest travel issues arise at places like public bicycle rentals, parking lots, and other kiosks where the payment machines are set up for these chip-and-pin systems. Some credit cards—like those from the nifty fifty—won’t work as we’re lacking the extra little silicon tidbit embedded in our cards.
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This is the week! After leaving their Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program virtually untouched since launching it in 1987, Southwest Airlines has revamped it and hopefully made it a bit easier to redeem your miles for flights you actually want. The refreshed Rapid Rewards program launched on March 1, and although they have been technical kinks to work out of the system over the last couple days, we're sure it's here to stay.
In the new Rapid Rewards, we're seeing a change to points rewards based on the price of your flight and the level thereof (ex: "Wanna Get Away" fares versus Business Select). What's more is the rewards you earn can be used on things like cruises, rental cars or even gift cards [Update: if you have the Southwest credit card, as the commenter below points out]. No more automatically generated flight vouchers.
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That looks like a pilot at the desk but really it's just a security guard.
The other week we were scooping up some post-Thanksgiving deals at the Short Hills Mall in New Jersey when we noticed a brand-new Continental Lounge on the bottom level near the Bloomingdale's entrance.
We quickly deduced that this was a special VIP hangout for Continental Chase Card members and fortunately for us, our shopping partner is a Continental Chase Card member (we swear on The Situation's abs!) So in we went.
Officially billed as the Continental VIP Lounge by Chase, the Short Hills location is the only one they are offering. Here are some of the perks of the lounge:
· Free gift-wrapping
· Free snacks like chips, cookies, brownies, sodas, coffee, hot tea and bottled water
· Use of massage chairs
· Plenty of seating area with flat-screen TVs
· A mobile charging station where you can charge a variety of cellphones
· FREE WIFI
Sure credit cards are just one of the things that got the world into a financial mess, but if you know what you’re doing they can also take you on that dream vacation. Bonuses and promotions can pay for your airfare, but don’t charge an infinite amount of umbrella drinks to your hotel room thinking you’re just paying for the next trip. Here’s our picks for some of the best airline credit card promotions going on right now:
Citibank has teamed up with American to offer three different flavors of credit card. There’s a Visa, MasterCard, and an American Express that will each provide you with 30,000 frequent flyer miles if you’re approved for the card. Cheap domestic award tickets start at just 25,000 miles, and award tickets aren’t too tricky to find on American Airlines with a little flexibility and spending. One catch—you will have to spend $750 in the first four months to get the miles.