Welcome to the May 2010 issue of "Smart Traveler". The newsletter with tips and information to help make your traveling smoother.

Airport security speedup program to relaunch

Clear program, which  abruptly shut down last year, expected by fall

The Clear program, which allowed members to breeze through airport security before it abruptly shut down last year, is expected to be up and running again by the fall.

The company was taken over by Alclear LLC, whose board includes Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Alclear bought Clear's former owner, Verified Identity Pass, which filed for bankruptcy.

When the program shut down in June, there was a lot of concern among members because of the sensitive personal data they volunteered in exchange for quick passage through security gates.

Although the former owner, Verified Identity Pass, was private, Clear had to report personal information to the Transportation Security Administration.

The data is currently stored by a large unnamed security company. Former Clear customers will soon be sent a notice, asking if they want their personal data transferred to Alclear. If not, the data will be destroyed.

To join, passengers must be fingerprinted and have their irises scanned for positive identification, plus turn over information including Social Security numbers that the company shares with the TSA. In return, they get access to shorter security lines at about 20 airports across the country.

Alclear said in a statement Tuesday that the subscription terms of nearly 160,000 previous members will be honored. Enrollment for new members will start this summer. It did not say how many airports will have the new version of the service.

A Clear membership will cost $179 for unlimited use.

Clear grew out of the Transportation Security Administration's Registered Traveler program. It was founded in 2003 by Steven Brill, the businessman behind media ventures such as court and American Lawyer magazine. Brill left the company in February when a group of investors took control of the company.

Airline Fares Rise in Time For Summer Trips

Travelers should prepare for peak-time surcharges and fuller planes

Just as family summer travel is taking off, so are ticket prices.

Fares for the June-to-August period are up 24 percent from last summer to an average $321 round trip. Memorial Day fares are up 18 percent to an average of $332.

Travel demand is picking up as the economy improves. At the same time, airlines haven't rushed to bring back the planes and available seats they took out of service during the recession. That allows them to push fares higher. So, travelers will be hard-pressed to find deals like last summer, when fares dropped to their lowest levels since 2004.

Shifting travel dates around has always been one way to find better fares. That's even more important this summer. In raising fares, the airlines are employing a tactic first used for Thanksgiving travel last year. Most of the big carriers added $10 to $30 "peak travel" surcharges each way on nearly every day between June 10 and Aug. 22.

The surcharges add up. A family of four traveling on a $30 day would pay out $240 round-trip. Flying on $10 days instead would cut the bill to $80 round-trip. The surcharges aren't broken out — they're included in the total fare. A customer can see them in the fine print for each fare's rules. Surcharges are generally highest on Sundays and lowest on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Airlines have dropped the surcharges from some fare sales, as well as many flights that compete with Southwest Airlines and JetBlue, two carriers that have avoided the surcharge.

Surcharge or not, passengers can expect a crowded plane. U.S. airlines are expecting about 1 percent more travelers this summer, according to the Air Transport Association trade group. But the overall number of seats is rising just 0.6 percent — most of them on international flights, the group said.

There will be hardly an empty seat all summer long.

No-Show Rental Car Fees Loom Part 2

With hotels and flights, travelers are charged when they fail to show up on the date of a reservation. With car rentals, there's usually no fee for no-shows. But that may soon change.

Auto Rental News reports that the very real possibility of instituting no-show fees dominated a recent car rental convention panel. "We are the only segment of the travel industry that does not have a fee for no shows or a system to guarantee a reservation," said Bob Barton, president of the American Car Rental Association (ACRA) and the panel's lead moderator.

The ACRA says that the no-show rate on car rentals runs as high as 30 percent in some locations, and in the age when most rental lots have much smaller fleets than in the past, it is increasingly difficult for agencies to manage inventories. (Granted, at the same time, agencies have more than doubled the cost of rental rates, which certainly helps their bottom lines.) Car rental insiders swear that no-show fees aren't at all about the money such fees would generate. Instead, per the ARN story:

The panel stressed that the industry is not looking for a revenue grab, similar to airline baggage fees, but a way to better manage utilization.

"I don't care if I ever take a dollar from a customer for a no show," said Craig Parmerlee of Ace, who is working to formulate no-show fee guidelines for Open Travel Alliance. "I just want my customer to show up for the rental so I can plan my fleet better."

The latest speculation is that such fees will become a reality soon—perhaps in 2011, perhaps with Avis Budget taking the first step. At the end of the discussion, the panel moderator requested a show of hands of those who want to see the advent of car rental no-show fees. Nearly everyone there raised their hands.

It's not clear whether all of those people who want to institute a no-show fee would also agree to the flip side of the issue—you know, the one that would actually benefit travelers. We all know that when you make a car rental reservation, there's a chance that by the time you arrive at the rental counter the agency might not have the type of car you reserved. It might not have any car available at all, for that matter. Agencies have always partly blamed this unfortunate scenario on the high no-show rate.

But if travelers face the prospect of no-show fees, the no-show rate will surely drop dramatically, and the agency has no excuse for renting out a car that someone else reserved.

If a car rental agency implements a fee to guarantee travelers will show up for their reservations, the agency should at least guarantee that they are going to honor those reservations. It's only fair.

How Can I Stay Healthy While on Vacation?

Question: How Can I Stay Healthy While on Vacation?
There are several steps you can take to ensure that you stay as healthy as possible while traveling.

Before You Travel

Plan ahead. Visit your doctor and find out which vaccines you should receive before you travel. If you're traveling to an area where a particular disease is prevalent (malaria, for example), ask your doctor for prescriptions to prevent the disease or combat its symptoms. Find out about health risks, including contagious and insect-borne diseases, weather-related health issues and current health alerts before you leave home. Be sure to learn about which medications you can carry into your destination country by checking with its embassy.

Make sure you have not only your prescription medications in original bottles, but also any over-the-counter medications you might need while on vacation. If you're traveling overseas, bring copies of each prescription and ask your doctor to write a letter describing any controlled substances and / or injectable medications on his or her letterhead so that you can bring these items with you.

Insure yourself. If you are a U.S. citizen and Medicare is your only health insurance, you definitely need to buy travel health insurance if you plan to leave the U.S. If you have other health insurance coverage, check with your provider to find out whether you're covered for medical care and medical evacuation if you become ill while on vacation.

If your policy does not cover these situations, purchase an emergency medical coverage plan before you leave home. To get the maximum possible coverage, do not purchase this policy from your airline, tour operator or cruise line; use a third-party provider. Read the entire policy carefully before you pay for it to be sure you're covered for pre-existing conditions, health care while you are away and medical evacuation if you need to return home for treatment. To learn more, read the U.S. State Department's country-specific medical insurance information.

Pack defensively. Your travel medical kit should include prescription medications, health insurance cards, proof of immunization (if needed), travel insurance documents and emergency medical supplies. Depending on your destination, also bring:

  • Sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Anti-diarrheal medication
  • Pain / fever medication (e.g. ibuprofen)
  • Antihistamines and / or decongestants
  • Antacid tablets
  • Motion sickness medication
  • First aid supplies

During Your Trip

Choose your food and drink carefully. If you're visiting countries that spray crops with insecticides, wash all fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them. Boil water before drinking or washing if you are staying in an area where water is not properly treated or where cholera and other water-borne illnesses are prevalent. Skip the ice cubes. If in doubt, avoid uncooked foods and anything that might contain tap water, including fountain (soft) drinks. If food is served at room temperature, particularly buffet-style, and you don't know how long the food has been sitting out, skip it. Eat hot or very cold foods instead.

Wash your hands often. Wash before eating, after touching your face, after handling money or items that have been in contact with the ground and after traveling by public transport. Carry antibacterial hand wipes or gel cleanser for situations where hot water and soap are not available. Washing your hands frequently is the best way to avoid catching a communicable disease.

Protect yourself from insect-borne illnesses such as malaria and Lyme disease. Carry insect repellent and use it frequently. Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts when hiking or while visiting countries where malaria is prevalent. Sleep under mosquito netting in malaria-prone areas, shaking out the netting each night before going to bed.

Use sunscreen to protect yourself from sunburn. Wear a hat with a brim to protect your face and neck.

Avoid touching animals, including birds, both wild and domestic. Do not try to remove animals, particularly bats, from your room, tent or vehicle; call animal control authorities instead. Rabies is always a risk, particularly in developing countries. If an animal bites you, wash the bite area well with soap and hot water and seek medical attention immediately.

Don't overdo things. Get plenty of rest, drink lots of water and avoid extreme heat or cold. You don't have to see every single monument or museum in every city or country you visit; it's far better to travel at a relaxed pace and enjoy your trip.

After You Return

Monitor your health. If you should become ill, be sure to tell your doctor that you were on vacation recently, particularly if you visited a malaria-prone country.

Remember: Without a travel agent you're on your own.

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