We need to clip the wings of the airline industry.

We need to clip the wings of the airline industry.

While the airline industry is scurrying to justify the actions of United Airlines after they forcefully evicted a passenger from one of their flights, they all seem to miss the point completely.

The point that they are missing is that passengers have had enough of airline industry arrogance. Airlines truly believe they are special. So special in fact, that they think they can do whatever they like. They routinely inconvenience passengers, overcharge, overbook, have really bad attitudes, lose your luggage, refuse refunds and a whole host of other behavioral abnormalities that would see any other business have to close its doors within a month.

They believe they are so special that they don’t need proper training or systems. And all the while they hide behind their ‘small print’ as if that justifies their malpractice. What’s worse is that the airline industry colludes in their uncompetitive and immoral behavior and get away with it. For years their practices have evaded racketeering laws. It’s time for it to stop.

Airlines are not special. No more special than any other passenger transport. Their excuses for their morally reprehensible practices are weak and transparent. It’s time for it to stop.

Overbooking is nothing more than a money making scam and don’t let anyone tell you different. If you pay and don’t show up then the airline wants to sell your seat twice or even three times. That is why they overbook, because they know that some passengers won’t show up. So they exploit the situation and the industry created these ‘rules’ that make it acceptable for them to overbook. Imagine going to a restaurant and while you are having your meal you are forcefully removed from the restaurant because it was overbooked.

This nonsense story that they had crew that had to get to another airport is a blatant lie. The airport in question was only a few hours away by car. This was bad planning and a management failure. It’s just too easy for bad managers in the airline industry to hide behind aviation regulations. United have now resorted to blaming the unions. Apparently the airline crew are so special that they aren’t allowed to be driven somewhere. What a load of bullshit.

The so-called fare rules are another example of exploitation and extortion. If the global financial industry can accurately move billions of dollars each minute, across the globe, in thousands of currencies, then the airline industry can more effectively manage their fares. But it’s not convenient and it’s costly. It’s way easier to just make the customer pay for your incompetence, and make some extra bucks in the process.

Something as silly as the mobile phone rules on flights are a great example of how the industry hides behind its ‘special’ status. Never mind the fact that there is no logic or science behind their mobile phone rules, they continue to ban the use of mobile phone. Andy Plews a spokesman for UAL’s United Airlines was quoted as saying “We don’t believe it’s a good safety issue”…”We’d like people to use the air phones. 

Their incompetence and arrogance is astounding. On a number of occasions I have been in the situation where my seat has been double booked. Now how does that happen? How is it possible that an airline cannot manage a mere 250 seats? How is it possible that a seat can be sold twice? Do these people not have a simple database to mange seat allocations? I mean, a simple Access Database can do that? It’s a little more complicated than that, because of the policy of airlines to purposefully overbook. It’s not an accident. It’s on purpose.

Let’s face it. Airlines suck. Airlines are the epitome of bad service. Airlines collude and they have their own enforcer called IATA (International Air Transport Association). This organization makes these rules so that the industry can get away with price fixing, abusing passengers and exploiting customers.

It’s time that the industry is taken to task for its behavior. Airlines are not above the law.

Best South African Banks for Airport Lounge Access

Best South African Banks for Airport Lounge Access

We like to to travel but we definitely don’t like sitting at the departure gate on uncomfortable chairs with screaming children playing hide-and-seek.  Although some travellers love the hustle and bustle of airports, chances are that if you’re a frequent traveller the one thing you’d love before your flight departs is an hour or two of peace and quiet.

Access to airport lounges used to be a privilege only a few – with a business-class ticket in hand, of course – enjoyed.  Certain banks and financial institutions provide access to the lounges for free and some require you to jump a number of hurdles (or in bank parlance, ‘qualifying criteria’) before you can gain access.

Here are the best banks and accounts for airport lounge access – and the worst.

FNB and RMB

RMB and FNB Private Clients

RMB and FNB are both connected to the awful eBucks program which means you have to earn rewards in order to gain access to the lounges. Even as a RMB Private Bank client you don’t get free access to the airport lounges. The real annoying part of their rewards system is that you never know what level you are on. The airport lounges are not connected to the bank so when you swipe your card at the lounge they can’t tell you if you have earned enough rewards points to gain free access. They just swipe your card and you go in. It’s when you get home when you get the shock, because they then charge you for the access. You thought it was free. Nope. Neither FNB or RMB offer a credit card that offers free local or international lounge access.

Verdict: Terrible (change your bank)

Standard Bank

World Citizen Credit Card

The top Standard Bank credit card is called the World Citizen Credit Card.  You need to spend R15,000 per quarter to get complimentary access to over 500 airport lounges within SA and abroad, through their chosen partner, LoungeKey

Verdict: Bad

Diners Club

With Diners you need to spend R15,000 per quarter to get free access and the same rules/benefits as the Standard Bank World Citizen Credit Card.

Verdict: Bad

ABSA

Platinum Cheque Account

The ABSA Platinum cheque account offers an optional DragonPass membership, offering five free airport lounge visits per 12-month cycle at R59 per month.

Verdict: Terrible

ABSA Private Clients

6 visits (Only 6? Really?) per year to more than 800 airport lounges in over 300 cities across 100 countries affiliated to the DragonPass program.

Verdict: Bad

Nedbank

Platinum Card

Nedbank’s Platinum Card provides free access to the Bidvest Premier airport lounges for domestic flights only.

Verdict: Nothing to write home about

American Express Gold Charge Card

8 visits per year to the Bidvest Premier airport lounges for domestic flights only.

Verdict: Very average for Amex

American Express Platinum Charge Card

Amex Platinum Charge Card provides free access to over 900 local and international airport lounges in over 100 countries, with Priority Pass.

Verdict: Good (Because there are no other benefits to the Amex Platinum Card that’s comparable to a Private Banking offering.)

Investec

Investec Credit Card

Every Investec card holder has complimentary, unlimited access to SAA-owned Lounges and Bidvest Premier Lounges.

Verdict: Very Good

Investec Enigma Card

The Investec Enigma Card (SA’s own Black AMEX card) offers unlimited and free access to over 900 local and international airport lounges in over 100 countries, with Priority Pass.

Verdict: Excellent

Conclusion

Investec is the only bank that provides a really good airport lounge benefit to it’s card holders. Investec also offers a wide range of other benefits to card holders, which makes it a better choice than American Express. The great disappointment is RMB who have lost serious ground to Investec due to their complicated and terrible eBucks rewards program.

Private banking is definitely not what it used to be. There is very little special about it.

Which Countries Guarantee Drinkable Tap Water

Which Countries Guarantee Drinkable Tap Water

Bottled water is expensive but bad water can make you very ill and spoil your holiday. There are many countries where you can safely drink the tap water and then there are others where you just can’t take the risk. It’s important to note that just because you can drink your tap water that does not mean it’s safe for foreigners to drink it. We get used to our own water but it could very easily make someone else sick.

The guide from Danny Ashton at NeoMam Studios uses information gathered from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You can see each continent with guaranteed safe countries in blue and potentially unsafe countries in brown, along with some tips for how you can avoid unsafe water. Keep in mind, potentially unsafe means that it could be harmful to drink if your system is not used to that environment, not necessarily that the water is polluted and dirty.

Visit Exotic Vacations for the ultimate family holiday to Mauritius, Zanzibar, Seychelles or Maldives.

Inforgraphic. Where its safe to drink tap water.

Booking online is not cheaper


With the proliferation of online travel services one can easily forgive people for thinking they are clever consumers by booking their holidays online. Online travel services including airlines aggressively punt their online booking services as the future of travel.

With online travel services I am of course referring to booking your holiday without the assistance of a travel agent. There are a myriad online travel services such as booking.com, Expedia and many other. Most hotels across the world offer direct booking to consumers through their websites. All the airlines offer direct booking through their websites as well.

It’s very easy to book your own holiday. All you need is a credit card and Internet connection and for all intents and purposes you are a travel agent. Or so you think. Here are some fallacies about booking direct.

Booking direct is cheaper

What you don’t know is that despite all the marketing hype trying to convince you otherwise, it is still much, much cheaper to book through a travel agent. The travel agent has, in most cases, preferential rates with the hotel or airline. Hotels have two sets of rates. “Rack Rates” are the rates you find on their website. If you book direct you pay Rack Rates. Travel agents get “STO” rates. STO stand for “Standard Tour Operator” Rates. The agent then adds commission and you will pay the same or less than booking direct.

So why would you book through a travel agent? Because the travel agent offers you all her expertise in exchange for the commission. The agent will do everything for you and make sure that you get what you pay for. Now, you may think that you can do that yourself but what you don’t know is that the travel agent knows the destination and knows exactly where to book and more importantly not to book.

You look at the Booking.com ratings and believe that if a hotel has a good rating then it’s safe to book with them. Unfortunately most of the reviews on these websites are fake. Created by a thriving industry created exclusively to manipulate and create fake reviews. You actually have no idea if your holiday is going to be a good holiday. By booking through a travel agent you pay the same but significantly reduce your risk.

Booking direct is safe.

If something goes wrong then what do you do? Believe me, things go wrong, all the time. The hotel burns to the ground. They have unscheduled renovations, the hotel doesn’t exist or they have double bookings and no availability. I have heard of clients arriving at the hotel (booked through Booking.com) and the hotel physically does not exist. Where it’s supposed to be is nothing but empty land.
Who do you turn to when things go wrong? Good luck calling the Internet! When things go wrong it’s a life saver to have a real person at home who can sort things out. Believe me, being stuck in some foreign country trying to find a place to stay on short notice is not a joke.

Booking direct with airlines is cheap and safe.

Go online and you will be sure to find great deals at the airlines. The problem is that the lay person has absolutely no idea what they are buying. Airline ticketing is hugely complicated. Each aircraft has a myriad of classes. These are essentially seat categories. There are many more categories than just economy class and business class. In addition there are categories for the different channels that tickets are sold through. Some tickets are refundable and others are non refundable. If you don’t have access to a GDS (global distribution system) that travel agents use you have no idea what you are buying. You may think you got a good deal only to find out that you can’t do a date change or even if you have an emergency you could end up losing all your money.

If you find a flight online that is cheap it’s normally for good reason. There are many, many potholes when buying tickets online and timing is one of them. If you need to catch connecting flights knowing the airports is very important. Some airports are so big that it can take you an hour just to get from one terminal to another. Many, many people that think they can do this without a travel agent learn the hard way that it’s not that simple.

Over the many years that I have been in the industry I have heard horror stories of clients losing large amounts of money. The biggest fallacy out there is that you can save money by booking direct. That is just not true. In fact it is almost always more expensive to book direct. You are just replacing one intermediary (the travel agent that actually does work) with another intermediary (that does absolutely nothing). At the end of the day you pay more by booking online and you don’t have access to the expertise of a travel professional.

Smart people book with travel agents.

European Union Hates South Africans

European Union Hates South Africans

When the European Union was formally established in 1993 when the Maastricht Treaty came into force no one could imagine how tough life would become for South Africans traveling to Europe.

The Schengen Area is the area comprising 26 European countries that have abolished passport and any other type of border control at their common borders, also referred to as internal borders. It mostly functions as a single country for international travel purposes, with a common visa policy. The Area is named after the Schengen Agreement. Countries in the Schengen Area have eliminated internal border controls with the other Schengen members, and strengthened external border controls with non-Schengen states.

Herein lies the rub. They have substantially strengthened external border controls for many countries that they deem undesirable. Unfortunately South Africans are also deemed undesirable and this is evidenced through the extremely painful and onerous process that South Africans have to go through to get a Schengen Visa.
With many thousands of South Africans traveling to the EU each year, spending millions of Euros one would think that South Africans would be welcomed with open arms in Europe. Unfortunately the exact opposite is true. The embassies are incredibly unfriendly and in some cases downright hostile. Each South African applying for a visa is treated like a potential illegal immigrant. It seems that the EU is convinced that we are all going to apply for asylum the moment we land there.

Understandably the many criminals in our beloved country is the cause of this horrible state of affairs. Pat Cunningham, CEO of South African Fraud Prevention Services, said there was firm evidence to show that organized crime had become involved in the illegal procurement and forging of South African passports, and that SA passports were “flooding” into hands of international crime syndicates.

“The South African travel document has become the number one choice for criminals and people smugglers; even Al Qaeda terrorists have been caught with South African passports on them. Identity theft is currently the number one crime in the United States and Europe and there is clear evidence that South Africa is following this trend. There are organised crime syndicates in various parts of South Africa using the most modern equipment available on the market to provide anything from a fake Passport to a forged University Degree”, he said.

The lack of security measures built into South African passports and identity documents made them among the easiest in the world to forge.

Even though this is the case, one has to wonder why an organisation such as the EU is so incredibly low tech and unsophisticated that it cannot distinguish between legitimate travellers and criminals. For example, even though I have travelled numerous times to Europe they continue to make the process difficult and clearly don’t have the means to flag me as a frequent traveller to the EU.

One easy way for the EU to solve this problem is to create a VIP Visa or something similar that is issued to frequent travellers that have gone through a proper screening process. This way legitimate tourists will be fast tracked and the obstacles removed.

The process to get a Schengen Visa has become such a pain that many people avoid the EU entirely. Many South Africans prefer to travel to countries where there are no visas required.

One has to wonder why the South African government is allowing other countries to bully South Africans in such a way. Many European countries do not require visas to enter South Africa. There are more than 2m Europeans that visit South Africa annually. If South Africa stood its ground and imposed the same harsh visa requirements on EU countries it won’t be long before these onerous requirements by the EU are relaxed. In addition we should consider actively boycotting the EU. Perhaps a campaign called “Don’t travel to the EU – They don’t want us there” will be effective in getting the message to them.

Until something changes it will remain difficult, costly and time consuming for South Africans to travel to the EU. In the future I will be looking at spending my hard-earned Rands in countries that make it easy for me.

Countries where South Africans don’t require visa’s.

  • Antigua and Barbuda – 1 month
  • Argentina – 90 days
  • Armenia – Visa on arrival
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados – 6 months
  • Belize
  • Benin – 30 days
  • Bolivia – 90 days
  • Botswana
  • Botswana – 90 days
  • Brazil – 90 days
  • Burundi – 30 days; obtainable at Bujumbura International Airport
  • Cambodia – 30 days
  • Cape Verde
  • Chile – 90 days
  • Colombia – 180 days
  • Comoros
  • Costa Rica – 90 days
  • Djibouti
  • Dominica – 6 months
  • Dominican Republic – 30 day tourist card must be purchased on arrival.
  • Ecuador – 90 days
  • El Salvador – 90 days
  • Ethiopia
  • Fiji – 4 months
  • Gabon
  • Gabon – Visa not required for children under 16
  • Grenada – 3 months
  • Guatemala – 90 days
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Guinea-Bissau – 90 days
  • Guyana – 3 months
  • Haiti – 3 months
  • Honduras – 90 days
  • Indonesia – 30 days
  • Iran – Conditions apply
  • Ireland
  • Israel – 90 days
  • Jamaica
  • Jordan – 30 days
  • Kyrgyzstan – 30 days
  • Laos – 30 Days
  • Lesotho – 30 days
  • Madagascar – 30 days
  • Madagascar (Visa on arrival)
  • Malawi
  • Malawi – 90 days
  • Malaysia – 90 days
  • Maldives – 30 days
  • Mali
  • Mauritania
  • Mauritania
  • Mauritius – 90 days
  • Micronesia – 30 days
  • Mozambique
  • Mozambique – 3 months
  • Namibia – 3 months
  • Nauru Georgia – 90 days within 180 days
  • Nepal – 90 days
  • New Zealand – 90 days
  • Nicaragua – 90 days
  • Oman
  • Palau – 30 days
  • Panama – 180 days
  • Paraguay – 90 days
  • Peru – 180 days
  • Philippines – 30 days
  • Rwanda
  • Rwanda – 90 days
  • Saint Helena
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis – 3 months
  • Saint Lucia – 6 weeks
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – 1 month
  • Samoa – 60 days
  • Senegal
  • Senegal – 3 months
  • Seychelles 1 month
  • Singapore –  30 days
  • Somalia
  • Somalia – 30 days provided an invitation letter issued by the sponsor has been submitted to the Airport Immigration Department at least 2 days before arrival.
  • South Korea – 30 days
  • Swaziland –  30 days
  • Tanzania – 90 days
  • Thailand – 1 month (air) / 15 days (land)
  • Timor-Leste – 30 days
  • Togo – 7 days Benin
  • Trinidad and Tobago – 90 days
  • Tunisia – 1 month
  • Turkey issues e-visa for 3 months
  • Tuvalu – 1 month
  • Uganda
  • Uruguay – 90 days
  • Vanuatu – 30 days
  • Venezuela – 90 days
  • Zambia
  • Zambia – 90 days
  • Zimbabwe
  • Zimbabwe – 3 months

Travel industry shakeup looming

The assertion by the airlines that overbooking is in the interest of passengers is absolute nonsense. Passengers that purchase tickets and do not show have already paid for their tickets, irrespective of whether they fly or not. How is it in the interest of passengers that airlines overbook? The only interest being served with this practise is the interests of the airlines who make more money because they then manage to sell the seat twice.

CPA offers protection to travelers
The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) will address this issue and from April next year airlines will be prohibited from overbooking. Passengers who are “bumped” from a flight will have a big stick to beat the airlines with. The airline will have to refund the passenger the cost of the ticket plus interest and any costs the passenger incurred as a result of being “bumped”. This includes accommodation and car rental.

Anyone in the retail travel industry will understand the stress when called by irate consumers because the airline has cancelled flights or bumped passengers. The consumer has no interest in the airline because they are the client of the travel agent and the travel agent has control over the airline, right? Wrong. The travel agent has zero control over the shenanigans of the airlines. They are a law unto themselves and for many years they have acted only in their own interests. Of all industries I rate the airlines as having the worst customer satisfaction rating. Customer centric is not a term that they understand. Sometimes I am astounded by their arrogance. It is time that things change and hopefully the CPA will be the facilitator of that change.

Overall the travel industry is wholly unprepared for the CPA. ASATA, the Association of South African Travel Agents has been conspicuously silent on this issue and have, in my opinion, failed miserably to educate and inform their members of the consequences of the act. I suspect that quite a few agencies will suffer severely under the act. The fine for not complying is severe and few agencies will have the financial resource to survive. One of the biggest issues is going to be the ability for consumers to file a “class action” lawsuit similar to what is common practise in the US. A group can now collectively sue the agent for misrepresentation, false advertising, incorrect information or advice etc. The consumer will be able to sue the agency for the shortcomings of the hotel or any of the legs of the journey. It then becomes the responsibility of the agency to seek recourse against it’s suppliers. Imagine trying to sue a hotel in China!

The industry needs to wake up. Contracts need to be amended, consultants need to be educated and advertising needs to be reviewed.

Overall and on the balance of things I welcome the CPA and believe that all consumers will benefit. Companies that prepare themselves and act in accordance with the act will have little to fear. Those that don’t such as unscrupulous travel agencies that sell anything to anyone without any interest in the client and airlines that believe they are above the law have lots to worry about. Hopefully they will be out of business soon and assist us to clean up the industry.

My advice? Get informed and get liability insurance quickly, or get out of the industry and buy a hot dog stand.

Marthinus Strydom

Maritane Horibalis

I spent the weekend with some colleagues at Kwa Maritane in the North West Province of South Africa. It is approximately 2 hours drive from Johannesburg and 8km’s from Sun City.

“Capture the spirit of Africa at Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge, where Mother Nature and civilisation meet in perfect harmony. Located on the slopes of an ancient volcano, Kwa Maritane offers guests all the amenities of a prime resort on the doorstep of the malaria-free Pilanesberg National Park.”

The hotel is rated 4-star and that’s where my gripe starts. This hotel should be rated no more than 3-stars. I don’t know who rates these hotels or what process they follow but they clearly didn’t stay at the hotel, or not in my room at least. I stayed in the “executive” suite and I certainly wouldn’t rate it 4-star.

I really enjoyed the company and appreciate the weekend away and with this blog I am not being ungrateful but feel it is necessary to inform my loyal readers 🙂 about this establishment.

So where to start? I find it fascinating that companies spend millions building these hotels and then either do not stay in the hotel before it opens to experience it for themselves or just don’t care and screw it up on purpose. If you spend so much money on the buildings then the small details cost very little in the bigger scheme of things. It’s the small things that make the difference. Everyone knows that? It seems not.

The hotel itself is quite nice but the first problem that you encounter is the fact that you park your car hundreds of meters from the reception where you have to go first to check in. Then walk back to your car to get your luggage and walk hundreds of meters again to get to your room. The hotel is built in a 55000 hectare game reserve. Don’t they have enough space to build it in such a way that you can park at your room?

The service is poor with everyone having this attitude that they are doing you a favor. If I managed this hotel I will start by firing everyone. The only exception is Margaret at the wildlife center who was quite helpful. The rest are beyond useless.

The room has an old tv. You know one of those tube tv’s that went out of fashion 5 years ago? They have satellite tv provided by DSTV. Why oh why would they have SABC 1,2 and 3 on the telly? It’s free to air and we don’t come to this exclusive establishment to watch “sesame street”. No MTV, no VH1 and only one documentary channel. No CNN. They do however have the French News Chanel. Why? I didn’t see any French guests!

  • There is a bar fridge with nothing in it. Go figure.
  • The outside sliding door is useless and impossible to open or close.
  • The bath is minute and probable made for the Japanese. I cannot imagine an older person using it. The handles on the bath are poorly positioned and you can seriously injure yourself trying to get out of the bath.
  • The hot water is boiling and very dangerous, especially for kids.
  • The cushions are horrible and I ended up sleeping without them.
  • The rooms have Wi-fi but you have to walk all the way back to the reception to sign for it. It’s free but you have to log in. What on earth for? I would understand if you had to pay but there is no logic in this.
  • The Internet is free but so slow that I ended up using 3G instead.
  • The food was ok but not 4-star.

So in conclusion it was very disappointing and certainly did not live up to expectations. The website is one big hype with very little substance. One would expect more from a Legacy Hotel. My rating for Kwa Maritane is 2 out of 10. Don’t bother. I certainly won’t be coming back.

Predator World

Predator World is approximately 10km’s from Sun City and provides guided tours to see the “predators”. The animals are in enclosures and cages and frankly terribly disturbing. The animals are clearly unhappy in their environment and I felt terribly sorry for them. The Hyenas were particularly bad and a sorry sight to say the least. The whole place is depressing, dull, run down and a serious con. The Italian, German and American tourists flood into the place to the see the pathetic, emaciated lions, tigers and other predators on display. The Johannesburg Zoo would be a better bet.

I urge anyone that is planning on visiting this sorry excuse for a tourist attraction to give it a miss. You will save yourself 75 bucks.