Airline profits are soaring but passengers feel squeezed. We explore the economics of flying as the busy summer travel season takes off.
Guest Host: Christina Bellantoni
We book flights and hotels online, then yearn for free WiFi at 30,000 feet. We use Google maps to find tourist sights and Yelp to to pick restaurants in unfamiliar cities. When it comes to travel, the smart phone is travel agent and guidebook rolled into one. But the surging demand for free WiFi and greater bandwidth has airports, airlines and hotels scrambling to keep up. Tech Tuesday explores how technology is changing the way we travel and shaping our expectations when we’re on the road.
- Rob Pegoraro Freelance Technology Writer, USAToday.com and Discovery News
- DJ Saul Chief Marketing Officer, iStrategy Labs
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your community with the world. I'm Christina Bellantoni of the "PBS NewsHour" sitting in for Kojo. To compare airfares online, take some virtual hotel tours and book the trip with a click. While you wait at the airport, you connect to the free Wi-Fi before flashing your mobile boarding pass.
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIYou might tweet about the flight delay or check the weather for where you're headed. On board, it's time to watch a movie on your iPad. At your hotel, you pull out your phone and FaceTime with your loved ones or check Yelp for the best local cuisine and a map to get you there. From planning a trip to navigating a new city, today's travelers demand faster ever-present connectivity.
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIThis Tech Tuesday, we're exploring how technology is changing the way we travel. Joining us to discuss are Rob Pegoraro, freelance technology reporter, and DJ Saul, chief marketing officer of iStrategy Labs. You can also join our conversation by calling 1-800-433-8850 or email us at kojo@wamu. Tell us what you like to see when you're traveling. Rob, let's start with what many for many travelers is sort of the first place where technology needs go unmet. That's the airport. Some airports offer free Wi-Fi, but others don't. What are your pro tips for travelers?
MR. ROB PEGORAROWell, yeah, there's also -- there's free Wi-Fi that works and free Wi-Fi that doesn't. And to have that a little bit better, I remember a year ago I was -- two years ago, I was just enraged in how awful SFO, San Francisco's Wi-Fi was, and last time around, it was much usable. So it seems that more airports are getting free Wi-Fi.
MR. ROB PEGORAROSo it's not, like, kind of a shock when you experience it and it's pay-all only, or you can only check, like, flight departures on it. For instance, O'Hare, Houston, there's still no free Wi-Fi. I will note you may often see a lot of people hanging out outside the airline clubs where they do have free Wi-Fi...
PEGORARO...and sort of mooching off their bandwidth. Maybe it's just a coincidence that all these people with laptops were hanging out outside the United Club.
MR. DJ SAULStole one of my pro tips.
PEGORAROThat does work.
BELLANTONIOK. DJ, how would you rate the Wi-Fi options at our airports here, Dulles, BWI and National Airport?
SAULI suppose on a one to 10 scale, maybe a six, seven and six respectively or irrespectively at that point, so, yeah, I mean, I think Rob brought it up. I mean, with free Wi-Fi which is, you know, becoming more and more in demand and to be expected, there's still just a massive spectrum, pun intended, of what you're going to get out there. You know, DCA is pretty solid.
SAULI've, you know, it is funny how Wi-Fi and connectivity has started to factor into, you know, how we rate a travel experience from, you know, time it takes to get to the airport in the first place and then, you know, legs of the trip, maybe, you know, delay, once you get there and how long it's going to take to get to your destination if you land, and then Wi-Fi and connectivity all of a sudden is at the forefront of that conversation.
BELLANTONIAnd it's not necessarily tied to how big the airport is, either, right? You might have more travelers but a less efficient system.
BELLANTONISo once you get a taste of connecting at 30,000 feet, I will say I think it's hard to go back. So how well are airlines meeting this demand for in-flight Wi-Fi?
PEGORARODepends, you know, if -- Virgin America has made a selling point of that for a while. And when I tried that last year, it was pretty good. Since then, I've seen a bunch of people complaining on Twitter that, you know, the bandwidth is terrible. They're not getting anywhere. Last time I tried, it was on AirTrain, and that was pretty good. You know, I will say that I am probably more productive when there's no connectivity, when there's just this blank window on the screen that I have to full with words, or I'm going to be very, very bored.
BELLANTONISpoken like a true writer.
SAULYeah. I was actually going to, you know, piggyback off that and say I actually really enjoy when there is no connectivity on the flight. And then, you know, if I'm doing something like emailing, I'll crank out 30, 40, sometimes 50 emails in draft formation. And whenever I get to my destination...
SAUL...hit send, send, send. You know, that said, you know, connecting at 30,000 feet, there's still a huge difference between being able to answer an email and then send, you know, send an email that has a 10-gigabite file is going to be an extremely difficult arduous not going to happen. Likewise, you know, streaming "Arrested Development" on Netflix also not going to happen as it stands right now.
BELLANTONIAnd also, some chat functions are hard to use when you're flying. What other types of things are you not able to do?
SAULI mean streaming, anything that requires high bandwidth, right, is going to be a no go. So, you know, for me on my iPad, for example, sometimes, I call it my Netflix and HBO go machine, I use it for reading and not for connecting and downloading and uploading.
PEGORAROYeah. I mean, bear in mind that not being able to watch streaming video over the Internet while you're in a chair in the sky is kind of the ultimate problem, but, yeah, bandwidth is an issue. Some onboard Wi-Fi blocks certain sites entirely. If you've taken Amtrak, there's entire of sites that won't let you get to. Some of them make sense. Others, I'm not quite sure what kind of algorithm they use to put sites on the ban list.
BELLANTONIYeah. So what are the technical challenges of actually getting people wired when you're flying 30 -- 500 miles an hour and six miles off the ground?
SAULYeah. I mean it's an extremely complicated issue, right? But I mean at the core of it, it's a matter of spectrum, bandwidth and availability. And then when you, you know, combine mass amounts of people who all are trying to do different things that only compounds the problem, but, you know, it -- for the unseeing eye, you know, having, you know, especially now, you know, as Rob was saying, we sort of take this for granted already, right?
SAULThe idea that we can connect and upload and download at 30,000 feet, you know -- and that might be miraculous to some and boring to others -- but there is a literal and physical antenna at the bottom or the top of an airplane that as you're connecting to satellites or existing cell towers. So, again, so, you know, I know -- and one of the things we might want to talk about is the FCC moving forward with some plans to...
SAUL...upgrade the infrastructure and the system which in of itself is an extremely complicated issue, and the thing that hopefully will be move forward. And I think it will, but, yeah, I mean it's -- there's many, many issues with it, but, again, the more and more people you add to the equation, the more compounded the issue gets.
BELLANTONIWell, you join our conversation. Tell us if you're on a plane with Wi-Fi, would you use it? You can send us an email to email@example.com, send us a tweet to @kojoshow or connect via our Facebook page or call 1-800-433-8850. Right now, we're going to talk to Ben who's in Virginia. Hi, Ben.
BENHey. Well, thank you for taking my call. I do property inspections for banks so I use an iPad Mini without a data connection because I feel it's ridiculously to pay an extra 40 or 50 bucks a month just for data. So I -- when I stopped for lunch, where I stopped is largely influenced by who has Wi-Fi, and not only that, it's also influenced by who has Wi-Fi but nobody else knows they have Wi-Fi yet.
BENLike, I can't stop at a Starbucks because, like you guys said, there's just too many people on, people sitting there working all day. I find that places like Dunkin Donuts where they have Wi-Fi but nobody knows about it.
PEGORAROI didn't know about that.
BENExactly. And so, you know, they've got tons of bandwidth and because I do -- basically, I do a big upload to the server. And so, you know, place -- it's like where I go isn't just do they have it but also are they not -- are there not a lot of users on it.
BELLANTONIAll right. Thanks, Ben. So, Rob, what are people doing? Are they pulling up to the front of restaurants that have big Wi-Fi banners outside?
PEGORAROWell, that's the thing. There's never been really an agreed way to say, hey, we have Wi-Fi. Some people have a sign. Others -- and it's an open network. Others, you have to ask for the password, or it's on a tiny piece of paper, or it's on a large piece of paper. And you may need to, like, look in the tips offered about a place on Foursquare or Yelp or whatever to see what the details are for the Wi-Fi.
BELLANTONIAnd people are choosing where they travel, where they eat based on this?
SAULYeah. I mean, there's -- I think I believe it's a mobile app now, but it's been a website for, you know, freewififinder.com. And the name is what it is.
PEGORAROIs JiWire still around? J-I-W.
PEGORAROI remember using it in Apple long time ago.
SAULYeah. I mean, you know, there literally is, you know, publicly available data and maps where you can actually see, you know, does this place have Wi-Fi. I was in...
PEGORAROI think Boingo -- their app has a Wi-Fi finder function, too.
SAULSure. Yeah. And then routehappy.com is good for seeing if a flight or an airline carrier's actually going to have it. But, you know, I was in Dublin recently, and their city has recently upgraded, too. And extremely, they have city signs around -- even this massive park that's a hotspot. So they have this hotspot indicator around the entire city of Dublin which, you know, at the onset is wildly impressive, and only a handful of municipalities have really taken that step. But I will be honest. You know, I went to the very center of that park hoping to connect to a Wi-Fi network, and I was unable to do so.
BELLANTONIWell, and this sort of brings us to the role of social media. If you find a place that has great Wi-Fi or you might want to applaud somebody for having it, you might be putting that out on your network. So how are people using Twitter to sort of share this information when they travel, and what experiences do you have with airlines, right?
SAULYeah, exactly. Yeah, I mean, I think the question is -- is the answer, I mean, people, you know, obviously, have the ability to share tips. I mean, Rob actually brought up, you know, the Foursquare, the tip engine. So as Foursquare actually has a platform, I think it's actually interesting how it's evolved, and they're making -- I wouldn't necessarily call it a pivot -- neither would they -- but a bigger play for a recommendation engine and social recommendation engine for venues specifically.
SAULAnd something like tips that have been there from the beginning are just as important as they were in the start and something like does this place have Wi-Fi is huge. As for airlines, yeah, I mean, honestly, I had a really interesting and kind of a cool experience where I was able to change my flight and get upgraded through direct messaging on Twitter. And I'll go and say it was with Delta, and I was -- which was not my favorite airline before. And guess what? It's pretty much towards...
BELLANTONIAnd now is.
SAUL...the top of the list right now.
BELLANTONIWhat was your direct message?
SAULSo my direct message was I think I had a 7:15 a.m. flight, and I wanted...
SAUL...to actually fly out an hour earlier because I'm a little bit of a neurotic traveler. And I wasn't happy with my, you know, 45-minute layover in my connection flight. So I want a little bit extra time, so I direct message and said, hey, listen, I know there's a 6:15 a.m. flight -- 7:15. Can you help me out? I got a response back in about 90 seconds, saying we'd love to help you. Let me see what the options are.
SAULAnd within -- I don't know -- within, you know, eight direct messages under five minutes of time, I was not only given an upgrade, but, you know, they changed my flight for -- I didn't have to pay the transfer fee. So if you think about, you know, that as a customer service channel which makes perfect sense, and that's how brands and airlines and hotels are thinking about this.
SAULIt's only sustainable to a certain point, and there's certainly revenue loss that becomes a huge issue for them. So it's sort of an interesting transitional period in how social and digital and mobile specifically influences how we, you know, book and travel.
BELLANTONISo recently, Amtrak announced that it is upgrading its dreaded Wi-Fi. And if anybody in this area has tried to get up to New York, you can sometimes cut out when you are most needing it. So how good is the Wi-Fi on the Acela and Amtrak trains?
PEGORAROThe last couple of times in the Acela, it's actually usable. And the difference they've made is before they only had 3G modems on the train or something like four per car. And they tried to aggregate bandwidth from all the four major carriers, but, you know, four 3G modems, how many people fit in a regular Acela car, that's, you know, quite a lot.
PEGORAROAnd that got swamped. And now, they're upgrading to 4G LTE. So that's more bandwidth. Now, the risk is you're getting to a common situation where everyone says, oh, great, the Wi-Fi is usable. They flip open their laptops, start reading, and then the whole system walks up again.
BELLANTONIAnd they don't let you use -- like, they're trying to watch a YouTube video that won't even play.
PEGORAROYeah. You get a nice little block message from Amtrak.
BELLANTONIYeah. So once you get to your destination, hotels, this is sort of a -- you either are advertising your free Wi-Fi, or you don't mention and you try to plug in, and it's 20 bucks or more in some cases. What if you bought experience on the road and what should travelers be looking for when they're...
PEGORAROThere are cheaper places. They have the free Wi-Fi. It's -- if you're staying at like a Westin they usually do, then you may pay extra for it. I was in Vegas last week, and it was -- the Wi-Fi was part of the resort fee as if I would have had time to do any resort-ish things covering this trade show.
SAULYeah. I mean, the only other thing I would add to that -- I mean, I'd agree. I think -- another sort of interesting transitional phase, I think, you know, maybe a year or two years from now, the nicer hotels, I think it may be built in to your bill, and you won't have to pay extra for it. I could be wrong. They could just continue charging for it and knowing people are going to pay for it.
SAULBut, you know, as networks and infrastructure get upgraded, I think there may be some transparency on the consumer side that says you know what, I know that this is not costing you enough to charge, you know, an extra 20 bucks on top of my bill. So, you know, I actually use Airbnb a lot. I'd say probably above average.
SAULAs an in lieu of a hotel even on professional travel going down to Mexico City in a couple of weeks and I'm not staying at a hotel. I'm staying at an Airbnb spot right in the center, a really cool part of town. And it was probably four times cheaper than the average hotel price I was looking at.
PEGORAROMm hmm. That's what I did when I went to Barcelona for Mobile World Congress in February. A reporter friend of mine lined up this great little apartment right next to this alley. Of course, there were a lot of drunk people stumbling around at 2 a.m.
PEGORAROBut what are you going to do?
SAULYeah. And, I mean, the interesting note about Airbnb is of the -- I don't know -- 20, 25, maybe places I stayed at Airbnb over the last three years or so, every single one of them has had Wi-Fi built in.
SAULAnd some of them even list their password publicly on their profile, which is kind of weird. But I've actually seen that.
BELLANTONISo we'll continue this conversation with DJ Saul and Rob Pegoraro after a short break. Stay tuned.
BELLANTONIWelcome back. I'm Christina Bellantoni of the "PBS NewsHour," sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. It's Tech Tuesday, and we're talking about travel tips with DJ Saul and Rob Pegoraro. And we've got a couple of callers. You should weigh in too. You can call us at 1-800-433-8850. Tell us what are your digital needs when you're staying at a hotel and what apps would you always make sure you have loaded on your phone. Patrick from Severna Park, Md., talk to us about your security concerns.
PATRICKMy background -- thank you for letting me call and talk to you guys. I -- my background is in IT, and I'm actually also a freelance tech journalist. And so I've been going to the trade shows like CES and Macworld and, you know, Worldwide Developer Conference. And the one thing that I know from my background experience in IT security is that Wi-Fi, especially public ones, are not secure as in, like, security-wise.
PATRICKThere's an attack called man-in-the-middle attack where someone can actually create a fake Wi-Fi that looks like it's a real Wi-Fi, and you'll connect to it, and you'll think that you're OK, and they'll be monitoring everything you're doing through that public Wi-Fi access spot. And, you know, being able to pass forward your stuff to, you know, the banks or whatever else that you're going to, and so they can capture that data.
PATRICKAnd the other stuff they can do is, if you're on a public Wi-Fi that's actually, like, provided by, like, a (word?) or whatnot, someone who knows what they're doing can actually see what all the data that's going through the router or see the data they're using, like, packet -- wireless packet capture devices but just modified regular Wi-Fi cards and capture your data that way too.
BELLANTONIYeah. So, Patrick, we've got both DJ and Rob are nodding along with you. We also had a call from Lisa asking a very similar question, you know, is public Wi-Fi secure? So how do you avoid this? How do you make sure you're not getting compromised?
PEGORAROTwo things. I mean, certainly, if the Wi-Fi network name is honey pot, the term of art for fake network designed to get people to send traffic over it, that would be bad. But...
BELLANTONIThat's, like, an inside tech joke. I like that for Tech Tuesday.
PEGORAROYes. Yes. Two things: It goes by two names, always on SSL or always on HTTPS, which is essentially the site encrypts the connection from the server to your browser not just for the username and password, everything else. So that's the default on all of Google's services like GNOME and Google Calendar. With other site, with other apps and sites, it's an option, or it's becoming mandatory.
PEGORAROLike Twitter and Facebook, they made it optional a while back. I think they both switched it to being always on. And that's really important to stop that eavesdropping 'cause then if you see the stream of bits flying over the wireless network, it's all scrambled, it's gobbledygook. The second thing is two-step verification, which Google has had for a while.
PEGORAROMicrosoft just added. Facebook added it in the year or two back. Twitter just launched it. Just today, my bank emailed me to say they're adding it. That's where the site will send you a numeric code to your text -- to -- via a text message or even just a recorded phone call, synthesized voice. Or the neat part -- you can do this even without bandwidth on your phone, you can run an app like Google Authenticator, which kind of a neat little cryptographic trip -- trick.
PEGORAROIt computes a number by a prearranged formula. As long as your phone is at the right time, that lines up with the number generated at the server, you enter it in, and that's where -- that's how the site knows that it's you because, in theory, only you have your phone.
SAULYeah, two things -- one, so I actually had a bad case of identity theft -- excuse me -- in 2007, and it was actually while I was studying abroad in China. So I remember many late nights Skyping with Bank of -- from Bank of America to Equifax dealing with this nightmare, right. And so I've been fairly attuned to this world for a while, and it's changed in a lot different ways. And, you know, the HTTPS and SSL, which stands for secure sockets layer, if you're interested.
SAULI have no idea what that means. I'm not a computer scientist or engineer, but I know what it stands for. It's what counts. It's -- I mean, honestly, it's something like Firesheep came out a couple of years ago and threw things like HTTPS and SSL and some of the tips that Rob just laid out, it's rendered it, you know, fairly ineffective. But what Firesheep did is it would allow anybody to -- it's -- so Firefox is the Web browser.
SAULSo it was effectively a browser plug-in, and you'd be able to see who also is on the network and then effectively steal cookies or packets of data that were being transferred. So you could, especially this was, you know, 2011, this became kind of a thing. So I'd be able -- if Rob and I were both at, you know, DCA on the same network, I'd be able to go, oh, Rob Pegoraro is here. And great, I'm going to go get his Facebook authentication.
BELLANTONIHmm. Well, you can join our conversation by calling 1-800-433-8850. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet, too, @kojoshow, or get in touch with us through our Facebook page. If you were on a plane with free Wi-Fi, would you use it or would you rather disconnect? Give us a call as we start this busy travel season coming up. We have an email from Jean in Annapolis.
BELLANTONIShe asks -- she's talking about flying and Wi-Fi for her children, "I'm talking a six-hour flight with two young children on American Airlines in three weeks. I was counting on the Wi-Fi to entertain them. Should I bring portable DVD players instead or should we just download everything we plan to watch?"
PEGORAROI would download everything you plan to watch.
BELLANTONIPlaying it safe.
PEGORAROYeah, yeah. I mean, we are actually taking our daughter on a six-hour flight next week. And, yeah, well, it worked the last few times.
SAULYeah, I know. My niece and nephew are even more savvier than I with the iPad. And, you know, maybe it's 40 percent games and 60 percent content. You know, all those train DVDs, right? I mean, how easy is that to get those on iPad before hand? So definitely get it before.
BELLANTONIAnd always, of course, using the streaming on an airplane drains your battery pretty fast, doesn't it?
PEGORAROYes, yeah, I mean, any kind of streaming. That's why -- one thing we haven't mentioned is power on planes. Like, I've got really accustomed now to, you know, pretty much all of United 737s have power outlets below the seats. So I will charge up.
PEGORAROBut if I get an A320 or 757, then oops.
PEGORAROBetter have charged my phone before.
BELLANTONIAnd how can travelers like Jean find out whether their flight is even going to offer Wi-Fi or how much it's going to cost?
SAULSo look at routehappy.com.
PEGORAROIt should say so on the boarding pass. I mean, the catch is you can have an equipment swap at the last minute. And so suddenly, you're on the plane that doesn't have Wi-Fi or in-flight entertainment or whatever else you were factoring on.
BELLANTONIWe've got a lot people wanting to talk about security. And Adam from Fairfax, Va., has a thought he wants to share with us. Go ahead, Adam.
ADAMHi. Yeah, so a few minutes ago, you were advising, I think correctly, to use things like SSL all the time, or HTTPS. And you made it sound like it just sticks with everything. And you do need to be a little careful. It's sort of up to your browser how to deal with the case when the certificate that's part of it, that authenticates the folks on the other side, is a mismatch.
ADAMYou know, on Firefox, for example, it can give you, like, a red bar or something, shows you a broken key, something like that. And a lot of browsers, when the certificate is wrong, gives you -- it doesn't block access to the site. So unless you're paying attention, you might not notice that it's wrong.
SAULIt's a great point.
PEGORAROI don't know. I haven't seen any browsers where the error message wasn't blindingly obvious 'cause it used to be very subtle, and, you know, you could easily click through it. And now it's a bright red dialog box of some kind. So you should at least know you're heading into uncharted waters. The tricky thing is when some sites -- you know, the SSL should be working, but it's not 'cause they didn't quite configure it. Like, if you don't type the w-w-w in the address, it's a certificate mismatch. But in that case, it's an OK one. They just didn't administer the site correctly.
BELLANTONIHmm. So when you are on that airplane and you open your browser and it's got Wi-Fi, you might be greeted with any one of a different number of welcome pages, maybe run by the airline or Gogo Inflight. What are the other options and don't they vary in price quite a bit?
SAULSponsored. Yeah, I was going to say that their option is something sponsored. I actually saw something recently that required -- it had a Facebook like gate. So it was sponsored by a brand, and you had to like the brand.
PEGORAROThat's just cheapening the value with a like.
PEGORAROAs if it could not be cheapened any further.
BELLANTONIDid you get it for free after that or just a discount?
SAULYes. You then got it for free...
BELLANTONITotally worth it.
SAUL...and then you click paid with a like on the social with Facebook.
BELLANTONIAnd in all the cases, you know, going back to the security question, you're putting in your credit card number, maybe you're joining a newsletter and your -- how do you know if you should, maybe, join this and get a monthly pass or...
SAULSo for us, for our business, we're a 27-person company. So we have, you know, we used to have Blingo, and now we have a Gogo Inflight account, and we, you know, share that. I think it's a monthly with an annual subscription. Maybe we just switched it to monthly. I need to check up on that. But it makes sense for, you know, a handful of us who may be traveling at any given time. If it was just me traveling personally, if I was continuing to travel, you know, at least once a month, I would absolutely pay a monthly subscription for it.
BELLANTONISo, Rob, what about portable hotspots? Is that a good option for people? Then you can just avoid all the middleman and don't have to pay for it?
PEGORAROI'm a big fan of the BYOB, bring your own bandwidth, approach. So what I will do, I will tether my phone, and that way, I can share the phone's Internet connection wirelessly through my browser. And if you look at the number of Wi-Fi signals on the SL, you will see a lot of people doing the same thing. Or that they've bought a separate Wi-Fi hotspot, like a Mi-Fi, which just is a data-only mobile broadband connection shared wirelessly to any of your nearby devices.
SAULYeah, that's -- and that, you know, we didn't actually mention that in response to the security conversations, right?
SAULSo maybe the best way to do it is to get your own private Wi-Fi network.
BELLANTONIYep. Someone tweeted to us, @kojoshow, "I picked up a PAYG MiFi for travel. It's great backup to bad or expensive Wi-Fi and more secure than public Wi-Fi. It also is a good option if you do want to do that FaceTiming from your phone. Then you can always be sure that you have a good connection there." We also have a tweet from Kelsey. You can tweet to us, @kojoshow. "How much does it cost for a business to provide free Wi-Fi? Is it sustainable to offer it for free?"
PEGORAROWell, theoretically, the business is going to need an internet connection of it's own already just to do things, you know, process credit cards, run their business, email or home office, you know, it is kind of a balance. If free Wi-Fi gets somebody to linger around the coffee shop longer and get a second cup then they've made money on it.
SAULYeah. I'd agree. I mean, I think the coffee shop is sort of the right example for this topic. So if you think about, you know, 20 single or, you know, two jobs, there is, you know, only so many people that are going to be on there at any given point. The chance that 20 -- the entire coffee shop is full and everybody is streaming on HBO GO, I think, is extremely minimal.
PEGORAROYeah. Who brings their laptop to a coffee shop to watch a movie?
BELLANTONIHopefully not that many people. And Starbucks used to charge but actually stopped charging a few years ago.
PEGORAROIt was a big deal when it happened. End of an era.
BELLANTONIWe have quite a few emails. You can also join our conversation. Which tech devices won't you leave home without? Send us an email at email@example.com, or call us at 1-800-433-8850. Comment on our Facebook Page, or send us a tweet to @kojoshow. We've got a question on using your phone in Europe This is an email from Rob. "Initially, the cost of using an iPhone from AT&T in Europe was exorbitant. What is the lowest cost way to use this in my traveling in Europe and getting cell data like maps, Twitter, FaceTime?" What's the best option?
PEGORAROThe best option, if you can, which a lot of people cannot is to bring an unlocked phone. So then ideally, what happens is you get off the plane, there'll be an electronic store in the airport. You buy a prepared SIM card with a little bundle of voice and data -- although, really, all you need is data -- And you pay -- for example, in Barcelona in February, I paid maybe, like, 20 euro prepaid data SIM. It was up and activated before I could even leave the store, and the store was, you know, maybe like a five-minute walk from my gate.
PEGORAROYou know, sometimes you may have to go into town to get it. That's the advantage. You know, you're paying much less per megabyte than you'd otherwise do. There are, you know, travel roaming SIMs you can use if you have an unlocked phone that work in different countries at a higher rate. You can pay the roaming deal your carrier has. AT&T has gotten better. I looked at this for the USA Today column not that long ago, and it's not as exorbitant as it once was.
PEGORAROVerizon is an OK option. With Verizon and Sprint, there's a secondary complication in that most of their phones use a wireless standard called CDMA that most of the rest of the world does not use. If you have a GSM phone, that's going to work pretty much anywhere. But again, you have to get it unlocked.
PEGORAROAT&T will not unlock your phone unless you're out of contract. T-Mobile, when they had contracts, you had to be 40 days in. Now you need to have paid off the phone's actual purchase price. Verizon and Sprint on their world phones, it's, like, 60 or 90 days into your contract they'll unlock the SIM card slot so you can go prepaid wherever you go.
SAULSo let me -- I can...
BELLANTONITotally simple and easy.
SAULLet me talk through the example, you know, for the masses, for AT&T, for example. So I have this call -- if I'm in a travel, sometimes a week before or sometimes on my way to the airport, I call AT&T. And I have this call for international travel down to maybe three or four minutes, which is ideal. So there's sort of the three buckets. There's roaming for voice, which I've used the least, and I'll explain why. And then there's data, which is the big one, and this is -- they essentially sell it in blocks, megabytes up and down.
SAULSo I think the last time I did it, I got some 250 megabytes up and down for -- I think it was 50 bucks for a month, right -- even if I was traveling for a couple of days, it has to go by the month -- and then text messages, which I still, you know, use even outside of iMessage. That's, like, 10 bucks for 50 text messages, which is plenty. And then per country so I was, you know, I mentioned I was just in Dublin. That, I believe, was, you know, $1.15 a minute per voice. So somewhat of an antiquated part of the conversation...
SAUL...but like I mentioned, I use that the least. So I might use something like Skype for example to actually, you know, place a call. If I want to do that, granted, that's where you have to watch the data. So the biggest thing that, you know, a lot of people don't realize is you actually need to -- or you should reset your usage statistics. So the number of megabytes up and down get set to zero, so you can actually see how much against that allotted 250 you're actually using. Otherwise, you just had -- you would have no way to really track that.
PEGORAROThe other tip I would add is, if you have Google Voice, you can then have that -- it won't forward to an international number, but you will at least see the messages show up in the Google Voice app. Text messages sent to you will show up there as well.
PEGORAROAnd that all you need is internet connection. And that doesn't use a whole lot of bandwidth.
BELLANTONISo we are going to keep talking about all of these different Tech Tuesday tips. But what are your favorite travel apps when you're on the go?
PEGORAROLet's see what I've got in my phone. Some of it is the same apps you'd use around the town to find some place interesting to eat or whatever, alternate between Yelp and Foursquare to see which one has got more useful advice at a given point. You know, you should probably have your airlines app. Amtrak is a decent app.
SAULI love Amtrak's app, by the way.
BELLANTONIWhat do you like about it?
SAULI mean, I -- it's so funny, you know, a year ago, signing my name on a print ticket and now just...
PEGORAROWhen they went to paperless ticketing...
PEGORARO...not having that panicked wait for a quick track machine to open at Union Station is so great. You don't have to do that anymore.
SAULYeah, so just flashing the barcode that they can scan. And when they're walking up and down the aisle scanning it, I've heard multiple (unintelligible) like, this is so much better than paper ticket. Like, they literally -- that's what they want to do is they want to be scanning tickets.
PEGORAROLet's see what else I've got -- a couple of taxi booking apps. There's My Taxi, which -- they need to work on their Android app. Uber, that works in a bunch of cities across America. Car2Go, if you have a Car2Go membership, it's a good one to have. The Spotcycle app that works for Capital Bikeshare -- it's too bad Capital Bikeshare memberships don't roam. I'd like to be able to use my key in Denver or New York or Boston. All of which have the same company running their bikeshare systems.
SAULExactly. So, I was just going to pull about how Spotcycle works in, I think, 15 cities that they have bike sharing programs and presumably New York as Citi Bike just launched.
BELLANTONIWell, you're listening to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Christina Bellantoni from PBS NewsHour, sitting in for Kojo. We'll continue our conversation with DJ Saul and Rob Pegoraro in a moment. Stay with us.
BELLANTONIWelcome back. I'm Christina Bellantoni of the PBS NewsHour, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. We're talking with DJ Saul and Rob Pegoraro about tips for travel, particularly as we're heading into the busy holiday season. We're talking about the technology that makes your travel easy, pro tips. So if you'd like to join us, call 1-800-433-8850. You can email, kojo@wamu -- firstname.lastname@example.org. And we do have a lot of emails. A lot of people are asking about technology, but I wanted to take Kevin from Norfolk, Va., talking about buying tickets online. Go ahead, Kevin.
KEVINHow are you doing? If you're like me and you've ever been trying to find the best deal online and maybe go back to a site and realize that the price has actually increased a little bit, well, it turns out that some companies like to use the cookies that they install on your -- inside your computer against you so they can read the -- when you were there and the search items you were looking for, then knowing that you looked around to other places and you come back to their site, and then suddenly the price goes up because of that.
KEVINSo if you are looking -- if you're trying to -- if you plan on buying online, then either use, like, incognito mode if you use Google Chrome or just clearing your cookies hopefully save you a little bit money doing that way.
BELLANTONIHmm. Good advice. Yeah. We got a thumbs-up from DJ here. You guys both agree. So what sites do you like to do when you're booking your travel? What's the best places to go?
PEGORAROSo I've been using kayak.com for a long time. I like the fact that, you know, I'm really kind of picky. So like I won't fly BWI if I can help it. I prefer National over Dulles. This thing will let me choose layover airports, you know, when do I want my flight to take off and land, coming and going. You can choose by what airlines and also what airline alliance.
PEGORAROHipmunk is another good one I've been trying lately. They have an agony index where they try to grade, you know, how painful will the flight be. There's Bing Travel. They're a nice feature. That's Microsoft search site. They try to predict whether the airfare will increase or decrease when really it always increases...
PEGORAROI've spent a little time poking around in Google's flight search, and it just doesn't do all that much for me.
SAULNo. I was going to say I've been -- also been using Kayak for a long time, and then, yeah, Hipmunk's agony and ecstasy. So if, you know, the number of layovers is the only thing that you care about, being able to, you know, carry your search is unbelievably helpful. But, yeah, I mean, something like Kayak, I just can't imagine like looking through search results for a flight and not being able to use the sliding scale that Rob mentioned.
PEGORAROIt's sort of painful when another...
PEGORAROThe thing is I usually then wind up booking at, you know, my own airline's own site because, you know, I get miles for that. So you sort of have to use Kayak. Sometimes they'll -- you can click directly through. Sometimes you have to, like, recreate the itinerary. There's all kinds of ways to complicate the task.
SAULYeah. And then, honestly, hate to admit it -- well, maybe not -- I use Amex a lot for travel as well. It's just nice to have everything in one place. I mean, I've had too many disastrous experiences of, you know, the cheaptickets.com and then getting stuck in an airport when I'm trying to fly abroad or whatever. It's just not worth it. Sometimes it totally is worth the extra $25 if you can call one person and be able to -- one organization, rather, and be able to deal with an issue.
BELLANTONINow, it's hard to get Southwest flights on Kayak, though, isn't it? That's the one...
PEGORAROSouthwest, their flights, they don't show up in any other third-party sites. You know, Kayak lists them to say, you know, we know there's an airline called Southwest Airlines. They fly very colorful 737s. They fly between these cities. We don't know what it will cost. And that's just Southwest deciding they want to reserve all their business.
PEGORAROOther ones -- I mean, people have been trying to do that for a long time. I think Frontier, they just changed things so that, you know, if you book through their site, you get a lot of stuff free that you would otherwise pay for, and it's just to cut down the commission they would pay the third-party site.
SAULYeah. One thing to look at, I think, is going to be the rise of social trip planning. So this is not a prediction. I mean, there's already startups that are doing this. Flights With Friends is really interesting. I mean, predicated on something that I really like, actually, going back to Airbnb, which is having results percolate to the top that I have shared connections with. Or I mentioned I'm going to Mexico City. I'm staying in a place where...
PEGORAROTripAdvisor does that too.
SAULSure. TripAdvisor is doing that now, exactly. So, you know, pulling for -- authenticating with something like Facebook and saying, you know, who of my friends rent this venue out on Airbnb? Who's taking this flight? Show me pictures from somebody's last trip to Barcelona.
BELLANTONI'Cause somebody had already used that.
BELLANTONIThat's interesting. Yeah. And, DJ, your company actually developed a travel app for DoubleTree Hotel. What was its goal, and why do this?
SAULYeah. So it was -- you know, the goal is to pull in from -- everything from, you know, weather to Yelp to, you know, rich map integration and be able to have all of the comforts of home or pulling from all the other apps that you might use out there. You know, Yelp, I think, is a very popular one for travel as well, to be able to give you quick access, one-stop shop access to everything that you might need, from Starbucks to the bank to a gas station.
SAULAnd then, you know, having it on a beautiful map and having that, you know, rich user experience can make all the difference 'cause there can be an excellent app with a terrible user interface, and no one's going to use it. No one's going to like it.
BELLANTONIEvery day in my inbox, I have a Groupon telling me I should go to Jamaica for $749.
PEGORAROYou should go.
BELLANTONIBut there's a lot of fine print to those once you actually click through. How reliable is Groupon for travel? Would you guys recommend this?
SAULI've never taken a trip.
PEGORAROI have not (unintelligible) 3-year-old. So there's not something these instant vacations that would -- Groupon would offer somebody. You know, a friend of mine took one, and it was not a great experience. The hotel, they didn't quite seem to know about this. This was a couple of years back. Maybe they've straightened it up, but, yeah.
BELLANTONIYou need an iPhone that works, too, to download the...
PEGORAROSure. Yeah. One of my favorite D.C. tech startups is Trip Tribe, and, yeah, that's a really cool one to find not only people who also want to go on the same type of trip to go, you know, canyoning in Costa Rica or sailing in Croatia, but it's a really cool network, very beautiful site.
BELLANTONIHmm. I'll have to mark that down. So, John, in Washington, D.C., you have a site you like for travel.
JOHNYeah. Just to piggyback off what you guys are talking about the airlines, one website I use a whole lot that's been able to save me a ton of money is priceline.com. They have a feature on there where you're booking a plane ticket where you can name your own price. And oftentimes I'll look up what the price is for the plane ticket, and I'll kind of bid on maybe 60 percent, 70 percent of what the ticket is, and I'll get that price.
JOHNThe only downside is they choose your time. Sometimes they choose whether it's layover or not. But for that amount of money, it's usually worth it. If you're flying abroad, sometimes you can save six, seven, $800. And the question I have for you guys, I was curious, what do you think about like Groupon travel or LivingSocial, you know, travel groups?
BELLANTONILivingSocial, that's another one and a way to travel with your friends. Thanks, John.
SAULLivingSocial Escapes. That's what it's called.
PEGORAROOh, yes. Right. Yeah, I get those emails, too. Yeah. I haven't tried either of them. You know, Priceline, I've used it. I think it's great for rental cars 'cause, really, they're all the same to me. I don't actually care all that much. Hotels, it can work. I'm not a fan of it for airlines partially because you get no mileage, and, you know, it's not -- the point of miles is not to collect them, but to get whatever LEED status means you don't get charged for bags. You know, if your flight is delayed, they'll work harder to accommodate you.
PEGORAROYes. In theory, you get upgrades although my upgrade percentage in United is just pathetically low.
PEGORAROAs in zero actually over the last year.
BELLANTONISo what are the tech tips? If you guys were making a little check list before you travel, what are the tech things that you wouldn't leave home without, apps that you'd always make sure to have loaded, anything we haven't touched on yet getting brought?
PEGORAROSo my big thing, you know, any time I'm going to some kind of tech conference, I bring a little travel power strip which has three outlets on it and two USB ports so that when there's only one outlet left on the power strip in the press room or whatever, instead of being the jerk who takes it, I magically create more power outlets. And, you know, that's a good way to make friends.
BELLANTONISuddenly you're friends, you could charge a few bucks for each of those, right?
SAUL(unintelligible) South by Southwest, yeah.
SAULOne of the unofficial mottos that, you know, something like South by Southwest is ABC, always be charging.
PEGORAROAlways be charging.
SAULSo I use something called a mophie juice pack. So last year, I had the one for iPhone 4 that was actually a case, and it would charge on my phone. So if the unit is fully charged, my iPhone goes from, you know, full charged to almost dead, then the mophie will bring it back up to, you know, close to 100, if not 100 percent.
BELLANTONIAre there hotels you think have a good system of charging stations within the room?
PEGORAROThe nicer ones, yeah, you know, you'll have -- wherever the desk is at, you'll have an Ethernet port, a bunch of other power outlets and USB ports and all the other stuff. In other ones, you're unplugging the light on the night stand to...
PEGORARO...get the line power outlet that's remotely convenient.
SAULOne random thing that I've been checking out recently -- I'm not sure of my decision if I want to get it or not -- it's called Trackdot. It allows you to basically track your luggage if you may be checking a bag, which I obviously try and avoid like any seasoned traveler. But if you do need to track your bag at all, I'll have travel tracker on there.
BELLANTONIYeah. You can join our conversation. Tell us what are your favorite travel apps and websites. You can give us a call at 800-433-8850, and tweet to @kojoshow, or send us an email to email@example.com. So we're going to talk to Lisa in Sterling, Va. You had an experience buying a flight online?
LISAI had an experience. It's a really bad experience with Hotwire. And it seems like that they kept delaying. I had to change plans at the last minute. And I was willing to pay the fee, but they took forever to get back to me until the prices had jacked up. And they wanted to -- I went online just to check while I was talking to the representative and I said, you know, the prices haven't changed at all.
LISAThen I got a really high fee to change. And it looks like I paid 350 for the ticket. But then after I had to change my plan, it cost me an additional 350. And I think that's how they make their money is, like, when people call up to change the flight plan then they stick you with an exorbitant amount to change the fee.
BELLANTONIThanks, Lisa. So, Rob, are there good customer service elements here that are important?
PEGORAROWell, yeah. I mean, if you're going to be the company that is going to be sort of standing between the actual airline and the customer, you have the solve the customer's problem 'cause, you know, if you want to pay high change fees, you can just to do that directly at the airline except for Southwest. You know, it's sort of distressing the way to change fees have escalated. It's now 200 bucks at most of the legacy carriers. So, I guess, the point where a lot of people might decide, I'll just abandon the ticket.
BELLANTONIThat's no good. Are there any paper things you guys bring with you when you travel? Do you ever get a guide book any more or a map?
PEGORAROBusiness cards. Lots of businesses cards.
BELLANTONIEven though it's -- can't you just bump right?
PEGORARONo. I know you can do maps. One thing I do do in Android, Google Maps, you can actually cash the map. So you can zoom all the way in, see street names and everything. So you just bring up the city, hit the menu button in -- I check you encompassed something like a few 100 square miles of wherever you're going. So that way you have -- you can at least see where you're at when you, you know, get out of the airport, off the train, like where am I, before you even got in the prepaid SIM.
SAULYeah. I used Google Maps for iPhone, and it absolutely is...
PEGORARONot an Apple Maps fan?
SAULNot an Apple Maps guy.
SAULNot yet at least.
BELLANTONISo what about traveling through Europe? We'd had a couple questions. We have an email from Jonathan asking about -- he's heading to Spain in October. Hope you have a good time, Jonathan. Are there are apps or sites that are Europe specific that he should be aware of?
SAULHmm. Yeah. TripAdvisor actually has pretty good city specific mobile guides, so I would definitely look into that. But Europe specific -- yeah, I'm not -- not really, I mean, I would use -- again using Foursquare for discovery, which is what they're pushing now anyway. I mean, again in Dublin, I found a really lunch spot using Foursquare in having the highest rate -- picking from the highest rating.
BELLANTONISo what's next on the horizon when it comes to social media in getting into this travel space, you know? Should we be expecting to keep booking our flights through Twitter direct messages?
SAULSo I think -- again, sort of an interesting transitional phase. You know, social as a means for customer service versus transactions. I mean, I think it was 7 percent and now rising very quickly of bookings were placed via mobile. And that's something that hotels should be and are paying very close attention to. So I think it's mobile, mobile, mobile. And then I think the rise of how social and digital affects the physical environment around you, whether it's your hotel or the lobby.
SAULSo something like NFC, near field communication. Some hotels have been experimenting with this for a while. So the key card just like, you know, Rob and I are on Amtrak and holding our phone up, and they're scanning our mobile boarding pass of their barcode. I'm holding that up to the door and having that beer -- your hotel key card and then checking in and checking out of a hotel through mobile as well.
SAULOf course, they're made -- and how that affects something like the concierge. I think there is no replacement for the human being that can give you his or her own personal recommendations. That said, yeah, sometimes I don't really want to wait in line either, and I'd like to just check out of the hotel and click two buttons and then leave. So...
PEGORAROYeah. I mean, it's been funny to see how so many traditional airlines and other travel companies, you know, first got on Twitter because, well, we have to be on Twitter. We have to be on the Twitter.
PEGORAROAnd then they made the horrifying discovery that people were actually talking to them, you know, trash talking them sometimes and expecting replies. So they've all had to staff up and find ways to deal with this because, you know, just like every general sphere is, you got to realize, well, if people are talking about your work on Twitter, then you'd better be there as well because they're -- they expect that as part of the package these days.
SAULHmm. Yeah, I think we'd be remiss if we didn't mention them, Hotel Tonight, one of the more successful mobile apps.
PEGORAROOh, yeah, I've used them once or twice.
SAULYeah. So for, you know, last minute bookings straight from your mobile, again, beautiful user interface. It's a pleasure to look at, pleasure to use, can't beat it.
PEGORAROAnd they book some pretty high-end, nice...
PEGORARO...boutiquey kind of place, not just any hotel will get into Hotel Tonight.
SAULGood point, good point.
BELLANTONIAnd you both are on the Twitter, I believe.
BELLANTONISo why don't you give your handles out for our listeners?
SAULAnd I'm just as equally difficult to write down here, @DarienJay100.
BELLANTONIExcellent. Well, you can keep the conversation going. Send us a tweet to @kojoshow. I'm @C-B-E-L-L-A-N-T-O-N-I. You can also call us, 1-800-433-8850. Tech Tuesday has been an exploration of travel tips. We've got a lot of good advice from Rob Pegoraro and DJ Saul. Rob, you write for USA Today and, basically, technology is your expertise. And, DJ, you're with a local firm here in Washington, D.C. I'm Christina Bellantoni, sitting in on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Thanks for listening.
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