If you saw the Tom Hanks movie titled “Capt. Phillips,” you might be surprised at a new statistic about piracy off the coast of Somalia.
For years, the media has covered the story of Somali pirates that often held ships and sometimes the crews for months until their ransom demands were met.
And the movie “Capt. Phillips” told one of those stories in a dramatic fashion. So I was surprised to learn the total number of hijacked ships by Somali pirates last year was . . . zero. Four years ago that number was 52, or an average of one vessel per week. In 2011, Somali pirates extorted about $160 million in ransom money out of shipping companies, their insurers, and governments.
That’s an extraordinary reduction, and it can be credited to more patrols by international navies, the hiring of private, armed guards, and the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia.
This doesn’t mean piracy on the high seas is over. According to Oceans Beyond Piracy that keeps an eye on such things, hijackings are still a problem in the Indian Ocean. Pirates still operate from Indonesia, Nigeria, and even India. And the cost of private security and insurance has soared for shipping companies.
But the days of Somali pirates seem to be over, at least for now.
If you’re looking for a short term rental of someone’s apartment, condo, or vacation home, the best known-website is probably Airbnb that was started by two guys who began by renting out a couple of air beds in a San Francisco apartment.
But there are other options worth considering.
Airbnb has half-a-million listings of places from New York City to Paris to Hong Kong. So does its largest rival, HomeStay. But you may not know of a site owned by TripAdvisor called FlipKey. It has about half the inventory that Airbnb has, but 240,000 listings isn’t bad.
If you’re going overseas, drill down to sites that specialize in specific regions, such as Guest Apartment Services Paris or Germany’s answer to Airbnb that’s called 9Flats. If South America is your destination, give a whirl to Oasis Collections. Grab a nice one-bedroom with balcony in the hip Palermo Hollywood neighborhood in Buenos Aires for about $100 a night.
For mostly high-end rentals, OneFineStay is a good address to shop. They only have 1,500 listings, but they’re quite nice. A three-bedroom home in a good neighborhood in London might go for less than $400 a night. Divide that by three couples or six people, and suddenly the price is very reasonable.
Some airlines let you put award tickets on hold for a day or more that allows you to cancel without penalty. It helps to know your airline’s rules.
Why would you want to put an award ticket on hold?
There are a couple of reasons. Most important is if you see an award ticket you want but don’t have enough miles to buy it. You want to transfer, say, some American Express points to top off your airline account, but you don’t want to lose that award ticket. The solution is to lock it in so no one else gets it while your extra miles or points drop into the right account.
You might also want to check with someone else’s schedule or simply consider the idea for a few hours before committing. But you don’t want to lose that award seat. But as Scott Grimmer of MileValue.com points out , not every airline offers the same grace period.
This commentary originally aired Jan 29, 2014
If you have miles in multiple airline frequent flyer accounts, or if you carry a credit card that allows you to trade points for flights on several different airlines, be sure to shop around before you cash in. Not every airline offers tickets for the same amount of miles.
Want a round trip, business class ticket from the US to Europe? It’ll cost you 125,000 miles after June 1st on Delta but only 100,000 on US Airways before the end of March. Want a round trip, coach ticket to Australia or New Zealand? It’ll be 100,000 miles on Delta after June 1st, but only 75,000 on American.
Those are big differences. Now, at any point, those airlines requiring fewer miles could change their award structure and match competitors. But they usually give you a few month’s notice before doing so, and you can book into the future at the lower rate if you beat the deadline for any changes.
You’ll find different rates on almost all routes, but you must comparison shop. And don’t forget to look at other airlines in the same alliance as the one you have miles on. Scott Grimmer of MileValue.com has put together a handy comparison chart of the award levels of four major airlines. Here’s a link to it.
It turns out we CAN have high-speed trains in the US. It just requires some political courage. Take it from a journalist whose new book was just published. It’s called Train.
While Europeans and Asians zip around on super-fast trains, Americans crawl around at last-century speeds. But author Tom Zoellner says high-speed trains would do well in four places in the US: The Northeast Corridor, between Houston and Dallas, between Minneapolis and Chicago, and between San Francisco to Los Angeles.
The trouble is, politicians won’t spend the money. Take Minneapolis to Chicago. A whole lot of flights serve the cities—a waste of time and fuel. Amtrak links the two cities, as well, but the ride can take several hours longer than the six-hour drive by car. The Obama administration did want to finance a high-speed link, but Wisconsin’s governor blocked it.
And to straighten out the tracks and put in the infrastructure to turn the route linking DC to New York and Boston would cost in the billions, even though that would be the most-traveled leg. And might even turn a profit eventually.
Zoellner says someday our high-speed trains will come, but it could take 15 or more years. It’s just a question of political will and money.
The book is called Train: Riding the Rails that Created the Modern World. More info at here at Tom’s website.