In July, California’s state legislature approved funding for the start of a high-speed rail project meant to link Los Angeles and San Francisco. I wish I could get excited about it.
The politicians allocated $8 billion for a 130-mile stretch linking Madera with Bakersfield, not exactly a big-in-demand route. And it’ll be nine years before the first paying passenger boards. China managed to build a high-speed train between Beijing and Shanghai in a third that time, and the distance is 50% longer than between LA and San Francisco.
And no one knows the actual cost except that it will be the most expensive project in California history. The goal of having the train travel between LA and San Francisco in two hours and 40 minute is so far out of reach, we can’t even see it from here. Not all of the route will be high-speed, and I can’t imagine this dream will come true even by 2029, the apparent goal at the moment.
There’s only one high-speed train that makes money in the US, and it’s not THAT fast—it’s the Amtrak Acela that averages only 80 miles per hour between DC and New York. That Shanghai to Beijing train goes more than twice as fast.
Recently I discussed the desecration of archeological sites in Egypt over the last 20 months since the beginning of the Arab Spring led to a deterioration of security in that country. Now it’s Syria’s turn.
Often overlooked when countries become embroiled in conflict is the fate of cultural treasures. It happened in Iraq. When the US invaded, it neglected to consider that museums and storerooms with priceless antiquities would lose their guards. Widespread looting resulted in a terrible loss of valuable items. Some objects have been tracked down or re-purchased since, but many are lost or were destroyed forever.
In Egypt, looters ravage dig sites looking for gold that mostly isn’t there. Stolen artifacts are sold to private collectors in an underworld of illicit trading. And now Syria is experiencing the same fate. Not only are valuable objects going missing, but historic forts, including the famous Krak des Chevaliers (pictured), are being used by both sides of the conflict and so are enduring shelling and destruction by modern weapons.
Not much you and I can do about it except resist the urge to ever buy an illicit treasure should you be in the position to do so.
Yesterday I encouraged you to lock in an award ticket now if you want one for travel next summer. And I suggested calling the airline or a travel agent directly rather than trying to book on line. Here’s more advice.
One of my weekend show’s regular guests, Scott McCartney from the Wall Street Journal, also reminds you to remember partner airlines when you’re shopping with miles; they may offer the same route for fewer miles.
Just because award seats aren’t available the first time you shop doesn’t mean they won’t be the next day or week or month. Keep asking—inventory seems to fluctuate without apparent reason, says Scott. For $4.99 a month, you can sign up with ExpertFlyer.com. Tell the site where you want an award ticket to, and it’ll notify you the instant one pops up.
ExpertFlyer is best at identifying award seats on about a dozen international airlines and American and United. It doesn’t cover every airline. For example, it can search for upgrade awards on Delta, but not regular award tickets. The site claims about a 60% success rate and says the average amount of time before an award seat opens up is 27 days.
Frequent travelers know it’s sometimes very difficult to get an award ticket to a popular destination, especially without burning too many miles. Here’s what you should do now for next year.
Many airlines let you begin booking award tickets 11 months before you want to travel. Which means this is the time to begin thinking about where you want to visit next summer on a free ticket.
Our friend Scott McCartney, who writes the travel column called “The Middle Seat” for the Wall Street Journal has some great advice on how to do this right.
Begin looking for award seats now. Call an airline directly or use a travel agent—on-line inventory is smaller.
Don’t forget airline partners. If you have United miles and want to go to Europe, check out the number of miles you’ll have to use not just on United but also on their partners, Lufthansa and Air Canada. United’s standard award for a flight from the US and Italy is 295,000 miles, though a SuperSaver award of 135,000 is offered with limited availability; partner Air Canada offers the same thing for 125,000 of your United miles.
Yesterday I talked about an amnesty program that New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel began that asks past guests who stole things from the hotel to return them—no questions asked. What have you brought home from a hotel you shouldn’t have?
I’ve heard of people stealing—or trying to steal—coffee makers, bedspreads and sheets, even televisions from their hotel rooms. I once asked the then-general manager of a swanky New York hotel how he felt when his guests stole his towels. To my surprise, he said he didn’t mind at all—each one had the name of the hotel on it, and he figured they’d be seen by affluent, potential guests. After all, his room rates at The Mark went for the equivalent of about $800 a night or more. And he said this on my national radio show, which surprised me even more.
Then former Four Seasons general manager Stan Bromley told me the same thing—free advertising, he said.
I have a hard time agreeing that it’s OK to take towels and robes from hotels without paying. Sure, take the little things in the bathroom—the shower gel, the emery board. But beyond that, anything else is theft in my book. An NYE hospitality dean says he estimates guests steal about $80 million worth of stuff from US hotels a year. Those light bulbs and “Do Not Disturb” signs must add up.
And send the Walforf-Astoria back its stuff!