In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
The Los Angeles river lives again
LA’s concrete storm drains conceal a living, breathing waterway that has rarely been explored – until now.
A scorching morning in the San Fernando valley and I am driving up and down Balboa Boulevard, parks and fields either side of the motorway, lost. The talking GPS on my dashboard has lapsed into silence, defeated by an arcane destination with no zip code. I spy a park attendant emptying a bin and pull over to ask directions. He eyes me, baffled. I wonder if he is deaf and repeat the question. He still looks confused. “Did you say river?” Yes, I reply. Where is the river? He shakes his head. “What river?”
I find an elderly woman with a straw hat walking her terrier and ask the same question. She looks puzzled. “What river, honey?” The river I am supposed to kayak, I reply. She looks at me compassionately, as if I have sunstroke. “I don’t think you’re in the right place.”
But I am. Swishing below, all but invisible from the park and motorway above, is the Los Angeles river. A river with water, fish, tadpoles, birds, reeds, banks, a river that flows for 52 miles skirting Burbank, north Hollywood, Silver Lake, downtown and Compton and empties into the Pacific Ocean at Long Beach. A regular river, except that to most Angelenos it’s a secret. I ask three other people and receive the same blank looks until finally a park ranger confirms that, yes, there is a river at the bottom of a ravine all of 150ft away.
There, amid the reeds, bob a dozen little green and red kayaks, and people wearing helmets and lifejackets are clambering inside them. It is the inaugural season of LA River Expeditions, a pioneering effort to reclaim a waterway that vanished from the city’s consciousness almost a century ago. “Welcome,” says George Wolfe, the group’s founder. “I hope you’re ready for adventure.” We push off into the current.
Until recently this excursion would have been considered not just mad but illegal. City authorities encased the river bed in concrete in the 1930s, turning it into a flood-control channel that was a byword for contamination and forbidden to boaters. For decades it languished all but forgotten, save for Hollywood using its storm drains in films such asGrease and Terminator 2. Now, however, it has formally opened to boating tours, specifically kayaks and canoes. Activists hope it is the first step towards transformation. “It’s a milestone, and hopefully there are more to come,” says Charles Eddy, a board member of Friends of the LA River, and part of this expedition, as he navigates his kayak through brambles. “If you think of the river as a blank palette, people will create all sorts of wonderful things.”
Winning the travel rewards game
Meet George Papadopoulos. By day he’s a certified public accountant and financial planner. At night, he uses the same analytical skills for his hobby: cashing in big-time on travel rewards.
Recently he took his family of four on an Amtrak trip from Ann Arbor, Michigan, through Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle in a luxe sleeper car, using Amtrak points. His out-of-pocket costs? Meals and tips. Before that, he went on a Carnival cruise with his wife to the western Caribbean — paid for entirely with rewards points from his Capital One Venture Card .
Papadopoulos is hardcore, and he is not alone. There is a cadre of people who make points their serious avocation, and that distinguishes them significantly from people like me. I get points randomly and waste them on trips that have so many inconvenient stopovers and surcharges, I don’t save anything. And so, I asked George and a few other key players for their best advice. Here it is.
— Go big, or go home. Sign up for multiple programs and keep track of all of them via a Web-based service like Points.com or AwardWallet.com. If you want to make the rewards really rewarding, be willing to spend a significant amount of time looking for deals, comparing bonuses and managing your rewards. Otherwise, you will just be a dabbler like me, and that can end up costing you money, time and brain power.
— Follow the bloggers and the chatters. “These are very generous communities, everyone is willing to help,” says Angelina Aucello, another hobbyist who recently travelled, along with her fiance, from her East Rutherford, New Jersey, home to Hong Kong (nonstop), Macau, Bangkok, Phuket, Singapore and back to New York for a total cost of $194.35 per ticket, plus points, on Cathay Pacific Airways. Popular online points communities – where users share promotions and tips – include BoardingArea.com, Flyertalk.com, and MilePoint.com.
It also helps to follow specific airlines and hotels on Twitter and to “like” them on Facebook. You will see deals early.
— Get a “workhorse” credit card, but do not limit yourself to one. Summer Hull, who blogs under Mommypoints.com, says she uses a variety of rewards cards but currently prefers Chase Ink Bold, which is giving five points per dollar spent on telecommunications like cell phone and cable bills, as well as at office supply stores. Her technique for maximizing card points: Use different cards for different purchases, so you are getting the most points per card. Charge (and pay off every month) everything.
Use of electronics on planes under review
It’s going to be a while before airline passengers can use iPads and other electronic devices during the whole flight.
The Federal Aviation Administration said it is starting a process to study the issue, with a timeline that means it will take at least until March 2013 for a recommendation – and maybe longer for action.
In March the FAA raised hopes that it might loosen rules for electronic devices by saying it would “explore ways to bring together all of the key stakeholders involved.”
Smartphones and tablet computers are common in the passenger cabin, and pilots are using iPads in the cockpit. But passengers have to shut off electronic devices when the plane is below 10,000 feet (3048 metres) because of worries that signals emitted by the devices might interfere with electronics in the cockpit.
The FAA doesn’t actually ban the devices. But it says airlines can only allow devices that have been tested and proven not to interfere with the plane’s electronics. With thousands of devices on the market and new ones coming out each day, airlines simply ban them all during takeoff and landing.
The FAA will form a committee this fall to study the issue for six months and then make recommendations. The FAA often uses such Aviation Rulemaking Committees when it is considering changes, and their deliberations often last months, sometimes years.
This group will include people from mobile technology companies, airplane makers, pilots and flight attendants, airlines, and passenger associations. The FAA will also ask for public input.
Acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the agency wants “information to help airlines “decide if they can allow more widespread use of electronic devices in today’s aircraft.”
The FAA said allowing mobile phone use during flights isn’t under consideration.
Travel on a Tuesday if you want the cheapest flights
For a cheap flight to Europe, fly on a Tuesday: that is the conclusion of a Which? Travel study, published today. The magazine studied fares on more than 1,000 flights departing next month on three key European routes.
Flying with easyJet from Gatwick to Alicante on a Tuesday saved, on average, at least 25 per cent compared with the Friday fare – a typical saving of £28.
The priciest day depended on the airline. For BA’s Heathrow-Barcelona flight, Fridays and Saturdays were most expensive. On Ryanair’s Stansted-Dublin route, Sunday departures had by far the highest average fares. Inbound fares were highest at weekends, with Sunday arrivals most expensive on all three carriers.
The time of day was also relevant. Six out of seven of the cheapest BA fares were found outbound on the first two flights of the day, and the same proportion inbound on the last two flights. This is because there are few transfer opportunities to and from these flights at Heath-row Terminal Five, and therefore passenger loads tend to be lower.
By contrast, on easyJet – a “point-to-point” airline that does not offer connections – morning flights as early as 5.45am were the most expensive. Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said: “People can save a significant sum of money if they shop around and can be flexible, changing the day or time they choose to travel.”
Tuesdays also offer the best chance of an adjacent empty seat. The reason the 9/11 attacks took place on a Tuesday was because the terrorists knew that was the day of the week with the lowest average “load factor” on US domestic flights: typically 50 per cent or less, meaning there were fewer passengers to overpower.