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What’s New in Travel Industry News?

SmarterTravel

A lot of innovations and announcements either appeared recently or just recently came to my attention. Although none is a game-changer, many provide useful features.

Vacation Rental Metasearch: Several new or new-to-me vacation rental websites have arrived. Vakast.com, the most interesting, is a metasearch engine for vacation rentals: It compiles rentals from 35 different online rental billboard websites, including industry leading HomeAway.com, plus rentalo.com, and several primarily hotel and hostel sites; however, it does not include FlipKey and several other very large sites. Results are lightning fast—at least they are if you have a fast Internet connection—and the site offers the usual basic filters and several different search options.

New Rental-Car Player: Germany-based Sixt has decided to move into the U.S. marketplace, featuring Mercedes brands but offering a full spectrum of models. Locations open to date are a handful in Florida, three in California, and several in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic, plus Austin, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Seattle. Sixt has seven airport locations: Those in Atlanta, Miami, and Seattle are on-airport, where the airport operates combined rental-car facilities shared with other renters; airport offices in Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, San Diego, and West Palm Beach are off-airport, served by shuttle; other locations are downtown. Sixt is a solid company: I’ve rented from it in Germany, and you may have, too, when you rented through a third-party rental-car agency. But the U.S. program doesn’t seem to show any “unique selling proposition” that would make Sixt a go-to rental company rather than just one of the crowd.

Bus Metasearch Engine: Yes, I know that bus travel is not glamorous, but it’s enjoying a renaissance, with lots of new services. And the diversity of bus lines looked like an opportunity for a metasearch engine, which was grabbed by a new website, Wanderu.com. Unfortunately, when I tested it for some connections near my home in Oregon, I found that it didn’t even cover mainline Greyhound trips, let alone the handful of regional operators: My conclusion was that Wanderu isn’t fully ready for primetime. A spokesperson generally confirmed this, noting that the site was starting in the Northeast and Midwest, with the West Coast on tap. For now, I commend Wanderu to those of you who are interested in the areas it covers; travelers in other parts of the country will have to wait a while.

Spirit Airlines: Annoying, yes, but a Racketeer? In some ways, last week’s most interesting tidbit of news in the airline business was an obscure decision in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Court ruled that a group of Spirit Airlines passengers could file suit against the line for misrepresenting its fares under the RICO anti-racketeering law. Specifically, the Court held that the Airline Deregulation Act’s pre-emption of federal authority over airline pricing does not pre-empt other federal laws. This is significant because, since deregulation, airlines have been hiding behind the pre-emption principle to deflect consumer abuse offenses that the Department of Transportation has chosen not to enforce. As far as I know, Spirit has already stopped the abuses cited in the case, but the ability of consumers to use RICO, if upheld, provides travelers a new avenue to pursue airline abuses. This could be big.

More Norwegians: Despite all the fuss about a possible corporate base in Ireland, the current Norway-based line announced plans for expanded U.S. service next spring and summer:

  • New routes, once weekly: Orlando–London/Gatwick on April 4 and Orlando–Copenhagen on March 30.
  • Added flights: New York–London/Gatwick, six times weekly starting in May; Los Angeles–Stockholm, twice weekly, in March; and Oakland–Stockholm, three times weekly, in March.

The potential for more flights—especially to London—depends on the outcome of negotiations with the United States over Norwegian’s plans to operate U.S. flights by a new company based in Ireland. Meanwhile, still in Ireland, Ryanair’s CEO, Michael O’Leary, again promised low-fare service to the U.S.—as soon as he can buy long-range wide-body planes on the cheap. Don’t plan on flying Ryanair to Europe any time soon.

Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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