Monthly Archives: January 2018

31Jan 2018

Eight disturbing travel trends you'll confront in 2018 – USA TODAY


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Before celebrating the room rate double-check what’s covered in the mandatory resort fee. TreNesha Striggles/The Republic
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There was both good news and bad news for American travelers in 2017, but still lingering are legitimate concerns that certain trends will continue and even worsen this year. In some ways, the image of a paying airline passenger named Dr. David Dao being bloodied and beaten and dragged off an airplane was the watershed event that set the tone.

Here’s a summary of several key issues, and advice on how consumers can respond.

Fewer consumer protections

I addressed this last month with “A plea for transparency on airline fees,” when I noted that in December the U.S. Department of Transportation abruptly withdrew proposed rulemakings that would assist consumers to obtain real-time pricing of full airfares and fees when shopping for airline seats. Subsequently, major U.S. airlines and their trade organization have been lobbying the administration to modify or repeal dozens of rules protecting fliers. This story could potentially impact airline passengers more negatively than anything else that occurs in 2018. The need for consumers to shop around when booking travel is more critical than ever.

Widespread reduction of Amtrak routes

Those who love riding the rails saw their travel plans thrown off track last year when President Trump’s budget called for drastic cuts to Amtrak’s budget and elimination of service to more than 220 cities and communities in 23 states nationwide, including venerable long-distance routes. These proposed cuts have not yet been enacted by Congress, and the National Association of Railroad Passengers has launched the “Rally for Trains” campaign to enlist public support. The good news is that many passengers are responding with their wallets, as Amtrak notched record revenues of $205 million in November 2017, the best month in company history.

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Threats to safety

Once again we saw no fatal accidents on U.S. carriers last year, which is great news indeed. Yet despite the domestic airline industry’s safety record, concerns continue to grow about factors that can adversely affect that record:

• Outsourcing of aircraft maintenance has continued, raising questions about oversight and security.

• Some members of Congress are attempting to weaken stricter standards for regional carrier pilots, which resulted from a hard fight by family members of those killed on the Continental Express/Colgan Air Flight 3407 crash in Buffalo in 2009.

• Internal Federal Aviation Administration documents indicate a Chinese supplier installed counterfeit aircraft parts on Boeing aircraft, again raising questions about oversight.

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Hotel ‘resort fees’ continue unabated

Determining the cost of those travel fees can be annoying enough — but what of the fees themselves? Whether it’s roadside service when renting a car or beverage tabs on cruise lines, nickel-and-diming may have been perfected by the airlines but it has spread to all parts of the travel industry. In the hotel sector, one of the most insidious consumer deceptions is something called “drip pricing,” which often takes the form of unexpected MANDATORY charges such as resort fees, which Travelers United terms “deceptive, unfair and wrong.” (In the past the Federal Trade Commission agreed.) Currently the consumer advocacy organization advises 47 attorneys general are investigating these fees, which can range from $20 to $40 nightly at hotels and up to $75 nightly at resorts. You can learn more and offer support at the “End Hotel and Resort Fees” page.

Worthless reservations

In the wake of Dr. Dao being dragged off United Express Flight 3411 in Chicago last April, the issue of reservations not being honored in the travel industry became a viral topic. Subsequently I represented Consumers Union as the only passenger advocate to testify alongside five airline executives in a Congressional hearing, and suggested that domestic airline Contracts of Carriage “give all the rights to the airlines, and precious few rights to their passengers,” before calling for a meaningful Passenger Bill of Rights to address this and other issues. But as I noted in a November column that addressed car rentals, hotels, rail and buses, un-honored reservations aren’t restricted to airlines. Learn more and be aware — BEFORE you book.

Uber and Lyft: Security breaches and ‘surge pricing’

Last May I wrote about the financial risks of using Uber or Lyft with “Liability guide: Know your risks on the road.” But other troubles at both on-demand transportation companies continued throughout 2017. First a security breach surfaced after Uber paid hackers $100,000 to delete stolen data about 57 million customers. While Uber dealt with other challenges, including sexual harassment revelations, rival Lyft made headlines of its own with charges that prices surged above 500% during last year’s Super Bowl. Bottom line? Consider how the lack of regulatory oversight can affect you the next time you hail a ride.

Tighter airline seats

That Congressional hearing about airline service last May that I referenced above? To underscore how tone-deaf U.S. airline executives can be, that very week American Airlines announced a reduction in economy-class legroom seat pitch down to just 30 inches, and even 29 inches in some cases. For years I’ve been writing here about how airline seats are shrinking. Think I’m being unfair with the tone-deaf charges? Consider that a recent article detailed how American’s new Boeing 737 MAX jets have just 30 inches of seat pitch, reduced recline and smaller lavatories. Yet when American CEO Doug Parker was asked about this by his company’s flight attendants, he responded that he hasn’t even flown on the aircraft — in any class. Meanwhile, keep in mind that airlines in North America have been posting the highest net profits in the world, forecasted at $16.4 billion this year; in fact, they have generated more than half of all airline profits worldwide for the past three years. Since economy-class legroom isn’t likely to increase anytime soon, research your seating options in advance, such as at SeatGuru.com.

Distracted driving still a menace

There were 37,461 fatalities on American highways in 2016, the latest year for statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, resulting in a 15.6% increase over 2015. But one particularly disturbing note is that 3,450 of those deaths were due to distracted driving, which has become ubiquitous in recent years. Even the percentages of those who confess to engaging in such practices — undoubtedly nowhere near the total number of distracted drivers — are quite staggering: A Consumer Reports survey in October 2017 found 41% of drivers admitted they had texted behind the wheel, and 8% acknowledged watching videos. What’s worse, there is growing evidence that technology can increase rather than decrease fatal accidents, as new cars debut more and more high-tech gizmos on dashboards. In a report on distracted driving, Deborah Hersman, president of the National Safety Council, stated, “Most Americans recognize risky drivers on the roadways, but they are not adopting safer behaviors themselves.” And as I noted in September, one of the most nagging unsafe behaviors is the failure to buckle up on the road, so be proactive.

Here’s hoping that by 2019 at least a few of these items can be eradicated.

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Bill McGee, a contributing editor to Consumer Reports and the former editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, is an FAA-licensed aircraft dispatcher who worked in airline operations and management for several years. Tell him what you think of his latest column by sending him an email at travel@usatoday.com. Include your name, hometown and daytime phone number, and he may use your feedback in a future column.

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31Jan 2018

This is the perfect credit card for everyone from college students to CEOs – Business Insider


The  Insider Picks  team writes about stuff we think you’ll like. Business Insider may receive a commission from The Points Guy Affiliate Network.

Shutterstock/George Rudy

  • The Chase Freedom Unlimited is one of the best all-around credit cards available.
  • While the card earns 1.5% back, you can also convert that into Chase Ultimate Rewards points, and combine them with points from your Sapphire Preferred or Reserve card.
  • Other benefits, like an introductory APR, lack of annual fee, and sign-up bonus, make this the perfect credit card for just about anyone.

Chase offers some great credit cards for anyone who travels — including the Sapphire Preferred and Reserve — but it can be challenging to figure out which of those cards is best for you. However, Chase offers another card that should be a no-brainer for everyone, whether you already hold a few premium cards, or if you’ve never had your own credit card before: the Chase Freedom Unlimited.

The rewards

The Freedom Unlimited card from Chase is a great card and a strong rewards earner, offering 1.5% cash back on all purchases. You can redeem that as straight cash, a statement credit, or as gift cards to a ton of different merchants.

However, while Chase markets the card as “cash back,” it actually earns Ultimate Rewards points that you can redeem for cash (1 point = $0.01). 

If you have a premium card like the Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve, you can pool your points from the two cards, and get a bonus when purchasing travel, or transfer them to travel partners. The Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5 points per dollar spent, so paired with a Sapphire card, it’s a great card to use for purchases that aren’t made on travel expenses or dining. That way you can get a guaranteed 1.5–3x points per dollar spent.

The introductory interest rate

When you open a new Freedom Unlimited, you’ll get a fantastic 0% introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months. After the introductory APR offer, a variable APR of 16.24%-24.99% applies.

While credit card debt is generally something you should avoid, loans are actually beneficial as long as you use them responsibly — especially when there’s no interest for a set period, like in this case. If you have a major purchase and you don’t want to drain your cash reserves, the Freedom Unlimited offers a way to pay for the purchase over time without paying a penny of interest. You’ll even earn cash (or points) on the purchase, and from the sign-up bonus (see below).

I’ve taken advantage of 0% introductory APR credit card offers twice. The first time was when my wife and I first got engaged. I had saved a lot for the ring, but that was a pretty healthy chunk of my savings account. It seemed like a 0% introductory APR credit card was the best solution. When I was ready to buy the ring, I applied for a card with an offer, used it to pay, and didn’t charge anything else to that card until I was finished repaying the ring.

The second was when my laptop started to die. I needed a new one, but I knew I had a few other big expenses in the near future and, if I could avoid it, I didn’t want to tap into my personal emergency fund. Instead, I found another card offering an introductory APR and did the same exact thing.

The important thing is to make sure you have a plan to finish paying off the purchase before the introductory APR expires. After that, you should go back to paying your statement in full each month, rather than carrying over a balance. You can read more about how (and why) to take advantage of 0% introductory APR offers here.

The sign-up bonus

In addition to the points you earn from spending, you can earn a sign-up bonus of $150 (or 15,000 Ultimate Rewards points) when you open a Freedom Unlimited and spend $500 within the first three months. If you’re taking advantage of the introductory APR, you can put the sign-up bonus right back toward paying off the purchase. Otherwise, you can enjoy the extra cash, or boost your stash of Ultimate Rewards points for your next big trip.

No annual fee

Unlike most premium rewards cards, the Freedom Unlimited doesn’t have any annual fee. That means that you don’t have to ever worry about whether you’re getting enough value from the card to make up for the fee. You can use and keep the card open indefinitely — since a higher average age of your accounts contributes to your credit score, that’s a great way to help add some positive data to boost it.

Bottom line

The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a no-brainer. If you’re just starting out with credit cards and are looking for a way to earn some cash back, this card is a great option. If you eventually upgrade to a more robust rewards card like the Sapphire Preferred, you can turn that cash back into more valuable rewards points.

If you already have Ultimate Rewards-earning cards like the Sapphire Preferred, the Sapphire Reserve, or the Ink Business Preferred, this is the best way to maximize your points earning on all your spend that doesn’t fall into the other card’s bonus categories.

With the introductory APR, you can also take advantage of the fact to pay off a large purchase over time without having to pay huge interest rates.

That makes the Freedom Unlimited the perfect card for just about everyone.

Click here to learn more about the Chase Freedom Unlimited card from Insider Picks’ partner The Points Guy.

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Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Business Insider’s Insider Picks team. We aim to highlight products and services you might find interesting, and if you buy them, we get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising sales team. We welcome your feedback.

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31Jan 2018

Credit card rewards take the sting out of a starter budget – Journal Times


As credit card rewards rates and bonuses skyrocket in value, they’ve fattened the wallets of many creditworthy consumers. But one group especially can benefit from these ever-growing offers: millennials.

For folks in their 20s to mid-30s, credit card rewards can trim expenses and make travel affordable at a time when income often flows to other financial priorities.

“Without miles and points, I probably wouldn’t have gone on half the (trips) I’ve gone on,” says Deric Poldberg, 26, of Carter Lake, Iowa, who works as a banker. As the founder of the award travel blog PassengerPoldberg.com, he often uses rewards to book ambitious international getaways.

It’s generally easy to come out ahead on credit card reward offers, as Poldberg has, if you can manage your spending well and pay down your balances every month to avoid interest. If that’s doable, those rewards are well worth your attention.

REWARDS OFFER FINANCIAL WIGGLE ROOM

Starting out on your own is often a financial juggling act. Suddenly, your paycheck might be going to student loans, rent and an emergency fund, leaving little left over. Rewards earned on credit cards offer some financial breathing room, and they don’t necessarily have to cost you.

Sign-up bonuses earned on cards with no annual fees, for example, are often worth $150 or $200. If those rewards come in the form of cash back, that’s enough to cover a few date nights, a week of groceries or a new piece of furniture. You’ll also earn ongoing rewards when using a rewards card — whether it’s a cash-back or travel card — often getting about 1 to 2 percent back on each purchase.

“Just having that extra . designated amount of money that allows you to do things you normally wouldn’t do, I think, is really beneficial,” says Britany Ederveen, 27, a high school English teacher in Parker, Colorado , who blogs about travel and other topics. She carries a card that earns flexible rewards redeemable for travel, among other things.

TRAVEL BECOMES MORE AFFORDABLE

For many millennials, travel is a part of life, and rewards earned on a credit card can trim expenses significantly. Ederveen, for example, recently used her credit card points to cover hotel stays when visiting Germany and Austria with her boyfriend, making the trip much more affordable.

Points and miles can even come in handy for those who don’t go on big trips. Some flexible travel rewards also cover rides on Uber or Lyft, campground fees, train and bus fares and other travel-related expenses. Plus, most travel cards with annual fees also tend to come with large bonuses, often worth $500 or more when redeemed for travel.

Blogger Matt Kepnes of Austin, Texas, began traveling internationally at age 23. But it wasn’t until a few years later that he found out how useful credit card rewards could be. On his blog, Nomadic Matt, he writes about his travels and explains how to benefit from these rewards programs .

“I realized, ‘I’ve been flying around the world and not collecting any points and miles. I’m a huge idiot,'” says Kepnes, now 36. “So I really started investigating the points and miles system.” He recommends putting everyday spending on a rewards credit card if you can qualify for one.

MORE FLEXIBILITY, MORE OPPORTUNITIES

You might not have a plump savings account as a millennial, but time is often on your side. And in the world of credit card rewards, that can be an enormous advantage, especially for young people willing to jump through a few hoops .

“When you’re young, you don’t have as many obligations. You’re a little more apt to take a trip over a long weekend to another country,” says Poldberg. In 2016, he and his girlfriend did just that when they traveled to Paris with rewards , after snagging an outstanding deal on the flight.

Even for millennials with less flexible schedules, there are opportunities to score extra rewards. If you shop online and don’t mind trying out different retailers, you could earn more rewards by shopping through credit card bonus malls. Or you could maximize a rotating rewards category on a card by timing a large purchase for the quarter when you’ll earn the most cash back.

It’s usually not quick or easy to squeeze the most value possible out of credit card rewards. But for young folks who have the flexibility and willingness to experiment, such efforts can pay off.

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This article originally appeared on the personal finance website NerdWallet. Claire Tsosie is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: claire@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @ideclaire7.

RELATED LINKS:

NerdWallet: The secret to optimizing credit card rewards? Be disloyal

Nomadic Matt: How I earn 1 million frequent flier miles each year

Passenger Poldberg: How I booked my first award ticket to Paris

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31Jan 2018

Ten Major Anniversaries Worth Traveling For This Year – Smithsonian


As you ponder travel destinations for the year ahead, consider looking back at history for inspiration. This year, some momentous anniversaries are fast-approaching, offering travelers a new celebratory or reflective lens on locales running the gamut from Venice to Cape Town to New Orleans. Celebrate the birth of a Brit Lit great with a brooding stroll across England’s moor country, or carol your way through a not-so-silent night in Austria’s Salzburg region this Christmas to celebrate 200 years of a world-famous hymn. Or if you’d rather step away into nature for a while, now’s also the perfect time to #findyourtrail 50 years after the founding of America’s National Trails System.

1. Founding of New Orleans — 300 years

New Orleans’s celebrated French Quarter.

(Photoservice / iStock)

You can be sure the Big Easy will be partying hard this year: New Orleans is fast approaching the 300th anniversary of its 1718 inception. Founded by an ambassador of the enterprising French Mississippi Company as La Nouvelle-Orléans, the colony was ceded to the Spanish in 1763 following the Seven Years’ War. By the dawn of the 19th century, though, it was back in French hands, and Napoleon, whose dreams of a robust French presence in the New World had soured, sold the whole of France’s massive Louisiana territory (a.k.a. “New France”) to Thomas Jefferson at a primo price.

Since that storied 1803 transaction—the Louisiana Purchase—the city of New Orleans has grown to be a point of pride for Americans everywhere, a cultural bastion teeming with the best in distinctly American music (jazz, blues, rock, R&B, hip-hop), cuisine (Creole, Cajun, soul food, po’ boys, beignets) and spirit (Mardi Gras, French Quarter Festival, Satchmo SummerFest). Visitors to the city during this historic tricentennial year can expect an especially exuberant display of New Orleans love; the 2018 NOLA Commission convened by Mayor Mitchell Landrieu promises a wide selection of concerts, fireworks displays and general good times. A city-wide historical symposium is slated for early March, and at the end of the year, buildings all over New Orleans will be bathed in luminous art for the Art Council’s mesmerizing Luna Fête. 

2. Birth of Tintoretto — 500 years

Doge's Palace, Venice
Doge’s Palace in Venice.

(Dreamer4787 / iStock)

Connoisseurs of late-Renaissance art have a fabulous excuse to fly to Italy this year: the beloved Venetian Mannerist painter Tintoretto was born 500 years ago, in either September or October. The son of a silk dyer, or tintore, Jacopo “Tintoretto” Comin gained a reputation for his astonishing work ethic and technical sophistication.

Drawing on the Mannerist movement sweeping Europe during the latter half of the 16th century, Tintoretto injected asymmetry and subtle stylistic distortion into his compositions. But as a lover of Venice—a city from which he rarely strayed during his life—he also embraced fully the vibrancy of Venetian School painting, which tended to prioritize rich color contrast. By welcoming both of these inspirations, and suffusing his work with arresting light and shadow play, Tintoretto carved out a distinct niche for himself in the art world, and produced such immortal treasures as Miracle of the Slave (1548) and Christ at the Sea of Galilee (c. 1575-1580).

In recognition of the artist, who is seen as a hero by Venetians, the group Save Venice Inc. (“Dedicated to preserving the artistic heritage of Venice”) will be throwing an eventful Tintoretto 500 Celebration Weekend from October 5-7. Visitors are invited to partake of an additional two-day trip to the Veneto countryside once the weekend festivities have concluded. The non-profit Venezia Arte is hosting monthly Tintoretto-themed tours of Venice as well, and on September 7, the comprehensive exhibition Tintoretto: The Artist of Venice at 500 will make its debut at the Doge’s Palace.

3. Death of Blackbeard — 300 years

Ocracoke Island
Blackbeard’s final battle took place off the coast of the sandy beaches of North Carolina’s Ocracoke Island.

(dwalker2 / iStock)

Early on the morning of November 18, 1718, Royal Navy lieutenant Robert Maynard mounted a brazen ambush of the elusive pirate Blackbeard, whose sloop Adventure was moored at Ocracoke Island in North Carolina. Caught unawares, the infamous sea wolf, a.k.a. Edward Teach, nonetheless managed to put up serious resistance after cutting his anchor line and bringing his cannons to bear against the small Navy vessels Maynard had deployed.

A perfectly timed broadside from Blackbeard wreaked havoc on the British ships, nearly thwarting their mission. Maynard, however, persisted in his approach, advancing on Blackbeard’s cornered Adventure despite numerous crew casualties and a lack of backup. Ultimately, Maynard pressed the pirate and his men into a full-on brawl on the deck of Maynard’s Jane, which ended with Blackbeard shot up and sword-sliced all across his body. Maynard’s crew relieved the dead man of his head, carrying it off on Jane’s bowsprit as proof of their achievement.

2018 marks the 300th anniversary of this storied encounter; North Carolina is without a doubt the place to be for pirate enthusiasts this year. Stroll the wild, undeveloped beaches of Ocracoke Island’s Cape Hatteras National Seashore, break a sweat in the Blackbeard Half Marathon on April 29, or join Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree in late October, which promises a “historically accurate pirate encampment” and a reenactment of Blackbeard’s final battle. Artifacts from Blackbeard’s sunken flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, will also be touring museums and other public North Carolina venues across the entirety of 2018, and the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort will be offering young kids a thematic pirate adventure all their own.

4. Birth of Emily Bronte — 200 years

Haworth Parsonage Museum
Haworth Parsonage Museum

(Lisa via Flickr)

Brit lit buffs may know that Emily Bronte, the Bronte sister who most notably authored Wuthering Heights, was born 200 years ago, on July 30, in a village called Thornton Market Street. An insular animal lover, Bronte shocked Victorian audiences with her dark, gritty novel, a tale of base lust and impassioned violence set against the stark backdrop of English moor country. Many period critics were scandalized that anyone could produce such an unflinchingly dark book, let alone a seemingly mild-mannered woman.

Wuthering Heights, which has since spawned numerous movies, TV series and additional works of written fiction, was fated to be Emily Bronte’s first and only novel. She caught a nasty cold at her brother Patrick’s 1848 funeral, one which rapidly worsened, opening the door for tuberculosis. Repeatedly refusing the aid of a physician (she distrusted doctors), a consumptive Emily went on to die in her bed, aged 30. Wuthering Heights was published only one year prior, under the nom de plume Ellis Bell.

British actress and entrepreneur Lily Cole will be helming Emily Bronte bicentenary festivities at the Bronte Parsonage Museum, located in the sisters’ former West Yorkshire residence. Cole will be conducting and presenting an analysis of the real-life inspiration for the Heathcliff character in collaboration with London’s Foundling Museum. Patience Agabi, Kate Whiteford and The Unthanks, meanwhile, will pay poetic, painterly and musical tribute to Emily. More details will emerge as the date draws nearer.

5. First performance of “Silent Night” — 200 years

Christmas market in front of Salzburg Cathedral
Christmas market in front of Salzburg Cathedral

(Alexander Jung / iStock)

Carolers who swear by the ethereal majesty of the classic noel “Silent Night” will be delighted to know that the song made its debut two centuries ago this coming Christmas Eve. The piece was first performed by pastor-turned-lyricist Joseph Mohr and teacher-turned-melodist Franz Xaver Gruber in the Austrian town of Oberndorf, just north of Salzburg.

It wasn’t until 1832 or so, 14 years later, that the six-stanza German-language carol (originally called “Stille Nacht”) surged into the mainstream. Following a public performance in Leipzig, Germany, the tune took off across Europe. In 1873, “Silent Night” made it to the New World, washing up on American shores under the uninspired title “Chorale of Salzburg.” Now we know it by its proper name, and continue to bask in its beautiful simplicity—three verses’ worth, anyway.

To celebrate the origins of the globally popular hymn, 13 separate locations in Austria will be putting on dedicated museum exhibitions, an original play and a multitude of other events designed to introduce visitors to “the land of Silent Night.” If you fancy a white Christmas spent nibbling Lienz gingerbread, cider biscuits and chocolate pralines in a historic setting, Austria would be a fine pick this year.

6. Birth of Frederick Douglass — 200 years

Reginald F. Lewis Museum
The Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore.

(Wikimedia Commons)

Of all the 19th-century voices that argued for abolition in America, few if any were as crisply compelling as that of Frederick Douglass. Douglass, born into slavery c. February 1818 under the name Frederick Bailey, spent his early childhood on a Maryland plantation with his grandmother. At age 8, he was wrested from her, as he had been from his mother before her, and sent off to Baltimore to be a domestic servant. As he grew, Douglass managed to surreptitiously educate himself, and in 1838 he fled to New York, assuming the alias Douglass. Following a rousing impromptu speech at an 1841 convention in Massachusetts, Douglass rose to national prominence as an orator and advocate of African American emancipation. He also came to be a fierce champion of women’s rights.

Douglass’s firsthand perspective on slavery was inspiring and unbelievable to those who heard him and read his newspaper, The North Star. (Some literally disbelieved at first that a man so eloquent could have been born into bondage.) He came to be a trusted adviser of President Lincoln’s, stressing the centrality of the slavery issue to the conflict rocking the nation, and his philosophy of peaceful protest and political persuasion paved the way for more modern Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr.

To celebrate the rich life of this true American hero, consider making a trip to Baltimore this year and visiting the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture. Exhibits in the museum honor Douglass year-round, and a special set of activities is planned for the afternoon of Saturday, February 10, in honor of the bicentenary. Additionally, hour-long Frederick Douglass Path to Freedom Walking Tours will be held every day through September 3. You can register for the city walks by phone or email.

7. Birth of Karl Marx — 200 years

Karl Marx House in Trier, Germany
The Karl Marx House in Trier, Germany.

(klug-photo / iStock)

Few thinkers have influenced the geopolitical landscape to anywhere near the extent that Prussian polymath Karl Marx did with his theories on labor and industry and his articulation of the communist ideal. The author of 1867’s Das Kapital and co-author (with Friedrich Engels) of 1848’s landmark political pamphlet The Communist Manifesto, Marx was a deft writer and a commanding orator.

He contended that lowly proletarian workers would inevitably rise against their bourgeois oppressors, seizing the means of production and wresting from the wealthy control of the course of history. His ideas gave rise to the Russian Revolution, and eventually to the proliferation of various brands of “Communism” across the globe in the tumultuous years of the Cold War. Marx was born on May 5, 1818, 200 years ago this spring.

From this May 5 through October 21, visitors to Europe will have the chance to take in a massive exhibition devoted to Marx and his legacy at the Karl Marx House museum in Trier, where he was born and raised. The historic city is part of modern-day Germany. Hamburg will also be marking the anniversary with an exhibition at the Work Museum on the lasting impact of Das Kapital and its own presentation of Marx’s life and times.

8. Birth of Nelson Mandela — 100 years

View over Cape Town with Robben Island
The view over Cape Town with Robben Island in the background.

(Pmassie / iStock)

Nelson Mandela, now internationally renowned for his wide-ranging humanitarianism and leading role in the peaceful diplomatic dismantling of South Africa’s segregationist Apartheid program (for which he earned a Nobel Peace Prize), was born into a prominent family in the Xhosa-speaking Thembu nation 100 years ago this July 18. Though he could easily have laid claim to a position of power among the Thembu, Mandela opted instead to study law, and to focus on the treatment of South Africans more broadly.

Mandela’s outspokenness against the Apartheid regime, which had been legally encoded by the descendants of Dutch settlers as early as 1949 (when the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act made black-white marriage a criminal act), was met with vengeful resistance. Once Mandela’s opponents were able to link him to an antiestablishment sabotage campaign, they sent him off to prison, where he spent 27 years. His allies were only inflamed by this, and agitation mounted. After a time, South Africa’s white president F.W. de Klerk smelled change on the wind, and ordered Mandela’s release. The two of them then brokered an official end to Apartheid.

Mandela went on to take up additional causes on the world stage, raising awareness of the HIV/AIDS crisis and giving a voice to those living in poverty. Those looking to engage with the legacy of this singular civil rights leader in 2018 can look forward to this year’s Ihlombe! South African Choral Festival, which will take place across four of South Africa’s most major cities from July 1-20 and remember Mandela through song. Plus, a new free-to-use mobile app called Mandiba’s Journey will steer visitors to South African sights tied to Mandela’s eventful life.

Robben Island, the brutal prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 of his 27 years behind bars, remains a powerful testament to his resolve. The guided tour takes visitors to the limestone quarry where Mandela and other political prisoners were forced to dig rocks for the prison roads and to Mandela’s 7-by-9-foot cell.

9. End of World War I – 100 years

WWI Trenches, Sanctuary Wood, Ypres, Belgium
Reconstructed WWI trenches in Sanctuary Wood, Ypres, Belgium.

(JohnGomezPix / iStock)

Armistice Day, November 11, has long served as a time for thoughtful remembrance in those nations that had a part to play in the sound and fury of the First World War. On November 11, 1918, terms signed in Compiègne, France brought a formal end to over four years of bloody conflict. Characterized by grueling trench warfare, relentless artillery bombardments and the use of deadly machine guns and noxious gas, the so-called War to End All Wars, brought on by political scrambling in the wake of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, left deep scars on the landscape of Europe, as well as the psyches of its inhabitants.

As the former Allies of World War I mark the centenary of the war’s resolution this year, they invite natives and pilgrims alike to attend any of a host of commemorative ceremonies, religious services and museum exhibitions taking place across Europe. In England, the Imperial War Museum’s “Making a New World” display will examine the deadly new technologies and other advancements of World War I that fundamentally altered life on Earth. In France, a service at the Amiens cathedral, which has stood since the year 1300, will reflect on the pivotal Battle of Amiens, which initiated the Hundred Days Offensive that ultimately ended the war. And if you wish to revisit the war from a soldier’s perspective, sites like Sanctuary Wood in Ypres, Belgium, give you the chance to walk century-old trenches and get up-close views of combatants’ weapons, ammunition, uniforms and personal keepsakes.

It is sure to be a bittersweet anniversary, as descendants and rememberers of World War I combatants gather to celebrate the peace of November 1918 while also reflecting on the precipitous cost at which that peace came.

10. Creation of the National Trails System – 50 years

Appalachian Trail Descends Jane Bald Through Rhododendron
The Appalachian Trail cuts through Roan Mountain State Park in Tennessee.

(kellyvandellen / iStock)

Whether you’re a veteran traveler on America’s nature trail network or a greenhorn looking to step away from the technological world for a weekend, 2018 is an excellent year to take a hike. The National Trails System Act, which formally created the nationally administered system of scenic trails we enjoy access to today, was passed into law 50 years ago this October. The therapeutic power of extended nature hikes is reflected in the testimonies of many who have made the effort, perhaps most notably in recent years the memoirist Cheryl Strayed, whose bestselling book Wild (and the associated film) tracks her northward journey over 1,100 miles of the West Coast’s sweeping Pacific Crest Trail.

Whether or not you’re inclined to brave the mammoth Pacific Crest Trail (2,660 miles) or the East Coast’s Appalachian Trail (2,200 miles)—the two oldest National Trails—or the Continental Divide Trail cutting through the western mountain states (3,100 miles), there’s guaranteed to be a trail somewhere with your name on it. America’s scenic nature trails are sure to be teeming with human life this year as folks across the country celebrate the anniversary. Hikers are encouraged by the National Park Service to share stories of their travels with the spirited hashtag #findyourtrail.

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31Jan 2018

Using better data to fight credit card fraud – CSO Online


I recently spoke with a long-time acquaintance who had owned several small businesses. He made a good living selling electronic products like computers and printers to consumers, and he seemed to be doing well enough that I would call him “rich.” In my eyes, he was the epitome of the American dream. He worked hard and was rewarded handsomely for it.

I hadn’t talked to him in nearly a decade when I ran into him at a gas station, which it turned out he owned. He told me he had sold all his online businesses and just had this one gas station as his only income-generating asset. He wasn’t getting richer, necessarily, but he said he had far less stress than before. I had to ask why. He said, “I don’t have to deal with credit card fraud nearly as much anymore.”

When you sell electronics online, you become a frequent target for credit card fraudsters trying to convert their stolen credit card information into physical goods, which they can then resell for cash. Unfortunately, many times the charges reversed after the credit cards are reported stolen are the responsibility of the seller (depending on the vendor’s merchant card agreement). Since Europay, Mastercard and VISA (EMV) chip-enabled credit cards started taking over the world, physical credit card crime is dropping while online credit card crime is flourishing. “I’d still be selling electronics and making a better retirement if someone could get the credit card fraud under control,” he said.

I told him someone has.

Credit card fraud statistics

Although only a fraction of a percent of credit card transactions (6 to 7 cents per $100) are fraud, that still equates to tens-of-billions of dollars in fraudulent transactions. The United States, the country with the most credit card transactions, leads the way in fraud, accounting for between one-fifth to one-third of all credit card fraud depending on the year. Credit card providers and merchants spend billions of dollars each year to prevent more fraud.

Want to be a hero in the credit card fraud prevention world? Prevent just 0.1 percent of the fraud from occurring.  Although there are a variety of factors and markets to consider, the industry considers a fraud rate of 0.005 percent to be good. Galileo Processing claims it has pushed its customer’s fraud rates down to 0.001 percent.

Better yet, Galileo says it has pushed down false-negatives and false-positives (something the industry labels as “precision”) to well below the industry average. Precision can be likened to false-negatives and false-positives by an antivirus product. You want your antivirus product to be as near 100 percent accurate as possible, but if it flags or deletes one legitimate file and messes up your computer for a day, you’re going to be pissed.

It’s the same in the credit card industry, except too many false-positives (stopping or interrupting legitimate transactions) will cause the customer to flee to other, more precise credit cards. Credit card vendors are constantly trying to find the right balance in stopping real fraud without making too many customers mad.

Industry average precision from the biggest credit card fraud vendors is around .25, meaning that credit card vendors have three negative correlation events for every true positive correlation (i.e., real fraud). Galileo claims a precision of .90, meaning nine true events detected for every single negative correlation. That gives Galileo is more than three times greater accurate while pushing fraud rates five times lower. These numbers might not seem like much, but because so much money is involved, when Galileo shares these numbers with industry insiders, they have a hard time not cussing…in a good way.

From fintech to credit card fraud prevention

I interviewed Galileo’s enthusiastic founder and CEO, Clay Wilkes, to get more information on his “secret sauce” to share with readers. Unfortunately, Clay is protecting his AI algorithms like they were worth hundreds of millions of dollars, which they are. Galileo hadn’t started out to become one of the top credit card fraud catchers in the world, but it turned out that way.

Galileo is an 18-year old company headquartered in Utah. Last year it grew 800 percent. Galileo offers full lifecycle services for the financial technologies (fintech) sector. It offers all the services needed to run a private label credit card including back-end processing, new account registration, billing, automated clearing house (ACH), customer service and fraud detection.

Wilkes said that his company has always been data-centric. It’s the nature of his business, but he quickly discovered that what he was doing to prevent credit card fraud for his customers was having results above industry norms. So, starting in 2016, Galileo’s “standard offering” was a rules-based anti-fraud engine, which it fine-tuned to be more accurate over time. That morphed into a true AI engine that allowed Galileo to be even more accurate and more responsive. The AI isn’t a rules-based engine. Instead it learns on its own over billions of credit card transactions and events.

Wilkes was hesitant to share the exact details of how Galileo’s AI got so accurate, beyond that it looks at 500 different transaction attributes (such as overall account behavior, physical distance between two transactions, and merchant credibility), and uses previous outcomes to improve precision. He did share that Galileo’s precision was so good that it had only 84 false-positives (i.e., a bad consumer experience) out of 2.6 million transactions.

Most vendors talk about how the future of the world will be AI, but Galileo has a product now that appears to be getting great results. Wilkes says anyone interested in Galileo’s systems can interact with them through an open API and development environment sandbox.

These days I’m a sucker for any company that is using big data and security analytics to improve their field or the world. Galileo Processing is doing just that in the credit card industry. After I shared Galileo’s fraud prevent stats with my gas station-owning friend, all he could say is that he would still be in business and making money online if they had been around when he was an online marketer. After interviewing Wilkes, my only thought was that I wish he would expand into more sectors. The world needs more people showing what can be done today in improving security and leading the way.

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30Jan 2018

Why Attack Afghan Civilians? Creating Chaos Rewards Taliban – New York Times


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They were hardly the first Taliban attacks in the capital. Still, there was something particularly alarming in their scale and implication about the pair of episodes, just a week apart, that rocked Afghanistan: a hotel siege that killed 22, then a car bomb, loaded into an ambulance, that killed 103.

But the question of why — why target bystanders, and in such numbers — is perhaps best answered not by peering into the minds of the attackers but by examining the structure of a war that increasingly pulls its participants toward the senseless.

Whether the week’s events will translate into a long-term gain for the Taliban or serve only as a terrible but temporary show of force, the attacks embody the trends toward violence and disintegration that appear to be only worsening in Afghanistan.

A War Engineered for Chaos

The war’s participants embarked on what they thought was a traditional battle for control of Afghanistan’s territory and for the allegiance of its people. But over more than 16 years, without setting out to do so, they have remade it into a war over one issue: whether or not the country can have a central, functioning state.

For the American-led coalition and its Afghan partners, the goal was simple: Set up a government, help it consolidate control, and wait for Afghans to reject the Taliban in favor of stability.

The Taliban, which deny the foreigner-backed government’s legitimacy, sought to topple it.

Because both sides treated Afghanistan’s governance as a matter of all-or-nothing survival, the Taliban had every incentive to create chaos.

“I see a lot of U.S. complicity in this,” said Frances Z. Brown, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and former member of the National Security Council.

With the Taliban unable to win outright but the Americans unwilling to admit defeat, she said, each side has privileged short-term escalations. That has validated the Taliban’s view that the group must undermine the state, including through attacks in Kabul that expose the government’s weakness.

“Trump’s strategy is based on a fighting machine — to send more troops,” said Mullah Hamid, a Taliban commander in southern Afghanistan. “If they are giving priority to the military option, we are not weak. We can reach our target and hit the enemy.”

The tit-for-tat violence has taken on a logic of its own, overwhelming other options.

“There has not been any channel of talks ongoing between the High Peace Council and the Taliban,” said Maulavi Shafiullah Nuristani, a member of the government body tasked with exploring negotiations. “We never had any direct contacts with them, except for indirect and personal contacts.”

Mr. Nuristani said the peace council’s offices, located a little more than 200 yards from the site of Saturday’s car bombing, would close for two days — “until the rooms and our offices are cleaned of debris and broken glass.”

American Strength as a Weakness

As American-led forces have escalated in response to Taliban gains, they have unintentionally pushed the Taliban toward grislier violence. Airstrikes have forced the Taliban to lie low in rural areas, where they prefer to operate, seizing territory and extorting from locals.

Instead, they have shifted toward terrifying if brief guerrilla-style attacks in Kabul and other urban districts, where American air power is of little use. Though this gains them no territory, it allows them to humiliate the government where it is most visible.

“The city is infiltrated, the city is contaminated,” said Amrullah Saleh, a former intelligence chief.

The government, Mr. Saleh said, often cannot even know whether a suicide bomber entered from outside the city “or whether he is brainwashed here; whether they build the vests here or whether they import.”

The group’s internal dynamics have aligned with its shifting incentives, elevating officers who favor large-scale attacks on civilians.

Sirajuddin Haqqani, who leads the once-semi-autonomous Haqqani Network, a terrorist group closely associated with Al Qaeda, now serves at the Taliban’s No. 2 leader and de facto military planner.

“The Taliban and the Haqqani are the same,” said Sayed Akbar Agha, a former Taliban commander. “Only the government is differentiating between them.”

Weakening the Taliban’s ability to act as a traditional insurgency that holds territory, though logical, also compels them to prioritize their role as terrorist group, as this week’s attacks show.

A Destabilized Proxy War

For as long as Afghanistan’s war has raged, Pakistan, which plays a double-game with the Taliban, has been at the center of its seeming intractability.

President Trump, following two presidents who tried and failed to rein in Pakistan’s meddling, publicly chastised Pakistani leaders this month, freezing security aid to Pakistan.

But Ms. Brown said that the United States seemed unready for the all-but-inevitable response to its confrontation with Pakistan. “If you start on the path of escalating pressure, you have to be ready for the other side to escalate,” she said.

Officials in Kabul worry that Mr. Trump’s hard-line approach could, in at least the short term, worsen the situation.

An isolated Pakistan could be dangerous, Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, warned aides. The country would most likely test the limits of both American attention and Afghan resolve before giving in to outside pressures.

While this week’s attacks may be unrelated to American efforts to pressure Pakistan, the country has typically reacted to perceived threats by ramping up violence in Afghanistan.

A Drift Toward Endless Conflict

In theory, a peace deal could bring all sides together. But a half-generation of fighting has eroded trust and polarized the combatants. While wars have ground down to peace before, it required a broker. Here, none seems to exist.

“The international community is absolutely not equipped for that,” Ms. Brown said.

Diplomats are stretched thin trying to keep the government from collapsing amid political squabbles, another symptom of its weakness after years of war.

The Americans’ strength is also a hurdle in diplomacy. The United States is too influential to circumvent but, with the State Department gutted, it lacks the capacity or attention to seek a peace deal, which Mr. Trump seems to have little interest in anyway.

“The United States isn’t going to take the lead on this,” Ms. Brown said. “So it’s unclear how this would even get started.”

So as it stands, neither side can advance its goals, but none of the major forces appear willing to try a different approach. Any change would risk defeat, which is less tolerable than perpetual stalemate, in which the only decisive loser is the Afghan population.

The growing toll for civilians is not changing the calculus for any of the forces conducting the war.

Gen. Joseph L. Votel, who as head of United States Central Command has authority for the war, was asked on a visit to Jordan about the latest attacks in Kabul. He said they only affirmed American strategy.

“It does not impact our commitment to Afghanistan, our commitment to the mission, and seeing this through,” he said.

Asked whether victory was still possible, he gave the same answer American generals have given for over 16 years: “Absolutely, absolutely.”

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A9 of the New York edition with the headline: Why Attack Afghan Civilians? Chaos Rewards the Taliban. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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30Jan 2018

Taiwan Retaliates Against Chinese Airlines, Hampering Lunar New Year Travel – New York Times


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TAIPEI, Taiwan — Tens of thousands of Taiwanese working in China are at risk of being unable to return home for the Lunar New Year in mid-February as a result of an escalating battle over airspace in the Taiwan Strait.

On Tuesday, the Chinese carriers China Eastern Airlines and Xiamen Air announced that they had canceled 176 flights intended to meet added demand during the holiday since they had yet to receive approval from Taiwan’s Civil Aeronautics Administration.

The agency said on Jan. 19 that it was denying the airlines permission for the flights because they were flying sensitive new routes in the Taiwan Strait that China began using without consulting Taiwan’s government. The move has been viewed in Taiwan as a show of disrespect, one that could heighten the risk of a dangerous incident and potentially provoke a crisis in the increasingly tense cross-strait relationship.

The new passenger routes come close to airspace used by Taiwanese airliners and military planes at a time when Chinese military drills encroaching on Taiwan’s airspace have become increasingly common.

Against this backdrop of heightened tensions, Taiwan’s armed forces conducted their annual live-fire military drills Tuesday highlighting Taiwan’s readiness to deal with the threat of invasion. Reconnaissance aircraft, F-16s, attack helicopters and tanks worked together in a simulated invasion scenario on the east coast of Taiwan’s main island.

In a statement released Tuesday morning about the dispute over the airspace, Taiwan’s presidential office said protecting the safety of all people flying across the strait was “a responsibility that cannot be abandoned.”

The statement called on Beijing to return to the consensus reached in talks over the airspace in 2015, urging a resolution of the dispute for “regional stability, cross-strait relations and flight safety.”

The People’s Republic of China claims Taiwan as its territory, but has never administered it since the republic’s founding in Beijing in 1949. Taiwan is governed by the Republic of China government, which fled China to Taiwan in 1949 after losing to Mao Zedong’s communist forces in the Chinese civil war.

Taiwanese companies began investing and doing business in China in the 1980s, although direct commercial flights between China and Taiwan did not take place until 2008; citizens on either side had to detour through third destinations like Hong Kong, Macau or Okinawa in southern Japan.

The Lunar New Year is the most important holiday of the year on both sides of the strait, and expatriate workers traditionally return home to spend the time with their families.

The cancellations of the 176 flights serving Lunar New Year traffic will probably force Taiwanese determined to get home to scramble to book scarce flights on short notice.

Despite waxing and waning diplomatic tensions, China and Taiwan are closely linked economically. Hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese live and work in China. Many of them work at Taiwanese companies with large-scale operations in China, such as Foxconn, an electronics maker, which employs more than a million Chinese.

The two airlines that canceled the flights will probably suffer significant economic losses. China Eastern said it would cancel 106 round-trip flights for close to 40,000 passengers. Xiamen Air said it would cancel 70 extra flights that had been planned.

“This move has harmed the shared rights and interests of our company and customers,” China Eastern said. Xiamen Air said the step had “seriously hurt the feelings of people on both sides of the strait.”

Chris Buckley contributed reporting from Beijing.

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30Jan 2018

Credit Card Rewards Take the Sting Out of a Starter Budget – NerdWallet (blog)


With so many websites offering free financial tools, it can be hard to know whom to trust. At NerdWallet, we thoroughly research financial products and companies, and adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity to find you the best choices.
We even share how we make money so you can rely on our expert advice and recommendations with clarity and confidence.

As credit card rewards rates and bonuses skyrocket in value, they’ve fattened the wallets of many creditworthy consumers. But one group especially can benefit from these ever-growing offers: millennials.

For folks in their 20s to mid-30s, credit card rewards can trim expenses and make travel affordable at a time when income often flows to other financial priorities.

“Without miles and points, I probably wouldn’t have gone on half the [trips] I’ve gone on,” says Deric Poldberg, 26, of Carter Lake, Iowa, who works as a banker. As the founder of the award travel blog PassengerPoldberg.com, he often uses rewards to book ambitious international getaways.

It’s generally easy to come out ahead on credit card reward offers, as Poldberg has, if you can manage your spending well and pay down your balances every month to avoid interest. If that’s doable, those rewards are well worth your attention.

Rewards offer financial wiggle room

Starting out on your own is often a financial juggling act. Suddenly, your paycheck might be going to student loans, rent and an emergency fund, leaving little left over. Rewards earned on credit cards offer some financial breathing room, and they don’t necessarily have to cost you.

Sign-up bonuses earned on cards with no annual fees, for example, are often worth $150 or $200. If those rewards come in the form of cash back, that’s enough to cover a few date nights, a week of groceries or a new piece of furniture. You’ll also earn ongoing rewards when using a rewards card — whether it’s a cash-back or travel card — often getting about 1 to 2% back on each purchase.

“Just having that extra … designated amount of money that allows you to do things you normally wouldn’t do, I think, is really beneficial,” says Britany Ederveen, 27, a high school English teacher in Parker, Colorado, who blogs about travel and other topics. She carries a card that earns flexible rewards redeemable for travel, among other things.

Travel becomes more affordable

For many millennials, travel is a part of life, and rewards earned on a credit card can trim expenses significantly. Ederveen, for example, recently used her credit card points to cover hotel stays when visiting Germany and Austria with her boyfriend, making the trip much more affordable.

Points and miles can even come in handy for those who don’t go on big trips. Some flexible travel rewards also cover rides on Uber or Lyft, campground fees, train and bus fares and other travel-related expenses. Plus, most travel cards with annual fees also tend to come with large bonuses, often worth $500 or more when redeemed for travel.

Blogger Matt Kepnes of Austin, Texas, began traveling internationally at age 23. But it wasn’t until a few years later that he found out how useful credit card rewards could be. On his blog, Nomadic Matt, he writes about his travels and explains how to benefit from these rewards programs.

“I realized, ‘I’ve been flying around the world and not collecting any points and miles. I’m a huge idiot,’” says Kepnes, now 36. “So I really started investigating the points and miles system.” He recommends putting everyday spending on a rewards credit card if you can qualify for one.

More flexibility, more opportunities

You might not have a plump savings account as a millennial, but time is often on your side. And in the world of credit card rewards, that can be an enormous advantage, especially for young people willing to jump through a few hoops.

“When you’re young, you don’t have as many obligations. You’re a little more apt to take a trip over a long weekend to another country,” says Poldberg. In 2016, he and his girlfriend did just that when they traveled to Paris with rewards, after snagging an outstanding deal on the flight.

Even for millennials with less flexible schedules, there are opportunities to score extra rewards. If you shop online and don’t mind trying out different retailers, you could earn more rewards by shopping through credit card bonus malls. Or you could maximize a rotating rewards category on a card by timing a large purchase for the quarter when you’ll earn the most cash back.

It’s usually not quick or easy to squeeze the most value possible out of credit card rewards. But for young folks who have the flexibility and willingness to experiment, such efforts can pay off.

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29Jan 2018

New Rewards members could help lift Starbucks' flattening sales – Business Insider


BI Intelligence

This story was delivered to BI Intelligence “Payments Briefing” subscribers hours before appearing on Business Insider. To be the first to know, please click here.

Starbucks, which released its Q4 2017 results late last Thursday, is seeing a continued slump in same-store US sales, causing it to potentially revisit its annual growth expectations.

In the US, same-store sales grew just 2% in the quarter, compared with 8% two years ago. And that growth was based almost entirely on rising transaction value rather than increased visits, showing that existing customers are buying more, but visiting less, and indicating that new customer acquisition could be a pain point for the firm.

Starbucks could be our first example of what happens when a rewards and loyalty program works too well.

  • Starbucks Rewards continues to grow. The coffee chain’s rewards and loyalty program now counts 14.2 million US members, up 11% annually. This group now represents 37% of the company’s overall sales. And mobile payments have likely been key drivers of that growth — the majority of Rewards transactions likely come through the mobile app rather than gift cards, and Mobile Order & Pay, the company’s mobile order-ahead service, now comprises 11% of total sales in the US.
  • And while those gains are propelling short-term growth, they might be a longer-term detriment. In the quick-service restaurant (QSR) space, mobile payments have proven themselves as a driver of loyalty and sales. As a pioneer in the space, Starbucks helped pave the road and blueprint what a successful mobile rewards offering might look like. But it’s starting to look like there could be a cap to those gains. Starbucks Rewards’ growth, while healthy, is decelerating. And seeing gains in transaction value rather than visits shows that the firm’s 2016 move to revamp Rewards to encourage higher dollar spend may have removed the incentive to return and alienated some potential customers.

For long-term gains, Starbucks will have to use payments to reach into new bases — something it’s focusing on in the quarter ahead. Starbucks executives noted in the chain’s earnings call that it’s actively working to court a new base of users in the hopes of converting them to Rewards customers and benefiting from their engagement. The firm will most notably use mobile order-ahead to do this: Starbucks will open the offering up to non-Rewards members in March, which could surge spending, but may also exacerbate store congestion and wait times.

The chain will also look to plastic, launching two new cobranded cards (one credit, one prepaid) to drive new users into the Rewards ecosystem. If these initiatives work, 2018 could be smooth sailing for Starbucks’ US progress. But if they don’t, Starbucks’ mobile payments progress could end up being a blueprint that other firms use to surpass the firm in the year ahead.

Ayoub Aouad, research analyst for BI Intelligence, Business Insider’s premium research service, has compiled a detailed report on retailer mobile wallets that:

  • Explains what hurdles universal mobile wallets have faced.
  • Details what features retailers have adopted into their mobile wallets that have been successful  
  • Analyzes the use cases of retailers that have successfully leveraged their mobile wallet offerings to push growth.
  • Identifies how universal mobile wallets will eventually slow growth for retailer-based mobile wallets.

Interested in getting the full report? Here are two ways to access it:

  1. Subscribe to an All-Access pass to BI Intelligence and gain immediate access to this report and over 100 other expertly researched reports. As an added bonus, you’ll also gain access to all future reports and daily newsletters to ensure you stay ahead of the curve and benefit personally and professionally. >>Learn More Now
  2. Purchase & download the full report from our research store. >> Purchase & Download Now

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29Jan 2018

Going Asia: Luxury Travel Trends For 2018 Everyone Should Know About – Forbes


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Keeree Warin Raft House Provides High End Accomodations Of Cheow En Lake In Khao Sok National Park, Thailand. (Photo by: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

While we may be nearing the end of January 2018, there’s still plenty of time to start planning for the year’s travel arrangements and get those holiday leaves approved.

From the rise of personalized travel to luxury travelers seeking more authentic local experiences, here are four key travel trends everyone should know about.

Embrace Personalization&nbsp;

According to Daniel Welk, Vice President of Hilton APAC Luxury Operations, “The travelers of today expect integrated and personalized digital interactions across channels throughout their travel experience.” So much so that travelers are willing to provide hotels and other travel providers data from past travels to receive more personalized services.&nbsp;The Hilton Honors App, for instance, works with hotel management systems so guests can check into and select preferred rooms, as well as decide on&nbsp;room service features during their entire stay.

Similarly, other hotels and travel operators are offering bespoke experiences catered to the individual’s preferences. It’s ultimately time to say goodbye to cookie cutter travel packages in 2018.

Slower Travel

In a time where we’re constantly&nbsp;occupied by digital devices, there’s a greater desire to escape from it all and travel slow. This year will see more travelers escaping to far-flung places in Asia and traveling for a longer duration even.

James and Tamara Lohan of boutique travel agency, Mr &amp; Mrs Smith commented: “Singapore Airlines has plans this year to re-introduce their direct route from New York to Singapore,&nbsp; and I think we’ll see a rise in US travelers to Asia with this now being such an easy journey.”

Whether it’s through long haul flights or taking up trips on luxury trains through Asia’s countrysides, more travelers will be looking to take things slow and truly immerse in their journeys.

Shutterstock

Wellness Tourism

With ‘mindful movement’&nbsp;predicted as being this year’s key&nbsp;travel trend by&nbsp;Health And Fitness Travel, various luxury hotels, resorts&nbsp;spas and travel organisations&nbsp;will be providing travelers with a range of holistic and wellness-related packages to choose from.

From yoga retreats and surfing breaks, to cycling tours and hiking trips, health-conscious travel is set to become increasingly more popular.

Living Like Locals

Lastly, 2018 will also quickly become the year for ‘living like locals’ when traveling. This will go beyond just having a taste of local cuisine or visiting prominent cultural sites. Instead, it’ll revolve around specially crafted itineraries that’ll bring you closer to a country’s way of living. “At our Conrad properties around the world, we have rolled out Stay Inspired, an initiative offering guests with inspired experiences through a customized and curated collection of 1,3 or 5-hour experiences covering food, shopping, art, design, culture amongst others,” said Welk.

So instead of hopping from one city to the next, it’s time to fully connect and embrace each city’s culture, creating a more authentic experience. Airbnb, for instance, has also been popularising this trend since 2016 with the introduction of&nbsp;’experiences’ — a way for travelers to be shown around a new city by a local ambassador.

“>

Keeree Warin Raft House Provides High End Accomodations Of Cheow En Lake In Khao Sok National Park, Thailand. (Photo by: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)

While we may be nearing the end of January 2018, there’s still plenty of time to start planning for the year’s travel arrangements and get those holiday leaves approved.

From the rise of personalized travel to luxury travelers seeking more authentic local experiences, here are four key travel trends everyone should know about.

Embrace Personalization 

According to Daniel Welk, Vice President of Hilton APAC Luxury Operations, “The travelers of today expect integrated and personalized digital interactions across channels throughout their travel experience.” So much so that travelers are willing to provide hotels and other travel providers data from past travels to receive more personalized services. The Hilton Honors App, for instance, works with hotel management systems so guests can check into and select preferred rooms, as well as decide on room service features during their entire stay.

Similarly, other hotels and travel operators are offering bespoke experiences catered to the individual’s preferences. It’s ultimately time to say goodbye to cookie cutter travel packages in 2018.

Slower Travel

In a time where we’re constantly occupied by digital devices, there’s a greater desire to escape from it all and travel slow. This year will see more travelers escaping to far-flung places in Asia and traveling for a longer duration even.

James and Tamara Lohan of boutique travel agency, Mr & Mrs Smith commented: “Singapore Airlines has plans this year to re-introduce their direct route from New York to Singapore,  and I think we’ll see a rise in US travelers to Asia with this now being such an easy journey.”

Whether it’s through long haul flights or taking up trips on luxury trains through Asia’s countrysides, more travelers will be looking to take things slow and truly immerse in their journeys.

Shutterstock

Wellness Tourism

With ‘mindful movement’ predicted as being this year’s key travel trend by Health And Fitness Travel, various luxury hotels, resorts spas and travel organisations will be providing travelers with a range of holistic and wellness-related packages to choose from.

From yoga retreats and surfing breaks, to cycling tours and hiking trips, health-conscious travel is set to become increasingly more popular.

Living Like Locals

Lastly, 2018 will also quickly become the year for ‘living like locals’ when traveling. This will go beyond just having a taste of local cuisine or visiting prominent cultural sites. Instead, it’ll revolve around specially crafted itineraries that’ll bring you closer to a country’s way of living. “At our Conrad properties around the world, we have rolled out Stay Inspired, an initiative offering guests with inspired experiences through a customized and curated collection of 1,3 or 5-hour experiences covering food, shopping, art, design, culture amongst others,” said Welk.

So instead of hopping from one city to the next, it’s time to fully connect and embrace each city’s culture, creating a more authentic experience. Airbnb, for instance, has also been popularising this trend since 2016 with the introduction of ‘experiences’ — a way for travelers to be shown around a new city by a local ambassador.

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