Current Events and Blog

12May 2018

Macy's opens Star Rewards to all, not just those with credit cards – USA TODAY


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This video from retailer Macy's shows the new Mobile Checkout demonstrates how consumers will be able to use its mobile app to pay for items. The feature is scheduled to be in all of its full-line stores by the end of this year.
Video via Macy's Inc.

Boosting competition among store loyalty programs, Macy’s customers will no longer need to have the chain’s credit card in order to be eligible to join the Star Rewards program.

The retailer has opened up the loyalty program to all customers, regardless of how they pay for purchases.

Non-credit cardholders can enroll for the new bronze level in stores, online at www.macys.com/StarRewards or through the Macy’s smartphone app.

They join Macy’s cardholders, who are automatically enrolled in the program at the silver, gold or platinum based on how much they spend annually.

“With the addition of the bronze level, we’ve made earning rewards simple for everyone,” said Rich Lennox, Macy’s chief marketing officer in a statement.

In February, Macy’s officials credited the rewards program that launched last October for helping boost company profits.

Similar to Kohl’s, Nordstrom and J.C. Penney’s loyalty programs, credit card holders often get extra perks and can earn rewards on purchases faster than non-cardholders.

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Macy’s officials announced there also are new benefits for all members including “Star Money Days,”  that gives extra savings and a birthday reward.

With Star Money Days, customers can earn bonus points toward “Star Money,” which can be used on all merchandise with no exclusions. For every 1,000 points, members get a $10 Star Money reward.

Macy’s previously offered rewards through American Express’ Plenti program, which launched in 2015. After losing high-profile partners including AT&T, Macy’s, Hulu and Nationwide, Plenti is shutting down in July.

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Macy's reported higher-than-expected same-store sales growth for the fourth quarter and forecast a return to annual comparable sales growth in 2018, sending shares higher. Aleksandra Michalska reports.
Newslook

Star Rewards for all

Here are the levels and the perks of the upgraded program:

  • Bronze: All customers are eligible for Star Money Days, Perks & Offers and a Birthday Surprise.
  • Silver: Macy’s credit card customers spending up to $499 annually with their credit card get any day 25% off Star Pass coupons in addition to bronze benefits.
  • Gold: Customers who spend $500 to $1,199 annually on a Macy’s card receive all the bronze and silver benefits plus get free shipping on all Macy’s purchases when they use the store credit card.
  • Platinum: Spending $1,200 or more, customers get all the other benefits, plus get free shipping on all Macy’s purchases and earn 5% back in rewards on all Macy’s merchandise purchases in-store and online with no exclusions when they use a Macy’s credit card.

Kelly Tyko is a consumer columnist and retail reporter for Treasure Coast Newspapers and TCPalm.com, part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. Read her Bargainista tips at TCPalm.com/Bargainista and follow her on Twitter @KellyTyko. Sign up for her weekly newsletter at www.tcpalm.com/featured-newsletter/bargainistabest.

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12May 2018

Pakistan and US Restrict Diplomats' Travel, Adding New Strain on Ties – New York Times


Pakistan and U.S. Restrict Diplomats’ Travel, Adding New Strain on Ties

Image
An anti-American protest in Karachi, Pakistan, in January. Diplomatic relations between the United States and Pakistan are at their lowest level since President Trump’s term began.CreditAsif Hassan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

By Haroon Janjua and Gardiner Harris

May 11, 2018

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan on Friday placed travel restrictions on United States diplomats based in the country, the latest in a series of retaliatory measures that threaten to plunge already strained relations to their worst level in years.

The restrictions in Pakistan were imposed on the same day that the United States barred diplomats working at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington from traveling outside of a 25-mile radius around the city without approval.

The United States has long complained that Pakistani police and security officials frequently harass American diplomats and their staff with traffic stops and citations that require considerable time and effort to resolve. Six weeks ago, the State Department threatened to impose a travel restriction on Pakistan’s Washington diplomatic corps if the harassment did not end by Friday.

On Friday, American officials imposed the restrictions.

In a letter from Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs delivered to the American Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistani officials said that they had established a fast-track mechanism on April 27 to address American complaints about harassment but had yet to receive a single complaint through it.

While the State Department’s restrictions apply only to diplomats assigned to the embassy in Washington and their family members, Pakistan’s restrictions apply to all American diplomats stationed anywhere in Pakistan.

Pakistan imposed other restrictions as well, including banning tinted windows on embassy cars and the use of diplomatic plates on diplomats’ personal vehicles. Both sides said they would waive their respective restrictions on a case-by-case basis.

“We have received official notification of new restrictions placed on U.S. diplomats in Pakistan,” said Gregory McLean, a State Department spokesman.

Asked whether the United States would respond to Pakistan’s even tougher measures, Mr. McLean declined to say.

“We are in regular communication with our Pakistani counterparts,” he said. “We do not discuss details of diplomatic conversations.”

Haroon Janjua reported from Islamabad, and Gardiner Harris from Washington.

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11May 2018

Big Rewards Finally Await RBS Shareholders – Wall Street Journal


The settlement raises the prospect that RBS can make more generous capital returns in 2019 and beyond.


Photo:

Simon Dawson/Bloomberg News

Royal Bank of Scotland


RBS 3.94%

is—finally—investible once more. Late on Wednesday it reached a $4.9 billion settlement in principle with U.S. prosecutors over crisis-era mortgage bond sales, one of the last banks to do so.

That settlement means that the bank that took the U.K.’s largest bailout in the financial crisis now has clarity on the last big threat to its capital. It leaves it likely to pay its first dividend in a decade once it gets to the end of 2018. The shares leapt 6% at the open on Thursday.

It also raises the prospect that RBS can make more generous capital returns in 2019 and beyond. After a long, difficult, and at times badly-managed restructuring, RBS has shrunk from one of the world’s biggest universal banks on the eve of the crisis to a vastly more modest and simple retail and commercial bank focused on the U.K.

Bottom line: it is getting closer to emulating its local peer, Lloyds Banking Group, whose strong cash returns have made it popular among U.S. and British investors.

Most of the mortgage bond penalty was already covered by provisions, so RBS will take only a £1.1 billion ($1.49 billion) charge, much less than many analysts expected. The bank has also specified the remaining costs it faces in shoring up its pension fund and completing the final bits of restructuring and investment it needs over the next two years.

These known costs and its continuing balance sheet reduction will likely leave RBS with more than £2.5 billion in excess capital at the end of 2018—and that is before any profit it makes for the year, which could be in the region of £4 billion.

The U.K. government still owns 71% of RBS and has signaled it will start selling before April 2019, the start of the next U.K. tax year. That overhang and the broad risks attached to Britain’s exit from Europe will keep some investors away and hold down the price for now, but for long-suffering existing shareholders there are finally big rewards on the way.

Write to Paul J. Davies at paul.davies@wsj.com

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11May 2018

30 travel essentials for under $50 – KCCI Des Moines


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KCCI Des Moines

30 travel essentials for under $50
KCCI Des Moines
Gearing up for any trip, big or small, can be stressful. You're always worried you might forget something, or not have the right sized toiletries to make it through TSA unscathed. But fear not! There are so many things that'll turn any potentially



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11May 2018

Goldman Sachs, Apple Team Up on New Credit Card – WSJ – Wall Street Journal


A new Apple-Goldman credit card could help the companies combat weaknesses in their core businesses


Photo:

Yui Mok/Zuma Press

Apple
Inc.


AAPL 1.43%

and

Goldman Sachs


GS 0.71%

Group Inc. are preparing to launch a new joint credit card, a move that would deepen the technology giant’s push into its customers’ wallets and mark the Wall Street firm’s first foray into plastic.

The planned card would carry the Apple Pay brand and could launch early next year, people familiar with the matter said. Apple will replace its longstanding rewards-card partnership with

Barclays


BCS 0.68%

PLC, the people said.

The Apple-Goldman card could help the companies combat weaknesses in their core businesses. As new iPhone sales growth slows, Apple is focusing on services such as mobile payments, streaming-music subscriptions, and App Store sales. Apple Pay, which generates revenue on each transaction, is a key contributor, but adoption has been slower than executives hoped.

Goldman, meanwhile, is pushing into consumer banking to compensate for a slump in securities-trading, where revenue has fallen by two-thirds since the financial crisis. It launched a retail banking business called Marcus in 2016 for online savings accounts and personal loans, and executives have been exploring adding credit cards and wealth-management tools.

The partnership will extend into other services including Goldman offering in-store loans to Apple customers buying iPhones and other gadgets, an effort The Wall Street Journal reported on in February.

Apple and Goldman are still hashing out the terms and benefits of the planned card including the perks for customers, these people said. The current Apple credit card with Barclays offers interest-free financing on Apple devices and points toward Apple gift cards.

Apple, Goldman and Barclays declined to comment.

The Apple Pay card is the latest example of a technology giant broadening its presence in the banking and finance industry. Besides Apple,

Amazon.com
Inc.,

Alphabet
Inc.’s

Google and

Samsung Electronics
Co.

are all vying to make mobile payments easier for consumers while adding to their formidable revenue streams.

Goldman has the potential to raise Apple Pay’s profile, tying the mobile payment service to plastic touted in advertising and pushed by cashiers at Apple stores.

Apple also stands to boost its revenue by collecting a bounty from Goldman for each new cardholder, the people said. These payments, which are common in store-brand cards, can exceed $100 per account. With the Barclays card, Apple declined to collect bounties and instead put that money toward interest-free financing of devices.

Additionally, Apple could take a larger cut of mobile payments from the card if it is used for purchases, the person said. Currently, when a consumer pays for a purchase using the digital wallet on the iPhone—regardless of what credit card the customer charges—Apple receives 0.15% per transaction. Apple could more than double that under the agreement with Goldman, one of the people said.

The additional revenue could help Apple as it pursues a goal of doubling its services business to about $50 billion annually by 2020 from $24.35 billion in 2016.

But as Apple shifts from a Barclays card that encourages device sales with interest-free financing to a card designed to boost Apple Pay, the challenge could be driving enough of an uptick in mobile payments to offset any decline of high-price iPhones, iPads or Macs.

For Goldman, the card could help its nascent retail-banking operation, launched in 2016, add new customers who may be sold other banking products. It also deepens the firm’s ties to Apple, a company its bankers have advised in deals and fundraisings for years.

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Without branches or a well-known Main Street brand, Goldman has relied on referrals, and pays for customer leads from firms including tax-preparation software maker

Intuit
Inc.

and personal-finance website Credit Karma Inc. Last month it bought personal-finance app Clarity Money, gaining access to its roughly one million users.​

Still, the push into credit cards is fraught for Goldman, whose track record in consumer finance is scarcely two-years old. Credit cards are a cutthroat business dominated by larger rivals like

JPMorgan Chase

& Co. and

Citigroup
Inc.

Yields are falling. And Goldman lacks much of the infrastructure to be able to issue credit cards and process payments to merchants.

And after marketing its Marcus products in part by criticizing credit-card fees and high interest rates, its entry into that business may invite criticism from consumer advocates and regulators.

It is unclear which card network—

Visa
Inc.,

Mastercard
Inc.

or

Discover Financial Services

—will process transactions for the new card. Apple has had a longstanding relationship with Visa, which is based in San Francisco.

Barclaycard executives managing the Apple account met at the tech giant’s Cupertino, Calif., office in recent weeks to determine whether the account—one of its most high profile—would be extended, a person familiar with the meeting said. The bank began issuing the Apple credit card in 2005.

Write to Tripp Mickle at Tripp.Mickle@wsj.com and Liz Hoffman at liz.hoffman@wsj.com

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10May 2018

5 of the best travel rewards credit cards for young people – CNBC


A whopping 67 percent of millennials don’t have credit cards, mostly because they’re scared of debt.

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But now, many credit card companies are trying to entice young people with the perks of travel rewards. That’s because millennials are the generation that travel most frequently, and according to a recent study by Bank of America, 81 percent of millennials are likely to spend more on travel than saving money.

Credit card companies are hawking free trips through credit card sign-up bonuses and points per dollar spent, plus other incentives like cash back and no annual fees to attract young consumers.

Still, “Like all consumers, millennials need to consider a few key criteria before applying for a card,” says Eric Rosen, a travel credit card expert for The Points Guy. These include sign-up bonuses, interest rates, annual fees and whether the card offers bonus earnings or cash-back opportunities that match up with their spending habits.

And a word of warning, says Rosen. Don’t overspend to get rewards: “No matter how valuable the points you earn are, they do not make up for the massive interest rates many of the best travel rewards cards charge on balances,” he explains, “and carrying large balances will affect your credit.”

Here are five of the best cards worth applying for.

1. Chase Sapphire Preferred

“The Chase Sapphire Preferred is probably one of the best all-around travel rewards cards there is,” says Rosen, who recommends it to millennials for several reasons, including the waived $95 fee for the first year. “$95 is middle of the road between no fee cards and those charging $450-$550 a year. It’s a relatively low fee.”

The sign-up bonus on the card is 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. This is about $1,300 a month, but you can put all your monthly bills, groceries and more on it.

Reward points can be redeemed directly through Chase at a rate of $1.25 cents a piece to purchase airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises. Or you can transfer points to the program’s 13 travel partners, including United and Southwest, turning them into frequent flier miles. The card earns two times points per dollar on travel and dining purchases and one per dollar on everything else.

The APR (annual percentage rate, or interest rate of what you owe) is 13.49 to 24.49 percent, plus variable (meaning that rate can change over time).

2. Uber Visa from Barclay

Millennials eat out or order in five times a week, they’re using Uber more than last year and a recent report shows 67 percent of millennials shop online. The Uber Visa from Barclay is ideal for those exact kinds of purchases.

“What sets this card apart are the earning opportunities in the variety of different categories,” says Rosen.

It earns 4 percent back on restaurants, takeout and bars, including UberEATS; 3 percent back on airfare, hotels and vacation home rentals; 2 percent back on online purchases including Uber rides, online shopping and video and music streaming services; and 1 percent back on all other purchases.

The card also has no annual fee and comes with a sign-up bonus of $100 back after spending $500 on purchases in the first 90 days, which is effectively a 20 percent return on spending. Other benefits include mobile phone protection (up to $600) and no foreign transaction fees, which means you won’t pay a fee when using the card outside the US.

The APR is a variable 16.49, 22.24 or 25.24 percent.

3. The EveryDay Card from American Express

Already have a credit card balance but looking for one with better rewards? The AmEx EveryDay Card could be a good choice thanks to the $0 balance transfer fee offer. That means you can transfer your balance from another credit card and pay no interest on balance transfer or purchases for the first 15 months. The card also has no annual fee and a sign-up bonus of 10,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $1,000 in the first three months.

Spending earns you Amex Membership Rewards points, which can be transferred to nearly 20 different points and miles programs, including Air Canada Aeroplan, Delta SkyMiles, JetBlue True Blue and Hilton Honors. Additionally, it earns two points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year) and one point per dollar on other purchases. When you use it to make 20 or more purchases per billing period, you get a 20 percent points bonus.

Zero percent introductory APR for the first 15 months; 14.49 – 25.49 percent after, based on your credit worthiness.

4. Discover it card

Half of millennials have a side hustle to make extra cash. So many might prefer a credit card that gives cash back. The Discover it card earns 5 percent cash back per quarter on different categories of merchants — such as gas stations or Amazon.com — plus 1 percent unlimited cash back on all other purchases. Discover will also match all the cash back earned at the end of the first year automatically, giving you a spending return of 2 to 10 percent, which you can apply toward travel.

There’s also no late fee on the first late payment, no overlimit fee and no foreign transaction fee.

If you prefer miles over cash back, Discover it travel credit card has no annual fee, unlimited rewards on every dollar you spend and unlimited match of all the miles you’ve earned at the end of your first year.

The card currently offers 0 percent APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 14 months. Standard purchase APR is 13.49 to 24.49 percent variable for both cards.

5. Capital One Venture Rewards

If you find differing returns too confusing, the Capital One Venture Rewards offers a fixed rate. “This means customers don’t have to pay attention to categories or earn rates that change based on the type of purchase,” says Mark Mattern, managing vice president, US card, Capital One.

Instead, the card gives you double miles per dollar on all purchases. With each worth one cent when redeemed for travel-related purchases like airlines, rideshare and hotels, that’s a 2 percent rate of return.

There’s an economical exception though: Cardholders get 10 times miles per dollar on hotel stays booked through Hotels.com/Venture, which is the highest credit card bonus for any hotel booking.

The card’s $95 annual fee is waived the first year and it has no foreign transaction fee. There’s currently a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles when you spend $3,000 in the first three months.

APR is 14.49, 20.99 or 24.99 percent based on variable.

Don’t miss: This airline will pay you $4,000 a month to travel the world for free with your BFF

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10May 2018

World's worst passports: 25 countries with the least travel access – USA TODAY


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Passports function as a key to the outside world, but passports from certain countries significantly limit how many places their holders can access. Citizens of many developing countries and of nations ravaged by conflict have a significantly harder time crossing borders than those of most other nations.

Nomad Capitalist, an organization focused on worldwide asset diversification, created the Nomad Passport Index as a way to rank countries based on the usefulness of their passports. Specifically, the index ranks countries based on how easy it is for their citizens to move freely between countries. It also considers their exposure to overseas taxes as well as the rights they are granted domestically.

A country allows entry to people based on their passport, trusting that the issuing country does a good job of ensuring its citizens will conduct in a safe and responsible manner. But citizens of countries with weak passports often require a extra levels of vetting.

Detailed findings and methodology

Citizens from the 25 countries with the weakest passports can only get easy access, or visa-free travel, to a fraction of the countries in the world. Nomad Capitalist defines visa-free travel as a passport that entitles the holder to “visa free access or a straightforward e-visa or visa on arrival” to the country they are visiting.

Citizens of Afghanistan can use their passport to get visa-free access to 24 countries, the fewest of any country considered. By comparison, Singapore and Japan passports grant their holders visa-free access to 180 countries, tied for the most. No nation on this list can get into more that 50 countries visa free.

The strength of a nation’s passport is directly related to how the country is perceived by the rest of the world. Many of the countries on this list struggle with glaring issues that detract from their international reputation for a variety of reasons.

Countries like South Sudan and Yemen are in the midst of violent conflicts that have killed thousands and fully disrupted their economy. Iraq and Afghanistan have been embroiled in conflicts with the United States for years and still suffer from acts of terrorism. Consequently, other countries are much less inclined to welcome Afghan and Iraqi citizens into their borders.

Beyond their international reputations, the countries on this list have other similarities. Almost all are located either in the Middle East or Africa. Those regions have, at least in some parts, struggled to maintain political and economic stability.

Many of citizens of the nations on this list would have a hard time traveling to another country through the proper channels, but violence has forced many to flee their homelands and become refugees. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya muslims have fled Myanmar in the wake of what the United Nations described as “ethnic cleansing” beginning in 2017.

North Korea is a unique case, as the hermit kingdom opted to largely close itself off from the rest of the world after the Korean War. The authoritarian regime in charge has tight control over who enters and who exits its borders. But even those North Koreans who might be allowed out would not have easy access to many of the world’s countries because of the country’s isolated status.

People from the countries on this list would have a hard time traveling internationally given the weakness of their passports. But for many, that is not an issue they will face as leaving the country can be prohibitively expensive.

Many of these countries are among the world’s poorest. The International Monetary Fund has gross domestic product per capita data on 20 of the 25 countries on this list. Of those, the GDP per capita of 14 is below the world average $10,192. The lowest GDP per capita is of the Democratic Republic of the Congo at $788.55. A low GDP per capita is indicative of poor economic conditions in a country.

In order to determine the countries with the best passports, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed Nomad Capitalist’s 2018 Passport Index. Nomad Capitalist is an organization focused on worldwide asset diversification. The index considers a country’s taxation, international perception, and individual liberties such as free speech, as well as how many countries its citizens can travel to visa-free and whether or not it allows its citizens to hold dual citizenship. Nomad considered 199 countries in its ranking. If countries were tied, the number of visa-free travel countries was used as a tiebreaker.

Annual international departures per capita figures are based on population estimates and the total number of international departures by the citizens of a country from World Bank. The figures are for the year 2016, the most recent available. GDP per capita figures come from the International Monetary Fund. The figures are an estimate based on Purchasing Power Parity from 2017. The country’s type of government comes from the CIA’s World Factbook, except for Palestinian Territory, which was not listed in the World Factbook but describes itself as a parliamentary democracy.

24/7 Wall Street is a USA TODAY content partner offering financial news and commentary. Its content is produced independently of USA TODAY.

More: These passports get you into the most countries

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09May 2018

Plot Your Strategy to Pick the Best Rewards Card – Kiplinger's Personal Finance


Tips for how to decipher which card best fits your needs.

Getty Images

Using rewards cards can be as simple or complex as you want it to be, so you’ll have to decide how deep you want to dive into the game. At one end of the rewards spectrum are cash-back cards that yield straightforward rewards with steady and predictable values. At the other end are travel cards “that can be a little more complex, but you can get more bang for your buck if you’re willing to do the research to get a great redemption,” says Thomas Donaldson, senior credit specialist for credit card research site CompareCards.

See Also: The Best Rewards Credit Cards, 2018

With a card that pays out airline miles, for example, you may squeeze out extra value by combing through flight schedules to find the best redemption rates. If your plans are flexible, you can compare the value of miles needed for flights to multiple destinations and search for flights on off-peak dates.

Also take stock of where you spend the most money. If you buy a lot of groceries and gas, for instance, look for a card that offers at least 2% or 3% back in both of those categories. (Or perhaps you could pick two cards–one that offers at least 5% back on gas and another with big rewards on groceries.)

If you tend to carry a balance from month to month, the interest you pay is likely to cancel out the rewards you earn. A CompareCards survey found that 39% of rewards credit card holders carry a balance, with an average total balance of more than $2,500. That’s especially problematic given that rewards cards tend to charge higher interest rates than cards that don’t offer rewards. Plus, most credit cards have variable rates. As the Federal Reserve continues to lift short-term interest rates, the interest on any balance you’re carrying will rise, too.

See Also: Will It Sink Your Credit Score?

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09May 2018

Where the Travel Deals Are This Summer – Wall Street Journal


The median airfare for Paris this summer has been $670, a bargain compared with years past. Several discount airlines have been adding trips from the U.S. to Paris airports.
Photo:

iStock

This is looking more and more like the summer to jump on a vacation to Europe.

Airline capacity is growing, especially among low-fare carriers. That’s brought eye-popping bargains to some routes. But it may not last beyond this summer: Airlines could soon have greater ability to raise fares.

“Ticket prices are down, interest is up and Europe is hot,” says

David Solomito,

vice president of North American marketing for the search-site Kayak. That’s just one of many bits of intelligence industry experts have for travelers looking for trips on what to expect from this summer.

One tip for planning, no matter where you fly:

Expedia

says the most expensive stretch for a vacation last year was June 26 to July 2. The cheapest between Memorial Day and Labor Day was the final two weeks of the traditional summer travel period, Aug. 21 to Sept. 3.

Consultant

Craig Jenks

estimates that trans-Atlantic capacity will be up this summer for the sixth straight year. There are about one-third more seats flying across the Atlantic since 2012.

As a result, Expedia says it’s more than 40% cheaper to fly from New York to Barcelona over July 4th weekend compared with last year, and 20% cheaper into London. Tickets to Paris from Los Angeles over Labor Day weekend have been 55% cheaper. “It’s crazy. There are some real deals to be had here,” says

Mark Okerstrom,

chief executive of Expedia Group.

That kind of traveler windfall may not last long. Rising oil prices could spell trouble for new airline service. Higher fuel prices typically trigger reductions in capacity and higher ticket prices.

A weaker U.S. dollar and possible consolidation among European airlines may also curb some of the new-flight bonanza.

British Airways

parent IAG recently bought a small stake in Norwegian Air, for example, and asked to talk about a merger. Norwegian rejected the idea. But that might not be the final word.

“This may be the bottom. Things may start getting more expensive from here,” says

Patrick Surry,

chief data scientist at booking app Hopper.

Mr. Okerstrom of Expedia agrees. He thinks fuel surcharges on tickets could make a comeback—the first sign of higher ticket prices after years of continual declines.

Santorini, Greece, took the top spot on Kayak’s trending list of summer hot spots. Crete, Greece’s largest island, was No. 6 on the list. Greece has been gaining momentum as a summer destination after some years of slumping.
Santorini, Greece, took the top spot on Kayak’s trending list of summer hot spots. Crete, Greece’s largest island, was No. 6 on the list. Greece has been gaining momentum as a summer destination after some years of slumping.
Photo:

iStock

The impact of trans-Atlantic low-cost carriers on summer travel is startling. Iceland’s Wow now flies to a dozen U.S. cities from Reykjavik, with connections across Europe. Norwegian flies to 15 U.S. cities from airports scattered all over Europe. From the New York area in July, Norwegian will fly nonstop to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Copenhagen, London, Madrid, Oslo, Paris, Rome and Stockholm. Austin, Texas, will have two airlines flying nonstop to London: Norwegian and British Airways.

IAG started its own long-haul low-cost carrier to compete: Level Airline, which flies to Boston, Oakland and Los Angeles from its base in Barcelona. It plans to launch a New York-Paris route in September. Frankfurt-based Condor was a pioneer in the art of cheap trans-Atlantic travel. Its sister airline,

Thomas Cook,

has joined the fray, along with the latest new entrant: Primera Air, a Latvian charter outfit starting this month to expand into the trans-Atlantic race on prime routes like New York and Boston to London and Paris.

All those new flights mean incumbent carriers may have to cut prices to compete. Some have added additional flights of their own. And U.S. airlines are now offering Basic Economy fares to Europe, bringing prices down for travelers willing to put up with severe restrictions and added fees. Some discounters do this, too.

One caution: Beware possible labor issues with

Air France

this year. There have been strikes on 15 days between Feb. 22 and May 8. Negotiations continue.

Kayak’s Mr. Solomito sees growing interest in secondary international destinations, too. Searches for Santorini, Greece, jumped 68% this year. Valencia, Spain, is up 63% and Porto, Portugal, is up 48%.

Seattle is enjoying a pitched airline battle between Alaska and Delta, resulting in lots of flights and cheap tickets that are luring summer travelers to the Pacific Northwest.
Seattle is enjoying a pitched airline battle between Alaska and Delta, resulting in lots of flights and cheap tickets that are luring summer travelers to the Pacific Northwest.
Photo:

iStock

Ticket-sellers and searchers also predict a high number of friendly deals in U.S. domestic markets. Established airlines have added flights. Low-cost carriers like Frontier and Spirit are growing.

Kayak says it has seen increased interest in Seattle, Denver and Austin—all cities where airlines have added flights and lowered prices. Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes tickets sold by travel agencies, says Cincinnati and Albuquerque top its list of cities with the biggest decrease in average ticket price for summer travel this year, with 14% declines. Thirteen of the top 15 cities on that list are in the U.S.: Minneapolis, San Diego, Boston, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Denver and Austin have all seen drops, along with Reykjavik and Madrid internationally.

One place interest is down: Las Vegas. Travel companies blame jitters after the Las Vegas shooting last fall and possibly higher hotel rates driven by a jump in mandatory resort fees, the hotel equivalent of much-hated airline baggage fees. Kayak searches for Las Vegas have shown airfares are down a whopping 17% compared with the same period last year.

The number of tickets sold for summer trips to Las Vegas is down 1% so far this year, according to Airlines Reporting Corp. Overall, the number of trips booked is up 11%.
The number of tickets sold for summer trips to Las Vegas is down 1% so far this year, according to Airlines Reporting Corp. Overall, the number of trips booked is up 11%.
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Another trend: ARC says people are buying earlier for summer—a factor in driving an 11% increase in tickets sold already for summer trips. ARC says its data, from both traditional and online travel agencies, showed that several years ago the best point to buy a ticket was about six weeks in advance. Now the cheapest time is about seven weeks, according toARC.

Several destinations have seen some sharp price increases. Flights to St. Lucia, for example, are running 16% more expensive than last year. The Caribbean island had minimal impact from Hurricane Maria, and while other islands are still in recovery mode, others are seeing robust demand.

With demand for Greece growing, the average ticket to Athens is up 13% to $1,331 according to ARC. Warsaw prices are up 10%—go to Budapest instead. American just added a nonstop there from Philadelphia. LOT Polish just launched nonstop flights between Budapest and both New York and Chicago.

What to Expect at Airport Security

Summer travelers will run into a bit more than good deals this year. The Transportation Security Administration will be testing CT scanners at 10 airports for several weeks during the summer. CT scanners, already being tested in Boston and Phoenix, are like hospital CT scanners—they take multiple X-ray images of objects from all angles to produce detailed 3-D images.

“So far they’ve been living up to expectations,” TSA administrator David Pekoske says.

The tests shouldn’t slow lines down, but some travelers will be puzzled. TSA hopes the CT scanners, when fully deployed in about three years, will end a lot of the “divesting” of electronics, liquids and other items from bags because screeners will be able to identify hazards more accurately.

TSA has asked Congress for $77 million to buy CT scanners in 2019. This summer, they’ll be tested at 10 airports beyond Boston and Phoenix: Los Angeles International, San Diego, Houston Hobby, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Baltimore-Washington, Washington Dulles, Philadelphia and Oakland, Calif.

MORE FROM THE MIDDLE SEAT

  • Where the Travel Deals Are This SummerMay 9, 2018
  • The Beginning of the End for Those Tiny Shampoo BottlesMay 1, 2018
  • At Southwest Airlines, the Minutes After Disaster StruckApril 24, 2018
  • Which Airlines Go Cheap on Wine?April 18, 2018
  • The Travel Credit Cards That Carry You FarthestApril 11, 2018

Write to Scott McCartney at middleseat@wsj.com

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09May 2018

Iowa agency suspends credit card use amid financial reviews – Minneapolis Star Tribune


IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Iowa agency that promotes affordable housing has suspended the use of credit cards that were issued to employees outside the state’s normal purchasing program, its interim leader said Wednesday.

The move by the Iowa Finance Authority comes as the agency faces multiple investigations into allegations of sexual harassment and questionable financial practices by its former director, Dave Jamison.

Documents released to The Associated Press on Tuesday under the open records law show that 21 employees of the agency had been issued Visa credit cards through Wells Fargo to cover travel, meeting and other general expenses. That’s more than one-fifth of the authority’s employees.

The agency’s board last week authorized an outside firm to review its budgeting and financial practices, including credit card spending by Jamison and other employees. The state auditor’s office is also investigating the spending practices, and lawmakers ordered the state to hire an independent investigator to look into them as well.

Interim director Carolann Jensen said Wednesday that she doesn’t know why the cards were issued outside the state’s purchasing card program, which is managed by the Department of Administrative Services and contracts with U.S. Bank. She said she has suspended their use amid the reviews.

Gov. Kim Reynolds announced in March that she had fired Jamison, one of her oldest political allies, due to credible allegations of sexual harassment. A complaint released last month showed one woman alleged that Jamison had harassed her and others for years through graphic sexual talk and other actions. Others have alleged that Jamison and his directors had unusually broad discretion in their spending and little oversight.

The documents released Tuesday included the statements of Jamison’s credit card for the last year of his seven-year tenure as director. They show that he billed the state $573 for an outing at a Cedar Rapids ale house during an affordable housing conference hosted by the agency last September.

He also traveled widely across the state and nation during that time to conferences and meetings, including one at a California resort last July, and billed many meals and other expenses.

Jamison hasn’t spoken publicly since his termination.

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