Category Archives: Travel

What Happened at ZorkFest Did Not Stay at ZorkFest

When we last chatted, you may remember I posted about the first-ever ZorkFest. This was a one-day event on Dec. 2 in Atlantic City where experts in travel and casino loyalty programs gave attendees the scoop on both. Created by TravelZork.com Founder Michael Trager, the event brought more than 100 attendees from across the country to Bally’s.

ZorkFest started the night before with an opening reception, where I got the chance to meet other attendees and share a cocktail. Fun fact: the casino enthusiasts were as interested in our #avgeek/travel proclivities as we were with their high roller ways. Michael held a private dinner for speakers and special guests, where I was seated across from Cousin Vito and his lovely wife.

Cousin Vito, who also did the opening remarks on Saturday, is one of the first in the country to create a podcast specifically targeting casino enthusiasts. He noted that the first time he ever gambled was at Atlantic City’s Tropicana when he was 17 and his cousin Mikey was 20. Wearing what he called “cheap suits,” they won playing the slot machine and decided to spend their earnings on caesar salads.

“It was one of the most memorable salads of my life because me and Mikey paid the bill on our own with our winnings,” he recalled. “With that little luck and cheap suits, we were able to create more than we ever imagined during that day in Atlantic City.”

Cousin Vito uses his podcast to help listeners make luck happen.  “Today you’re going to learn shortcuts to unlock casino awards. This first ZorkFest is a training camp for those aspiring for free rooms or even trips to Vegas,” he said. “You’ll learn ways to earn points more efficiently and maximize the return on investment.” This community has afforded me the opportunity to meet amazing people, he added.

The podcast is a way to share my love of casinos with everyone, said Cousin Vito. “The slogan of the show is “win more, lose less at the casino,'” he said. “It’s not about wining big, but about minimizing losses and maximizing your fun in the casinos.”

Podcast listeners love the show, saying it gives them the confidence to try different games, like craps, said Cousin Vito. “We make it OK to not gable a lot. You don’t need a big bankroll to have fun at the casino,” he said.

The Main Event

I’m not a gambler (but my ex is a high roller), so I was curious to learn about a group that was as passionate about their passion as the travel folks are about theirs. For my first session, I decided to stick with my avgeek travel side and go to Seth “Wandering Aramean” Miller’s presentation, “Maximize Miles & Points.” A few things I learned:

  • Seth is one of the original members of Flyer Talk;
  • He uses Hotels.com, HotelHustle.com and HotelsCombined.com for the best hotel deals; and
  • He uses SkyScanner, ITA Matrix and Google Flights to find the best airfares.

I also learned more than I ever imagined about travel, points, miles, and deals on credit cards from Angelina Aucello, a Newark, N.J.-based travel aficionado and expert who blogs at Angelina Travels. Sorry you all missed how she is now banned from Kohl’s for something she did to earn credit card miles that help her travel the world with her family (come to ZorkFest 2018 and maybe she’ll spill again).

So watch this space for details on ZorkFest 2018, which will be in Las Vegas, baby! I’ll see you there! And check out these other posts about ZorkFest 2017.

Miles To Memories
ZorkFest: Travel and Casino Loyalty Combined. Do Not Miss the Next One (Pics Included)
Vegas Confessions Podcast
Vegas Confessions Post Zorkfest…I think we survived!
Cousin Vito’s Casino Podcast
E:66 Back from Atlantic City: A Zorkfest Trip Report

First-ever ZorkFest To Celebrate Travel, Casino Loyalty Programs

There are those of us who are travel loyalty geeks. Then there are some of us who are nuts about casino loyalty programs. A new event, ZorkFest, will bring together those who are fans of both. The event, the brainchild of TravelZork.com Founder Michael Trager, is a unique one-day education seminar that will be held in Atlantic City on Dec. 1-2 that will specifically focus on Travel and Casino loyalty programs.

ZorkFest begins on Friday, Dec. 1 with a Welcome Beer & Wine Reception from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. On Saturday, Dec. 2 from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., the seminar will cover topics including: 

  • Maximize Miles & Points: Fly more conveniently and for free. Learn how to efficiently find the elusive award inventory and book those great mileage redemptions for FREE flights;
  • Optimize Your Casino Rating: Do you play consistently but your casino offers do not seem to get better and sometimes get worse? Learn how to optimize your play to ensure you will get what you deserve, including comp rooms and more free play; and
  • Airfare, Hotel, Rental Car Shopping: We’ll focus on some of the best methods and tools to help you find the lowest airfare, hotel and car rental prices.

Sessions will run around 45 minutes, and you’re not required to attend all sessions, which will be confirmed about two weeks before Zorkfest.  Each 45-minute time slot will offer two sessions, and the event will also include a 45-minute lunch break. There will also be “Ask Me Anything” sessions for travel and casino loyalty programs.

Speakers are:

  • Angelina Aucello, a Newark, N.J.-based travel aficionado and expert, shares her excitement about travel, points, miles, and deals on her blog, Angelina Travels. She has earned and redeemed millions of miles and points for smart luxury travel around the world;
  • Seth Miller, known as The Wandering Aramean, flies up to 200,000 miles a year, mainly in the comfy seats. He has developed a knack of blending good deals, points and a bit of luck to extend his travel budget and explore more of the world than he ever thought possible;
  • Eric Rosenthal, contributor to several gambling and travel related websites and podcasts, discusses all things Atlantic City and his passion for “Comp Harvesting.” He frequents Atlantic City and uses casinos as his summer beach home. He travels to Las Vegas and other warm-weather destinations and pays pennies on the dollar for flights and hotels by  combining his knowledge of miles, points and casino loyalty programs;
  • Catherine Smalfus, AKA Coach Kitty, has been working frequent flyer deals since taking her first solo flight on Piedmont Airlines and signing up for their credit card while onboard. She believes that with a little extra effort, you can get a discount and a little extra value for every purchase you make, and offers an extensive combined knowledge of travel and casino loyalty programs, along with video poker;
  • Cousin Vito, a casino enthusiast and creator of the Cousin Vito’s Casino podcast, is a recreational gambler and a fun-loving foodie. His love for casinos started with childhood trips to Atlantic City with his late grandfather, including enjoying football games, tossing dice at a craps table and participating in poker tournaments. He considers himself to be the quintessential recreational gambler; and
  • Special guest Marc Meltzer, who resides in Las Vegas. His roots in gambling run deep, learning how to play poker in grade school. He learned more when he worked down the street from a bookie who took action on anything from the mainstream sports to the last three digits of the purse for certain horse races. He is currently a freelance writer and social media consultant who about food, booze, gambling and Las Vegas —  a tough job, but somebody has to do it

Event Registration

Registration for ZorkFest is now open. The cost is $150, including the reception and lunch. But you can save money with two promotions. One, get $25 off if you register by Nov. 1. Two, if you use my promo code, zorkqueen (all lower case), when registering, you’ll receive another $10 discount. So if you register by Nov.1, it will cost only $115 to attend.

Attendees have the chance to win Caesars Diamond Status for one year if you register by Nov 1. And there’s a chance to win a free hotel night plus dinner at Bally’s Atlantic City.
The ZorkFest team wants to make it as easy as possible to attend this inaugural travel/casino event, so those who register can get a $99 room rate on Friday night at Bally’s Atlantic City, which is a great deal. If you want to stay Saturday night, it will cost $179. There’s also a $99 Saturday rate at The Claridge, a Radisson hotel that’s connected to Bally’s. Travel to Atlantic City from the New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore-D.C. areas is easy by bus. Check out Busbud to find the best fares.
When ZorkFest ends, attendees are welcome to enjoy  the Everything Atlantic City (EAC) Holiday Social Meet with drinks for the EAC FaceBook group. Those wishing to attend will have to RSVP on the EAC FB page before the event.

Travel Smarter. Gamble Smarter. Maximize Your Travel Adventures

Through Security in the Blink of an Eye

By Annie Flodin

A Clear lane at Denver International Airport. Photo by Benet J. Wilson

New biometric screening option offers predictability and convenience, but is it right for you?

It may sound unreal… like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, but for $179 a year you can simply blink your eye or swipe your finger to verify who you are, all while significantly reducing the time it takes you to go through airport security.

Biometric screening is becoming more and more commonplace at airports across the country thanks to New York-based CLEAR. In February, Minneapolis-St. Paul International became the 21st U.S. airport to employ the technology, joining the likes of Hartsfield-Jackson, LaGuardia, JFK and Washington Dulles, among others.

CLEAR eliminates the need for a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent to manually check boarding passes and identification. Instead, CLEAR subscribers step up to a station where they blink their eye or swipe their finger to prove their identity. From there, it’s on to the standard TSA physical screening or TSA PreCheck for members of the government program.

CLEAR CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker says members love the service because it provides them with a consistently fast and predictable experience at the airport. “They know they’re going to get through security in five minutes or less every time,” she said.

Enrollment in CLEAR is processed onsite at participating airports. CLEAR will digitally authenticate your driver’s license or passport, confirm your identity, and create your account all in roughly five minutes. After signing up, your membership is effective immediately.

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You may be wondering… “Is it really worth it?” In short, it all depends on your travel habits and how much money you’re willing to spend.

If you’re a frequent traveler and often find yourself rushed at the airport, it’s probably worth it to give CLEAR a try. It’s quick and predictable, and you’ll no longer need to juggle your ID and your boarding pass in that stop-and-go line waiting for a TSA agent to check them.

“I signed up because I value my time,” Shane Rixom said. Rixom, a civil engineer living in Abingdon, Va., enrolled in CLEAR three years ago at Orlando International Airport. He travels roughly three weeks each month.

He says that while sometimes his membership hasn’t had much of an impact on his experience going through security, there have been a few times where CLEAR has made a huge difference.

In addition to CLEAR, Rixom is enrolled in TSA PreCheck. The two services complement each other nicely and together will almost certainly make the time between your arrival at the airport and your arrival at your gate a whole lot quicker and a lot less hectic.

A five-year TSA PreCheck membership costs $85, which breaks down to $17 annually. PreCheck speeds up the physical security screening process by allowing you to keep on shoes, belts, and light jackets. Another perk? You don’t need to rummage through your bags – laptops and liquids don’t need to be unpacked.

A CLEAR membership will set you back $179 a year, with the ability to add additional family members for $50 and add children for free. Delta SkyMiles members who want to enroll will receive a special rate, bringing an annual CLEAR membership down to $79 or $99 depending on your membership status; Diamond Medallion members can enroll in CLEAR for free.

When Rixom signed up, he was paying a discounted fee through a credit card deal outside of Delta, but has since earned Diamond Medallion status with the airline, so his CLEAR membership is now free.

But again, whether or not CLEAR makes sense for you depends on how often you travel and how much you’re willing to spend – it’s not for everyone.

Brett Snyder runs the popular Cranky Flier blog and flies once or twice a month on average, but doesn’t see enough value in CLEAR to justify signing up. “I would be interested if it truly meant a faster, quicker screening experience, but for now, this is just a pass to cut to the front of the line,” he said. “I have PreCheck and while there can sometimes be lines, it’s never all that bad.”

But as an incentive to at least try it out, CLEAR offers a one-month free trial. When that month is up, you can choose to cancel the membership, or continue it and pay the $179.

Currently, CLEAR has roughly one million members. And although they have plans to launch at a number of new airports this year, CLEAR isn’t limiting the technology to air travel alone, as they expect to announce expanding to different types of facilities in the near future. The biometric service can already be found at a handful of sports venues. Learn more at clearme.com.

IMG_4438Annie Flodin is a seasoned communications professional and aspiring aviation journalist. She and her husband Scott live in Minneapolis with their two cats. In her free time, she enjoys plane spotting, writing, and spending time outdoors. She blogs at The Great Planes, and you can follow her on Instagram and Twitter: at @thegreatplanes.

Your Weekend Reads for March 24, 2017

Laptop Ban jpg

The big news of the week was all about the sudden ban by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security of laptops and tablets on flights in and out of the U.S. to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Morocco, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates’ Abu Dhabi and Dubai, citing “security measures.”

But questions arose about the targeting of the Big Three Middle East carriers — Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways — in the wake of an ongoing Open Skies battle with the Big Three U.S. carriers, American, Delta and United. “If you squint hard enough, there is some justification on a security basis for this, but the implementation has been haphazard and in manner that is particularly targeted at and does harm to the commercial interests of a set of airlines that has been the source of much competitive hand-wringing from U.S. airlines,” Airways senior business analyst Vinay Bhaskara said in an interview with Business Insider.

And an editorial in FlightGlobal magazine said “the selective ban by the UK and US governments is at best inconsistent and at worst ineffective.”

A Mesa Airlines Beech 1900D. Photo courtesy of Mesa Air Group

In a previous life, I was director of communications and community affairs for Mesa Air Group, a regional airline based in Phoenix that flies as American Eagle and United Express. But as Mesa Airlines, the carrier operated Essential Air Service (EAS) flights across the country. The EAS program was created after airline deregulation in 1978 to ensure that small communities still had access to the air transportation network. One of my jobs was to do presentations to communities to get their EAS contracts.

The program has been on the chopping block for years, but has always been protected by senators and representatives keen on protecting air service for its constituents. And now President Donald Trump has announced plans to cut the EAS program under his proposed skinny budget, potentially ending air service to 171 communities, reports Skift.

The first class cabin on a Cathay Pacific jet. Photo courtesy of Cathay Pacific

As Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific posted its first loss since 2008, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce had one word of advice for the airline: adapt, reports Skift. Cathay’s loss was driven by a drop in business travel and competition from Chinese carriers.

British Airways is going through its own financial challenges, driven by increased competition from European low-cost carriers. This is leading the UK flag carrier to cut amenities in its first class cabins including an amuse-bouche with the first drink, fresh flowers in the lavatories, a generously sized washbag and a pair of slippers, reports the Telegraph. Airline staffers say the cuts are damaging BA’s elite brand, while the carrier acknowledges the cuts but adding that it’s committed to providing a high-quality service.

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U.S. airlines were positively giddy when flight restrictions to Cuba were lifted by the Obama Administration as part of the normalization of relations with the Caribbean nation in December 2014. And there was a frenzy by the airlines to get flights to Cuba, with the first flight — by JetBlue — landing on Aug. 31, 2016. But now the Miami Herald reports on announcements by Frontier Airlines and Silver Airways to end their flights to Cuba, citing weak passenger demand.

We’ll end the week with the news that after an internal review, Alaska Airlines has decided to eliminate the Virgin America brand by 2019, reports the Fort Worth State-Telegram. After Alaska acquired the popular San Francisco-based carrier, CEO Brad Tilden said he believed in “the power of the Virgin America brand, and we don’t want to lose all that loyalty.” But it was not to be.

Because I care, here are five more stories for your reading pleasure this weekend. Enjoy!

17096557489_f0c56cdd15_kEDITOR’S NOTE: Benét J. Wilson is a freelance aviation/travel writer based in Baltimore who is available for your writing and branded content/content marketing projects. She’s the Air Travel Expert for About.com. Follow her travel-related magazines on Flipboard: Best of About Travel, a joint curation venture with her fellow About Travel Experts; Travel-Go! There’s Nothing Stopping You, all about the passenger experience on the ground and in the air; and Aviation Geek, a joint magazine sharing everything you need to know about the commercial aviation industry. Check out her travel-related boards on Pinterest and follow her on Twitter at @AvQueenBenet, on her Aviation Queen Facebook Page and on Instagram at aviationqueen.

Strange But True Aviation News

strange motel

This was a “slipper-y” slope. An Indian member of parliament has been banned from flying the country’s major airlines after confessing to hitting an Air India flight attendant 25 times with a slipper, reports the Guardian. The MP said the thrashing came about on a flight from Pune to New Delhi after he accused the flight attendant of insulting him.  

A picture is worth a thousand words — but not the wrong one. Lithuania created a tourism program using the slogan “Real is beautiful.” But a problem arose when it was discovered that some of the photos used in the campaign were actually taken in Finland and Slovakia, reports DW.com. The tourism chief resigned after the photos went viral on social media.

You can’t take that past security. A worker at St. Croix Airport plead guilty to drug smuggling after being caught trying take a bag of cocaine strapped to his leg past the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint, reports the Virgin Islands Free Press. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.

Smoke gets in your eyes — at the airport. A live smoke grenade was found by TSA screeners in the carry-on bag of a passenger flying out of Raleigh-Durham International Airport, reports the News & Observer.