[philiptellis] Walking the world in search of interestingness

Thursday, August 19, 2010

JetBlue's All You Can Jet pass

About 40 hours ago JetBlue announced their All You Can Jet pass (better known to experienced jetters as #aycj). A few minutes ago they announced that the 7 day pass had sold out.

#aycjJetBlue introduced the pass last year and I jumped at the offer. I knew that I wasn't going to take time off work, but four weekends was still tempting, so I got mine as did many others. At the end of the 30 days though, a new community was built. A community that communicated over twitter using the #aycj tag as a chat room, that met at airport terminals, most notably T5 at JFK, and a bunch of strangers that identified each other by the little blue button with a twitter tag. A few of them turned into celebrities in their own right.

The hype really built up even after all passes were sold out. There was enough press and blog action that even if JetBlue didn't make a profit off of it, they definitely won many new loyal customers.

So why would an airline do this? The timing of the pass seems to answer that question. Traditionally, the period between Labour day (the first Monday in September) and Thanksgiving is when Americans fly the least. Except for really busy routes, most flights will go empty. This is a great time for airlines to throw out special offers, and it essentially turns into a pricing war between who can offer the cheapest seats.

JetBlue wins this round because they did something completely different. They didn't offer cheaper seats, they offered one very expensive seat that you can take with you for 30 days. The restrictions on booking ensure it isn't abused, and the result is fuller flights, and possibly more people paying $6 to watch movies on board.

I bought my pass this year a few minutes after I saw the first tweet about it, even before the email from JetBlue hit my inbox. Now, a little under two days later, the passes are sold out. It took a lot longer last year, and it will probably be a lot shorter next year.

Here's looking forward to another 4 weekends of travel.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Puerto Rico to Vieques

There were but two ways to do it. We could go on for almost two hours, rocking from side to side, getting splashed with sea-spray, all for a little more than the price of dirt, or we could do it in under 10 minutes skimming over the surface and doing one quick turn for 20 bucks. We chose the latter, mainly because it meant we'd get an extra two hours of sleep before checking out of the hotel.

It was day two in Puerto Rico, and we'd gone to bed exhausted after a very long and awesome day spent on the beach followed by hiking the rain forest of El Yunque. Waking up early to catch a ferry for a 90 minute ride to Vieques wasn't exactly an appealing thought, but what choice did we have?

They called him Brooklyn — because that's where he hailed from. A New Yorker all through, he worked as a bell boy at the Wyndham because Puerto Rico was an awesome place to be. I told him our problem, and he says, "Hey bro, I have a better idea...". He whisks out a map and starts drawing, "you head down to Ceiba. There's a tiny little airport there, and you can get a flight to Vieques for $17. That's what I'd do. And they fly out every hour or so while there's only one ferry that'll get you there in time".

So we set out after a decent breakfast for the drive to Ceiba. It wasn't hard getting there, but we got lost nonetheless. Blame it on my inability to read signs in Spanish as they whizz past at 50mph. All the same, we made it in good time, and parked at the little parking lot. Walked in to the airport and were struck by how small it was.Our Pilot There were three airline counters, they looked very similar to what you'd see at any commercial airport. Brooklyn suggested we fly Air Flamenco, so that's what we did. There was also Vieques Air Link (VAL for short) and another smaller airline.

As we got there, a flight was just leaving, and they told us that we'd be on the next one which was in an hour. We were scheduled to get onto a Kayak and Snorkeling tour at 2, and it was 11:30. We figured we had enough time.

That's when the thunderstorm hit. It poured like you'd expect in the tropics. Nothing to be afraid of, except not the kind of weather that a little 8 seater aircraft wants to fly in. We were stuck in Ceiba with no idea of when we'd get to Vieques. It was now 1:15, and we were really upset. It takes just about 8 minutes to fly from Ceiba to Vieques, and 10-15 minutes for a cab to get us from the airport to where we had to meet the tour. The guys at Ceiba signalled the pilot at Vieques telling him to be ready to leave as soon as he landed, and they called for a cab to meet us at the airport in Vieques.

Looking downWe walked down to the plane — no TSA in sight, which was refreshing — and sat down. We were the only two passengers and sat right behind the pilot. We had an amazing view of the plane and the reef below. We flew so low that you could see right through the water to the coral below. The airplane had no air conditioning, instead there was a little opening in each of the windows to let the wind in. We touched down at Vieques at 1:45, grabbed our bags from the plane's hold and ran outside. Our cab was waiting for us, and got us to the shack that we were staying at. We checked in as quickly as we could and then ran to join the tour. We were a few minutes late, but they were still there going over safety requirements.

In the rush, we'd left our towels and change of clothes back at the shack, so what we were wearing was all that we had, but we made it for the kayak and snorkel trip, and that was totally worth it. More about that next time.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bandra after midnight

Bandra used to be a little fishing village on the west coast of India. Part of the many islands that made up Mumbai city. Amidst tall buildings and fancy cars, you'll still find many small houses roofed with mangalore tiles with tiny by-lanes winding between them. There's a lot to see during the day, but after midnight once the air starts to cool down a bit that's when I like to head out.


On the corner of Manuel Gonsalves Road and Turner Road, right outside Axis bank, is a Kulfi walla. This guy has been around for a very long time. Longer than the bank even (HSBC used to be at that corner before Axis bank took over). He comes in fairly late in the evening, and stays until a little after midnight. He travels all the way from Meera Road on the Western Railway to spend a few hours selling Kulfi in a suburb where he can sell it for a little more. Since it would be really hard (and a little more expensive) for him to carry his cart and stand with him, he made a deal with the security guards at the bank to leave his cart there during the day so he only needs to travel with his icebox.

The Kulfi is awesome. He has a variety of flavours including Pistachio, Mango, Chickoo, Malai and Chocolate. If you want to try all of them, he can make you a mixed plate. Each plate is 125gms of Kulfi for 25 Rupees (200 Rs/kilo). It used to be 10 when he just moved here, but I suppose people are willing to pay 25 for it.


After kulfi, head down Turner road to the sea-side promenade at Carter road. There you'll find guys on bicycles with a flask behind them. The flask contains hot sweet watery milk which they'll either add tea-bags to or instant coffee. Each cup is about 50ml and costs Rs 5. Rather expensive, but then there are people willing to pay that prce, and I'm guessing that a lot of it goes to the cops anyway in exchange for letting him sell his stuff without a license. The tea is really sweet and gets over before you know it, but it's a nice way to just hang out with friends and chat by the sea.


Now there also used to be a dosawalla around here, but I haven't seen him for a while. If you do, give him a try. He actually does have a license to sell dosas.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Visas for an Indian traveller

I live in the US, but travel on an Indian passport. Almost every international trip I make is for business. Most of them to speak at a conference, and my schedule is pretty tight. I've already travelled to speak in Belgium, Canada and Hong Kong this year, and have upcoming gigs in Australia, the UK and Germany. Apart from Hong Kong, I need a visa to enter all the others, and visa processing time is what limits how much I can travel.

On average, it takes 3-5 business days to get a visa. Add to that the time that my passport and docs are in the mail and that's a little over a week that my passport isn't with me. This is for every trip that I need to make, and since I need my passport for every application as well as to make the trip, I can't do them in parallel.

The good news is that some countries let you have a visa for a year, sometimes more, but not all do. European countries grant a visa from the day of entry to the day of departure. My last trip to Belgium got me a 5 day visa. I'll probably get the same when I travel to Germany. My Canadian visa is valid until a few months before my US visa expires (go figure). The Australian visa is valid for a year, and has a fairly simple application process. A UK visa may be granted for anywhere between 6 months to 10 years, but the application process is fairly involved.

Some applications require you to go for an interview, and some don't. Either way, I've always had good experiences with the various embassy staff, but the Australian Embassy in Washington DC has been the friendliest.

Over the next couple of months I'll fly to the US, apply for a German and Australian visa, fly to Australia, fly back to the US, apply for a British visa, then fly to the UK and Germany and then back home to relax for a bit.

I hear that tourist visas are easier to get than business visas. You need to show more money, but need fewer docs. Travellers from Europe and most American countries don't require a visa to most destinations.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cheap way from HK airport to the city

If you plan to visit Hong Kong from the airport, and return within 24 hours, you have two options. The first is the fastest. You take the airport express from the airport right into the city and take it back. If you return on the same day, it costs just HK$100. If you're returning on the next day, it's a little more. You'll also need to pay for local transport within the city, but for the most part you can just walk around.

Now, if you're willing to take a little longer, but want the cheap way, then what you should do is get the S1 bus from the airport to Tung Chung station. Ticket price: HK$3.60. Note, don't take the S64 because that takes you on a tour of rather uninteresting places. Once at Tung Chung, buy a tourist day pass, valid for 24 hours from first use. Price: HK$55. You can use this day pass to get in to the city, and all around on the the MTR and light rail. The ticket comes with a small subway map that you can use to navigate. You'll take the Orange (Tung Chung) Line in to the city, and get off wherever you want to. To go around the island, get off at Hong Kong and then walk to Central and take the Blue (Island) line from there.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A $730 flight ticket for $150

Between the months of October and March, airports like Washington DC and Denver are frequently closed due to snow storms. If you happen to have booked a flight through one of these airports, the airline will cancel it and possibly rebook you on an alternate flight. This may not always be the flight you want.

A couple of weeks ago, this happened to me. I was to fly from San Jose, CA to Boston, MA via Denver. San Jose is fairly close to where I live, so it's the most convenient airport for me. Unfortunately, very few airlines fly directly from San Jose to Boston, hence the stopover in Denver. Early on the morning of the flight, I received a voicemail from United saying that my flight had been cancelled due to bad weather. I called back a little later to check on alternatives.

The call centre agent suggested a flight out of San Francisco that was to leave in 2 hours, but there was no way I could make it to SFO by then. He then suggested a flight the following day, but that was too late for me. He then offered to re-book me on American Airlines out of San Jose around the same time that my original flight was supposed to leave. I found this rather suspicious. While he was searching for alternatives, I did the same online, and found that there were still seats available for the night flight from SFO to Boston. I'd have enough time to reach SFO and would make it early the next morning instead of late that night, which was fine.

I pointed out this flight to the agent, and he reluctantly confirmed that there was, in fact, one seat left on that flight. When I checked online, I found that this ticket was worth $734. I'd paid about $150 or $170 for my original ticket, so he was naturally reluctant to get me that seat. It would actually have been cheaper for them to rebook me on American, except that I wouldn't get any miles for that. All the same, there wasn't much more he could do except warn me that any further changes would come at a price.

The flight was packed, and quite a few people were bumped up to first class. I wasn't, but my seat was assigned at the gate. I got a middle exit row seat, with plenty of leg room.

When I checked my mileage account later, I'd been credited over 4000 miles for the flight instead of the 1200 that I usually get for this leg.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

My year in towns and cities - 2009

Apart from redesigning my entire website this year, I also did a lot of travelling, and also hosted a lot of couchsurfers. It would have been much more actually, but I've had to cancel two trips, one to Singapore and one to Brazil, and couldn't get funding for a trip to Taiwan. The places I did go to were:
  • San Luis Obispo, CA, USA
  • Boston, MA, USA
  • West Palm Beach, FL, USA
  • Fort Lauderdale, FL, USA
  • Key Largo, FL, USA
  • Montreal, QC, Canada
  • Los Angeles, CA, USA
  • Sydney, Australia
  • Canberra, Australia
  • Melbourne, Australia
  • Portland, OR, USA
  • Bombay, MH, India
  • Toronto, ON, Canada
  • Pittsburgh, PA, USA
  • North Nashua, NH, USA
  • New York City, NY, USA
  • Bangalore, KA, India