Issue: June 2013

Security

Don't Let Bed Bugs Ruin your Travels - Tips and Cautions for Buying Travel Online

Health

How to Travel with your Prescriptions - From the Assist America Case Files

Travel

Using Smartphones to Identify Lost LuggageNew Apps Helps Travelers to Quickly Navigate Airports

Regional Information

 Africa - East Asia - Europe - Near East
 South Asia - Western Hemisphere


Security

don't let bed bugs ruin your travels [Back to Top]

In recent years, many travelers have returned home with tans, photos, and a perhaps some souvenirs they didn't intend to acquire: bed bugs. Bed bugs are a growing concern for travelers, even those staying at luxury hotels. In fact, it is almost impossible to know for certain that a hotel room is free of bed bugs. However, you can take some simple preventive measures to minimize the possible impact on your travels and, more importantly, your home, when you return.

Bed bugs are small, flat, rust-colored insects that feed primarily on human blood. They are most active at night, when they often crawl onto the exposed skin of a sleeping person, inject a mild anesthetic, and draw a small amount of blood. Most people never feel the actual bite, and some people do not react to bed bug bites at all. In most people, however, bite marks usually appear within minutes to days, ranging from small bumps to large, itchy welts that typically resolve without treatment.

Here is some advice to minimize the potential impact of bed bugs on your life when you travel:

Travel light. Try to pack only clothing and objects that can be washed or laundered in hot water, which is one easy way to kill any bed bugs stowed away in clothing or personal gear. Traveling light also allows you to pack items and clothing into sealable plastic bags when not in use, further protecting against infestation.

Inspect your room upon arrival at your destination. Regardless of how often a hotel claims to inspect for bed bugs, it is always a good idea to look for signs of infestations upon checking into your room. Leave your luggage at the door, in the bathroom, or preferably on a luggage rack. Use a flashlight to inspect the room, paying extra attention to the room's bed and furniture. Look for bugs, eggs, shed body casings, or digested blood - which will appear brown rather than red, and can be distinguished from lacquer or varnish by its ease of cleaning with a wet napkin or tissue. Make sure to check under all four corners of the mattress and box spring, as well in the piping of sofas and large upholstered furniture. Check for similar signs of infestation behind the headboard if possible.

Protect your bags. Store your luggage on a rack or in the bathroom, rather than on any upholstered furniture or under the bed. Try to keep clothing and other items sealed in your bags when they are not in use, rather than unpacking it into hotel dressers. Keep any electronic devices, toiletries, or other items that cannot be laundered or heated in airtight plastic bags. When you leave the hotel, immediately seal any luggage in large plastic bags prior to loading it into your car. When you get home, immediately wash everything that can be laundered in a hot wash and hot dryer cycle. Dry cleaning is also effective. Luggage can be sterilized using the steam function on many household irons.

Don't overreact. If you think you have found signs of infestation during your initial room selection, politely ask management to move you to a room that has no history of bed bugs and is not adjacent to, above, or below the infested room. Remember that a bed bug infestation can be a limited, low-level problem - even in just a single room - and may not justify changing hotels entirely.

Once you arrive home, inspect your home as you did your hotel room - remember that bed bugs typically do not invade detached homes the way ants and termites do; they generally need to be carried into the home on furniture, luggage, or clothing.  (However, they can travel through walls in apartment or condominium buildings). Follow the same procedure to check beds, bed frames, mattresses, upholstered furniture, baseboards, windows, doorframes, etc. If you find live bugs in any location, crush them with a paper towel and dispose of them outside the home. If you find any sign of infestation, consult an exterminator to discuss eradication options. Never attempt to fumigate on your own, because bed bugs can be resistant to over-the-counter chemicals, and more powerful agents can be highly toxic if used improperly.

TIPS AND CAUTIONS FOR BUYING TRAVEL ONLINE  [Back to Top]

Shopping for travel online can sometimes be confusing or frustrating but can also be rewarding with a little patience and some tips on what to look for to really get the best deal. Here are some important reminders to keep in mind during the experience:

1. There is no single website that is the sole source of lowest airfares or best deals on hotels or other services. It pays to shop around, taking the time to check numerous online travel agencies (Expedia, Orbitz,  Travelocity, and their competitors), specialty sites (such as those that only sell air travel or hotel bookings), and the corporate websites of individual airlines, hotel chains, and rental car firms. Some airlines are not covered by individual agencies, so your search through an agency may not even retrieve those carriers' fares.

Bear in mind that travel providers update and adjust prices frequently, offering different fares to distributors such as online agencies. Accordingly, while an airline may offer a $250 roundtrip ticket on its own site, the same itinerary might be available for $200 through an online agent. Alternatively, the airline may have the cheaper fare. Never believe a "lowest price" claim until you have shopped around.

2. Before committing to a deal, read the fine print. Many discounted services come with restrictions and caveats. For example, you may be locked into non-refundable tickets, a 14-day advance purchase, a requirement that you stay in a "participating hotel" (often at an inflated price), or limitations on rental car models - and most are not valid in combination with other discounts or coupons.

3. Be cautious.  Fraudulent travel websites are active. When dealing with an unknown or unfamiliar provider, check it out with the Better Business Bureau (http://www.bbb.org/) before entering your credit card number. In March 2005, the FBI identified the following airline ticketing Internet sites as scams: Busy.Sky.net; CheapClouds.com; CrazyTickets.net; and SubmitPrice.net. If it sounds too good to be true, it just might be - do your homework and check out the website. All of the sites listed above advertised cheaper airfares than those listed on reputable sites. For purchases, all of the scam sites asked for credit card numbers, expiration dates, and security "CVV" codes. Customers were then sent messages stating that their credit card transactions had been declined, followed by instructions to wire funds for payment of the tickets. Credit card numbers were compromised, and cash was stolen from unsuspecting victims.

4. Before giving your credit card number, make sure you are aware of all charges, taxes, and penalties, and are viewing a final purchase price. The final price is frequently higher than the first price presented. Also, many offers carry severe penalties for cancellation or even minor changes to your itinerary. Some sites, such as Priceline.com, require you to commit to the purchase before you know your flight times and connections. Such sites are for travelers with very flexible schedules. Know the conditions of purchase before you click "accept."

5. Within an hour or two after purchasing from an agency, contact the airline, rental car firm, hotel, or other provider directly, and confirm that the purchase went through.  Some agencies allow you to "purchase" a fare or discount that is no longer available. The fare may linger in a computer reservation system for a few hours after it is actually sold out. Agencies send "purchase confirmation" emails quickly after you buy, but that does not mean the transaction went through. The "ticket confirmation" you receive later indicates that the deal is final. Also confirm directly with the provider that you are receiving frequent flier or other preferred customer credit, if you are eligible for it. Sometimes buying through a third-party provider will make you ineligible for frequent flier miles or other credit.

6. Even if you believe you are merely holding a reservation for later purchase, contact the provider and verify that your credit card has not been charged, and learn what rules apply to the price you were quoted online.  Sometimes the price is not guaranteed until your purchase is final.

7. Always print a copy of the transaction confirmation screen.  It will have your flight numbers, travel dates, and, most importantly, the itinerary number that helps the provider locate your record in case you need to make changes. Print this screen even if you cancel so that you have written proof in the event you are mistakenly charged for the transaction. If your computer freezes or you encounter other technical difficulties, call the agency or provider using the toll-free number on the screen to either verify that you have not been charged or complete the deal.

8. In a change from prior policy, some now charge a no-show fee if you neglect to cancel a reservation that you do not use. This is particularly true with car and hotel reservations. If you book anything online and later decide you do not want it, be sure to cancel it, and print a copy of the cancellation screen.

The Internet has vastly simplified travel planning since the days of telephoning and thumbing through travel brochures. Armed with a little bit of experience, or a little bit of wisdom, you can follow these tips to plan your next trip at the lowest cost with the least hassle and be on your way!

Health

 HOW TO TRAVEL WITH YOUR PRESCRIPTIONS [Back to Top]

For most travelers, a weeklong vacation does not come with a week off from their necessary medications. Making sure these medications stay safe during travel is crucial to ensuring a healthy vacation. When it comes to air travel and prescriptions, the most important thing to remember is not to pack them in a checked bag if possible. This may mean some extra time, effort and planning before leaving for your trip and extra time in line for inspection by security but is worth the extra effort.

Here are some additional tips to help make sure that your medication easily makes the trip with you:

Refer to the Experts - Before embarking on travel you should always speak with your doctor or pharmacist about bringing along your medication. At the very least it is good for your doctor to know about your travels as it could help speed up the process of getting a prescription replaced if it were to be lost. Also, just as importantly, you should check with both your airline and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for regulations on what is permitted on the plane and in what quantities.

Have your Medical History - Before traveling, create a list of all your medications, when they should be taken, and the conditions they are treating along with a list of your vaccinations. You should keep this information on you as it can be lifesaving when you need emergency medical attention while away from home.

Pack Smart - Current TSA regulations allow passengers to bring medication in pill form on the plane in any quantity as long as they are screened. While quantity does not necessarily matter with pills, you should try to only bring a reasonable and necessary quantity as this will help to minimize the screening process. It is also important to know the regulation of any foreign countries that you may be traveling to because while your medication may be legal in the states and safe to carry on the plane, it is possible that it is illegal and thus considered a controlled substance in other countries.

Medically necessary liquids can be brought on a plane but must be screened. These should only be carried in a reasonable and necessary quantity as liquids over 3.4 ounces will be subjected to additional screening that may result in you being held up in security. You may also want to separate all your medications from the rest of your luggage in a zip-top bag as this will help security officers to screen the items much more quickly and help you get on your way.

FROM THE ASSIST AMERICA CASE FILES  [Back to Top]

Infection in Florida

Robert* was in Naples, Florida visiting friends for a weekend golf outing. When he didn't answer his phone or hotel door the next morning, his friends became concerned and asked the front desk if they could get into his room and check on him. They found him unconscious in the bathroom so he was immediately taken to the hospital and they called Assist America for help.

The Assist America coordinators contacted the hospital to get an update on Robert's condition and were told that since he was a diabetic, a wound on his foot that hadn't properly healed had turned into a bacterial blood infection. The coordinators continued to monitor Robert's care throughout his hospital stay and assured he was being given appropriate treatment to keep the infection from becoming any worse.

After several days in the hospital, Robert was ready to be released. Assist America arranged and paid for a business-class seat on his flight home so he could elevate his leg and a medical escort to monitor his condition on the way. Once he landed, he had ground transportation waiting to take him to a rehabilitation center so he could continue with his recovery.

*name changed for privacy

Travel

 USING SMARTPHONES TO IDENTIFY LOST LUGGAGE [Back to Top]

The travel industry has made leaps and bounds in streamlining travel so that it is fast and efficient for passengers, but one problem that still can bring travel to an abrupt halt is the loss of your luggage. A lost bag can become a major obstacle for travelers, especially when it can take a few days or even a week for the airline to locate your belongings and return them to you. Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution to ensuring that bags will never go missing; however one company is taking steps to speed up the process of locating and returning your lost bag.

GoCodes will create specialized QR codes on tags for your bag that can be scanned with any smartphone allowing the finder of the bag to determine the name and contact information of the owner. This means that both airline employees and good Samaritans can determine the owner of the bag and begin the process of returning the item to that owner. GoCodes plans on branching out the services by creating QR codes on stickers that can be put on mobile devices, mp3 players, laptops, wallets, or virtually anything else.

Although the concept of QR codes doesn't ensure that your missing items won't stay missing as it still relies on a person having to scan the code and take the time to help have the item returned, the codes are at least a way of helping increase the chance that an owner will be reunited with their personal belongings. When it comes to things like your phone, wallet, or luggage going missing, travelers want all the help they can get to increase the chance that their items are quickly and safely returned.

GoCodes are free by simply going to GoCodes.com and signing up with an email address. There's also an option to upgrade your level of service by purchasing GoCodes directly from their web store. The more GoCodes that are purchased, the more benefits the member receives.

NEW APPS HELP TRAVELERS TO QUICKLY NAVIGATE AIRPORTS  [Back to Top]

Getting lost in busy, confusing, and convoluted airports has now become a thing of the past with the recent release of a new group of mobile apps that help travelers efficiently navigate airports. iFly Pro is one of the most popular of these apps ($7 on iPhone and Android, but with free trial versions available).

iFly Pro, the full version, covers 700 airports worldwide and provides travelers with maps, general information, merchant and food options, as well as live flight information such as delays and arrivals. These features allow users to save time and money by strategically planning their routes to pass preferred and reasonably price eateries without getting lost or wandering aimlessly.

If you are looking for an airport app that you don't have to pay for, GateGuru is a good option. This app does not have as large of an airport network (105 domestic and 85 international) however, for the airports available there is still a wealth of information housed within.

There is a decent amount of information on restaurants, shops, and amenities, but the maps are one of the drawbacks. They tend to be pretty basic and often don't include things like ATMs and restrooms. One major bonus of GateGuru is that they provide wait times at security checkpoints.

These are only two of the multiple apps available to both Android and Apple users, but these have both received high user ratings and tend to be fairly helpful for travelers, especially those less familiar with the airports they will be passing through, so they're definitely worth exploring.

Regional Information

For the latest, up-to-date information regarding key regions, click on the links below:

AFRICA

EAST ASIA PACIFIC

EUROPE EURASIA

NEAREAST

SOUTH CENTRAL ASIA

WESTERN HEMISPHERE

Sources for this document include, but are not limited to: 

iJet, ASTA SmartBrief, NYTimes.com, AAA World magazine May/June 2013, GoCodes.com 

For pre-trip information: Assist America members may directly access travel information via the Assist America website, www.assistamerica.com. Log in using your Assist America ID/Reference number.

Interested in learning more about Assist America? Please visit us at www.assistamerica.com. Tell a fellow traveler about the newsletter and show them how to subscribe online! Interested in having your organization becoming a member of Assist America? Please e-mail us at sales@assistamerica.com.

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