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Originally published Sunday, January 11, 2015 at 6:31 AM

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Travel trends: Cheaper Europe, ‘chip’ credit cards and cat cafes

What travelers can expect in 2015, from getting there to staying there plus travel technology.


Los Angeles Times

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Here’s a look at travel trends for this year:

Airfare: Don’t expect a decrease in domestic airfares. Even though airlines are getting good profits and fuel prices are declining, those savings won’t get passed on to passengers, said Warren Chang, vice president of Fly.com, an airfare search website.

Cheaper Europe: Your European vacation may cost less. The euro and the pound have weakened against the dollar. That hotel room that was pegged at 200 euros last December would have cost you about $274. This year? $248 (and going down). You won’t save enough to upgrade to a suite at Claridge’s in London or the Mandarin Oriental in Paris, but a drink at a pub or a sidewalk cafe after a long day is a decent reward.

Mileage awards: Accumulating frequent-flier miles won’t be quite as easy. That will be true on some major airlines. United and Delta will base award points on how much you spend, not on how far you fly. (Southwest already uses this revenue-based model.)

If you’re a price-sensitive flier, as many leisure travelers are, you won’t reap rewards for your loyalty the way the traveler does whose tab is paid by the company or the trust fund. No word yet from American on its plans for its programs, presumably because it’s busy working on the merger with US Airways. For those who want to play the game, branded credit cards may be the answer.

‘Chipped’ credit cards: Your credit card may soon be a chipped smart card, thanks to a liability shift. When card fraud occurs, someone must take the financial fall, and beginning in October, the blame will be assigned to the entity (the bank or the merchant, but not you) that allowed the fraud to occur.

The magnetic stripe cards — the standard in the U.S. — aren’t effective against large-scale fraud, so banks increasingly will shift to the chipped smart card, the standard in most places outside the U.S. “If chip was the standard ... the Target and Home Depot breaches would not have been possible,” said Kevin Yuann, credit card manager for NerdWallet, a personal finance website.

But that doesn’t mean your new smart card will work at unmanned kiosks abroad. Some of the reissued cards will be chip and PIN cards, which require an access code like the one you use at an ATM. Those are the cards that usually are required at European ticket machines, for instance, or gasoline stations.

But some new U.S. cards will be chip and signature cards, which require only a signature, just as our magnetic stripe cards do now. Many automated points of sale abroad won’t accept them. Why not switch to what many say is the more secure chip and PIN card? Banks worry that the unfamiliarity of the chip and PIN will discourage users from making that card the card of choice, Yuann said. To find a card that suits you, go to Nerdwallet.com (search for chip and signature or chip and pin).

New planes: You may not feel as crummy after a flight as new aircraft are added to carriers’ fleets. Most flights are pressurized to about 8,000 feet, but the new Boeing 787 is pressurized to about 6,000 feet. It will be, said Robert Mittelstaedt, dean emeritus of the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, “much more comfortable, especially for those with asthma, other breathing problems, or ears sensitive to pressure changes, even temporarily, such as during a cold.” Even if you don’t have those problems, you’ll be getting more oxygen, Mittelstaedt said, which should make you feel less as though you’ve been slugged in the head.

Rental car costs: You’ll pay a little more for your rental car. That’s the word from American Express’ 2015 Business Travel Forecast, which predicts an increase of 0.5 percent to 1 percent for that domestic rental car.

The good news for corporate customers, American Express said, is that they can push back against those rates because they have clout. The bad news for the rest of us? Like airlines, rental car companies have seen lots of consolidation, thus reducing competition and increasing your costs. (At least gas is cheaper, now under $3 a gallon.)

Hotels: If you’re traveling with family, hotels may do a better job of addressing your needs. That’s the word from Jon Eichelberger, regional manger for Trivago North America, a metasearch engine for hotels. Such entities as Airbnb, through which owners rent rooms or whole condos/houses, fill a need for families that need room to spread out or cook, and hotels realize that they must do more to maintain or reclaim that market. Look for such amenities as child care or programs for children. Read more at this FlyerTalk forum: bit.ly/1ABT9Qe

Cats’ year: And finally, 2015 will be the year of the cat. You may think this refers to the Chinese zodiac, but 2015 is the year of the sheep. No, we are talking about our four-footed friends, which seem to be the “it” critter. Cafes featuring the feline (they snuggle with you while you’re snacking or dining) have long been on the scene in Japan, but recently such establishments have sprung up in New York and Paris as well as in Vilnius, Lithuania (cat-cafe.lt), Madrid (lagatoteca.es) and Singapore (catcafe.com.sg). Two new ones are expected in Scotland in 2015.

If you don’t like cats or find that fur and food don’t mix, stay away. For the rest of us missing our kitties while we’re on the road? Purrfect.



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About Travel Wise

Travel Wise is aimed at helping people travel smart, especially independent travelers seeking good value. The column covers everything from the best resources to how to tap into the local culture. It runs each Sunday in the Travel section.

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