Ideally, more hotels would follow the example of the Elysian Chicago and Fairmont Banff, by paying their frontline employees a decent wage and banning tipping. But, for the most part, tipping is still a part of the American hotel experience.

So what’s wrong with tipping with cash?

The folks behind a site called Where’s My Tip? seem to think that cash is inferior. Their site pitches “tip cards” — business-cards with a code and a link on them.

The tipper gives the card to the person they’re tipping. The recipient goes to the site to “claim” their tip — by suggesting a tip amount — and eventually receive the tipper’s cash via Paypal.

(sample card, from their site:)
wmtfrontandback2 Poll: Are tip cards better than tipping in cash?

The person paying the tips has to pay $39.95 a year for the privilege of managing their tips this way. And if you expend the first 50 cards, replacements cost 50 cents each.

Okay, I see the expense account angle here. A paper trail of tips paid is easier on the accounting department than a list of non-receipted petty cash expenses. Okay. Fair enough.

And I get the “exact change” angle. Yes, it sucks having to keep small bills at the ready.


But other than those two minor inconveniences, how on earth is this better than cash? For the tipper, maintaining an account like this costs more than the tips, requires a stack of cards to keep separately, and makes you go online to manage the payment after the fact. Time elapses, and you may not remember who was who during your last trip.

For the tippee, it’s even worse: it adds a delay in payment and forces you to name your own price for the tip. It makes your income dependent on an after-the-fact renegotiation. How awkward! What if you bid too high? Too low? Will they counteroffer? Will they even pay at all? That stress (and time) shouldn’t be a part of your job. It’s the tipper’s responsibility, period.

Maybe the model is salvageable, and these are just kinks to be worked out. There’s a nugget of a problem here that deserves attention, after all, but I’m not sure this is the solution.

So, what do you think? Are tip cards the wave of the future? Is this a clever innovation? Does it need tweaking, or should it be relegated to the dustbin of history? Vote in the poll, hit the comments, and speak your mind.

Are tip cards -- instead of cash tips -- smart cash management or pointless gimmickry?

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(Can’t see the poll? Reading this via the feed? Click here to visit the site to vote in the poll or leave a comment.)

Categorized in: travel

rural post office Poste restante: Avoid airport security hassles by mailing packages to your destination

Reader J writes in, with the excellent subject line “Sidestepping government buffoonery”:

So I was wondering if you know if it’s possible to get a temporary PO box or a similar thing in order to mail your shampoo, cologne and other liquids to yourself at your destination city ahead of time to make sure you know it’s there before you even step on the plane. Are there such services?

Why yes!

You’ve got a few options, actually, and as long as you’re packing well and not mailing things that violate postal service regulations, then this could be a great way to avoid checked luggage, avoid the theatrics of the TSA war on moisture, and avoid having to buy stuff at your destination, all in one swoop!

There are essentially three options:

  1. Your hotel
    Where you stayin’? Call the hotel, ask if they hold mail for guests, and what the restrictions are. In all likelihood, this will be the most convenient and most reliable way for you to receive packages. Tip: Be sure you include “hotel guest” after your name when you address the package.
  2. Post office
    The magic words: “Poste restante,” or “general delivery.” Poste restante is an old fashioned mail-pickup service that most countries’ postal services still provide. Mail is addressed to a person, but in lieu of an address for delivery, the mail is sent to a post office branch, where you pick it up. You’ll usually address mail to Name, Poste Restante, the specific name of the post office (usually the main, central office), that branch’s street location, city, postal code, and country. Of course, you need to KNOW the location you’ll be picking it up from beforehand. Check the website of your destination’s postal service before you ship things off. FYI: The USPS’s sparse info page for general delivery is here.
  3. American Express
    American Express cardmembers and travelers’ check holders can have mail sent to an American Express Travel Services office anywhere in the world. I took advantage of this once, and it worked great, but it’s been a while (1994). See here to find an office. Call them before sending them mail, and ask if they receive and hold Amex client mail. Not every office will do it.

In all of these cases, underline the addressee’s last name for good measure, or write it in all caps. It can’t hurt to put a statement like “Hold until (date)” on the front of the envelope or package, too.

There may be some restrictions, such as weight. Take New Zealand’s poste restante rules, for example: Packages under 2kg are stored at no charge. Over that weight, and you’ll pay a fee to pick up the goods. Be sure to check with your destination’s post office rules before you ship stuff off poste restante.

Locations holding your mail won’t hold it forever, either. 30 days in the norm, but it’s not universal. (In Mexico, for example, it might only be 10 days.) When in doubt, call ahead.

And even if you mail things to yourself at your destination, be sure you’re not mailing something you’d be upset to lose. Mail can be slow, or can disappear. If you care about the contents, insure.

So the bottom line: Yes, you CAN mail things ahead of time. But at the end of the day, which is the bigger hassle? Dealing with the TSA, or dealing with the post office?

- Update: TSA compresses 100ml to 3.0 fluid ounces
- Airport Security: TSA Re-Allows Lighters on Board; Non-Flammable Water Still a Threat to Safety
- Rescuing your prohibited carry-on items from the trash
- Japan and China introduce liquid-explosive detectors: Why can’t the US?
American Express (aff)


Categorized in: advice, liquids, reader mail, tips

delayed Five ways to get an edge over other air travelers

Most travelers head to the airport, check in, and let the airline take care of the rest. That’s not good enough. Especially if anything goes wrong — and things DO go wrong. You need be your own advocate, and you need a game plan, backed up with information and technology.

Here are five ways to get an edge over the more complacent travelers around you: (more…)

Categorized in: advice, tips, travel

points com gpx logo Is a new frequent flyer point exchange a great opportunity or a new ripoff?Several readers have written in, asking about Points.com’s newly-launched “Global Points Exchange,” which bills itself as a person-to-person frequent-flyer mile marketplace, letting you “trade the miles and points you have, for the miles and points you want.”

Questions are on the skeptical side — “Is this legitimate?” “Is this a ripoff?” “Is GPX legal?” — so let’s look under the hood.

For starters, yes, this is a legal service, despite the airlines’ rules against selling or bartering frequent flyer miles. Points.com has struck deals with each of the participating airlines, so this is an authorized setting for point exchange, not a back-alley deal or an eBay auction.

The principle is a good one: You’ve got miles in one airline’s account, and you want miles in another. So why not trade with someone who has what you want, and who wants what you’ve got to trade?

I’ll tell you why not: Fees!

GPX is plagued with outrageously high transaction costs, costing you as much to exchange your miles as you’d pay to buy those miles outright from the airline.

Is this any surprise? After all, it’s coming from Points.com, which has long converted miles between programs — with hefty devaluations along the way. And according to their latest financial guidance, people are falling for it. The company “transacted more than 10 billion miles and points” in 2007 alone.

The GPX program is currently in beta, and there aren’t a lot of offers on the bid or the ask. Only five airlines currently participate: Air Canada, Alaska, American, Frontier, and… (wait for it) Icelandair!

Fees vary tremendously depending on the airline, but none of them are small. The outgoing account determines the fee you pay. So exchanging 15,000 American AAdvantage miles into another airline currency will cost you $180.00, while exchanging 15,000 Air Canada Aeroplan miles will cost $300.00. PLUS the $6.95 processing fee (currently waived.) Extortionary.

No thanks, Points.com. Your GPX is DOA.

- The value of frequent flyer miles
- Reader mail: Can I transfer points from one airline to another?
- Travelocity soon to let you book travel using points and miles

 Is a new frequent flyer point exchange a great opportunity or a new ripoff? Is a new frequent flyer point exchange a great opportunity or a new ripoff?


 Flight Mitosis: Delta splits your nonstops into two

George Hobica reports on a nasty practice: Delta, apparently unhappy that some of their passengers had booked cheap tickets on nonstop flights, rebooked those customers onto far less convenient connecting flights. Like cell division, one flight had turned into two.

A friend of Hobica’s bought a New York-Denver nonstop around the holidays for a piddly $138, but…

…a couple of weeks ago, Delta called him and told him he was now on a flight leaving JFK around 6 AM, and he’d have to make a connection both coming and going. Worse, Davis is now flying on regional jets, instead of a big jet.

Naturally, he’s not pleased. There are still seats left on the Delta nonstop, but they’re selling for over $600 RT for Davis’ itinerary. It’s pretty clear what happened here: Delta kicked Davis off of the nonstop, and will now sell seats at a much higher fare than he paid to last minute purchasers.

Before anyone says it: Yes, the Delta contract of carriage (pdf) mentions that schedules are subject to change without notice, but that’s not what happened here. The schedule didn’t change, and the flight wasn’t canceled. Only this one ticket changed. The airline simply rebooked him onto a different itinerary at the same price.

Hobica hypothesizes that the airline is pre-bumping the cheap-seat customers to less convenient flights so they can continue to sell higher-priced tickets on the most desirable nonstop routes. And unfortunately, this is highly plausible.

Note that this isn’t the ranting of some crackpot who can’t tell Delta apart from Skybus. The author is a credible travel writer and the founder of the airfarewatchdog.com fare alert site.

And based on the comments of other readers on his site, the case wasn’t isolated. Several readers report the exact same phenomenon. (Several readers miss the point, too, and rant about schedule changes. Frustrating, too, but not the complaint at hand.)

If this ever happens to you, complain. If that doesn’t work, then escalate.

- Reader mail: The airline changed its schedule, what are my rights?
- Customer service: the nuclear option

hopscotch off the edge Loyalty Point Hopscotch: Moving Continental miles just got a little easier

UPDATE, December 4, 2007: None of this is valid anymore. Amtrak, in its infinite wisdom, has reneged on this redemption rates. See update below.

Great news for those with Continental OnePass balances too small to redeem for meaningful awards, but large enough to care about: Amtrak has recently partnered with the Choice Hotels Choice Privileges program, which lets you convert your points — with no loss in value — to a host of other programs. Gary Leff has the scoop.

The way it works: You transfer your points from Continental to Amtrak, which is possible at a 1:1 ratio. (You’ll need to call Continental to initiate the transfer, which must be in increments of 5,000, with a 25,000 mile cap.) You then transfer those Amtrak points to Choice Rewards. This opens up a wide range of possibilities for transferring miles again, since Choice Rewards can be converted to miles — again, with no net loss of value — on Air Canada, Alaska, American, Continental, Delta, Mexicana, Northwest, United, or USAirways. The options for transferring to Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program are perhaps even more attractive. See Gary’s post. UPDATE: Amtrak now devalues your points by 40% when you transfer to Choice. The transfer is no longer worth doing, in my view. Too much lost value.

Moving miles from one airline to another is a frequent flyer holy grail of sorts, so this is a welcome policy. There are other options for moving miles (see here for the lowdown) but it’s extremely rare to see a 1:1 transfer.

Amtrak’s policies have the habit of going “poof!” and disappearing overnight. Use this transfer option while you can.

- Reader mail: Can I transfer points from one airline to another?

 Loyalty Point Hopscotch: Moving Continental miles just got a little easier

Categorized in: advice, frequent flyer miles, tips