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THINGS THAT GO DING IN THE E-MAIL
By Joe Brancatelli
September 23, 2010 -- I never worry about things that go bump in the night because it's usually me running into the furniture on the way to the bathroom in some darkened and unfamiliar hotel room.
But I'm beginning to wonder about the things that go ding in the E-mail.
A goodly amount of the E-mail I get from you these days is a forward of a message that you received from some component of the travel world. And the forwarded message always comes with the same question. Give or take a word and a dash of attitude and exasperation, you always ask: What the hell does this mean?
Before I explain what some of the more recent communications actually mean, let me reassure you: You are not alone. When you send me a query about an E-mail you've received, it's guaranteed that dozens of other JoeSentMe readers have done the same. So it's not you who doesn't understand. As usual, it's the travel industry flummoxing its communications with smart, well-educated and uber-savvy business travelers.
THE SECURE FLIGHT WARNING FROM AMERICAN AIRLINES
Eighteen months ago, I told you about Secure Flight, another Transportation Security Administration attempt to…well, who knows. The point was then (as it is now) that the TSA requires all travelers to disclose their gender and date of birth and to present ID that precisely matches the name on the ticket. As Secure Flight has ponderously and bureaucratically rolled from one carrier to another, each airline has sent out a Secure Flight warning. The gist of the warning: Make sure your profile with the airline includes the proper information now required by the TSA.
Continental Airlines confused its flyers earlier this year with a badly worded Secure Flight E-mail. This month, it's American Airlines' turn. AA's E-mail made it sound like you couldn't fly if you didn't make your reservations three days before departure. Despite the tangled jargon, all the E-mail meant is that American wanted you to make sure your profile included the proper information. Once that Secure Flight stuff (gender, date of birth, ID name) is there, American will populate your future reservations automatically whenever you log in.
THE 'CLEAR IS BACK' PROMOTION
I won't waste too much time recapping the long and sad "trusted traveler" saga. Suffice to say it was created at the same time and in the same legislation that created the TSA and Congress envisioned it as a way to speed no-threat frequent travelers through airport security checkpoints. But the TSA threw an endless series of roadblocks at the private-sector initiative and the leading provider, Clear, was created by a tone-deaf bullyboy who had an inflated idea of his entrepreneurial skills, political acumen and business-travel savvy. Clear collapsed of its own weight last year after failing to reach a critical mass of interested travelers or offering any meaningful security bypass.
For reasons known only to themselves, a new group has purchased Clear's "assets" and aims to revive the program. There will supposedly be a new Clear service at Denver International next month and in Orlando in November. (Another group has revived registered traveler at Indianapolis Airport.) Clear's E-mail in recent days to former members promises free membership in the new program for long as their original term was due to last. That's fine for what it is.
But for anyone thinking about re-upping with Clear or joining any new registered traveler plan, please remember that the TSA has officially washed its hands of the programs. The agency has clearly stated that TSA will never offer registered-traveler members any useful bypass of security procedures. At best, a registered-traveler membership will give you some line-cut privileges before you reach the security checkpoint. Given the state of security lines now (usually not too bad) and the fact that many of us already have line-cut privileges thanks to our airline elite status, the renewed Clear and its new-wave imitators are essentially useless. With or without a Clear card, you'll still be taking off your shoes, removing your jackets and pulling out your laptops.
THE GLOBAL ENTRY SOLICITATIONS
Despite the TSA's dogged resistance to domestic registered-traveler plans, other government agencies have actively promoted and expanded Global Entry. It's a system that lets you bypass virtually all of the Customs and Immigration folderol when you return to the United States from overseas. At 20 of the nation's busiest international airports, travelers enrolled in Global Entry use an ATM-like kiosk to handle formalities. At $100 for five years, Global Entry is a bargain for frequent international travelers.
Customs officials and several airlines have teamed up to solicit you for membership via E-mail. And even though the E-mails seem like a pitch for a too-good-to-be-true product, it's mostly true. Global Entry is a great timesaver. If the system has a drawback, it's that a promised series of partnerships with other nations' customs-bypass services has yet to materialize. Right now, Global Entry membership only qualifies you for customs bypass when you enter The Netherlands, which operates a service for its citizens called Privum. But that shouldn't stop you from joining Global Entry if you fly overseas with any regularity and return to any of the 20 U.S. airports with the Global Entry infrastructure.
THE BLIZZARD OF CREDIT CARD PITCHES
Every frequent flyer or frequent guest program that has your E-mail address is pitching you to take a (or another) credit card. And most offers, while growing constantly richer, simply aren't worth churning your credit portfolio. The notable exception: Chase's no-foreign-exchange-fee cards offered through Hyatt and InterContinental's Priority Club Rewards. (I wrote about forex fees on credit and ATM cards here and the Hyatt and InterContinental cards here.)
But if you're into building your program balances cheap, you should not ignore the solicitations from American Airlines and Citi, its credit card issuer. Citi is currently offering three separate varieties of AAdvantage cards and the bonus is huge: 75,000 miles if you spend $1,500 on the card within the first six months. Citi is even waiving the membership fee for the first year. If you didn't get this pitch, here's a link to the same offer online. Much as I dislike Citi these days--I've been doggedly phasing out my Citi accounts even though it was my primary bank for 35 years--I don't see how most frequent flyers can resist picking up 75,000 miles for just $1,500 in spending.
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ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Joe Brancatelli. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.
This column is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.