Thursday, March 31, 2016

Low Long-Distance Fares at Qatar Airways

There are some amazing fares available now for travel on The prices quoted below are if you book through but there are also very good deals on the airline's Website.

Some of the round-trip fares include Washington to Dubai for $632, provided you travel during a certain period in April. Other examples are Boston to Hanoi for $669, or New York to Madras for $675.

With prices like these, it could be worthwhile to visit a place like Dubai or Madras, neither of which has been high on my wish list up to now.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Bargain Tour to Australia, New Zealand

Qantas Airlines is offering a very low-cost package to Australia and New Zealand, departing from either Los Angeles or San Francisco. Provided you book by March 31, a tour including round trip air fare and three nights in a hotel in both Sydney and Auckland comes in at a mere $1699. Prices are per person, double occupancy.

Travel is available on certain dates between May and September, winter in the southern hemisphere.
Other gateways are also possible at higher cost. This sounds like a wonderful deal for someone who is relatively immune to the travails of air travel and eager to catch a glimpse of the lands down under.

For an account of a trip to Australia, scroll back to February 1 for a guest post by Dale S. Brown. She opted to stay longer and pay a little more for her package tour, as I would. Overall, she was very pleased by the trip.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Work-Study Pilot Training at Jet Blue

If your favourite way to travel is in the cockpit but you don't have the funds to finance your own training, which can be very expensive, consider a new initiative of It offers the opportunity to undertake a pilot training program that lasts four years and guarantees employment if you complete it successfully. Student pilots also have the chance to earn a salary as entry-level flight instructors through an arrangement with CAE.

To qualify, you need to be at least 23 years old and eligible to work in the United States. The program is designed to increase the diversity of the airline's pilots, while attracting top-level recruits. No previous aviation experience is needed or expected.

I learned about this program through an article on, which seems to be a very useful site for anyone who is or wants to be a pilot. A number of other airlines are also conducting recruiting drives.

Yes, I would be interested, but by the time the training is over I'd be past pilot retirement age, I'm afraid. I loved the one flying lesson I took, but like so many people I didn't have the resources to continue. Good to know this need no longer be a problem, provided you have "the right stuff."

Friday, March 25, 2016

Discounts on Irish Tours

If you book by the end of March, you will receive a 15 per cent discount on the 2016 tours offered by, and this can make some of the offerings quite reasonable. For example, a 10-day tour of the West of Ireland starts, with the discount, at $578 per person and includes accommodation in bed and breakfast places, plus a final night at the luxury Dromoland Castle Hotel. Transportation and some tours are also included, but the price applies only in low season.

The western part of Ireland is the most authentic, the region where Gaelic is still spoken by some. Gaelic is a required course in Irish schools, but few people actually use it in daily life. The West is also a very scenic area, from the Ring of Kerry with its lakes to the Cliffs of Moher facing the Atlantic and Connemara, the wild windswept plains near Galway.

This was traditionally the poorest part of the country, the region hardest hit by the famine of the 19th century. While St. Patrick's Day is just past, Ireland is still in the news because this weekend marks the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, one of the many events which led to Irish independence from Britain.

Ireland is a beautiful country and well worth visiting for scenery, culture and tragic history. It reminds me in some ways of Ukraine, a country which long struggled to be free of rule by its larger (and quite similar) neighbour. Most of my ancestors came from Ireland, so it is hard for me to be objective about the place.

The U.S. State Department recently issued a warning for Americans planning to travel anywhere in Europe to be aware of terrorist threats, so look for more discounts on tours to European destinations.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Travel in a Time of Terror

Following today's attacks at the airport and a subway station in Brussels, it occurred to me that we need new rules for travelling now. I have always advised carrying a reasonable amount of cash in U.S. dollars and the currency of the country you are visiting, but now I think it's a good idea to also carry at least some of the currency of a country through which you transit, even if you have no intention of staying there.

The Brussels airport is closed down for at least several days, and anyone stuck there will need euros. I assume the ATMs are working, but there could be circumstances where they would not. And a lot of people will need to be re-routed, so getting anywhere in or via Belgium may take some time.

It is cumbersome but advisable to carry your passport and some cash on your person. \It may make airport security people nervous, but a money belt is a good thing to have.

I heard a report from Moscow this morning in which the journalist said Moscow airports require you to pass through security before getting into the departures area (the attack in Brussels was in departures, and Moscow has endured a similar incident.) However, in my experience this is not true--I was able to get all the way through the exit control at Sheremetyevo international in September without encountering any type of security or even acquiring a boarding pass.

In any case, it seems we should all be prepared to deal with more security measures while travelling. My deepest sympathies go out to the victims of this latest attack and their families.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Chinese to Own Starwood?

According to, the Starwood Hotel chain has rejected a takeover bid by Marriott in favour of a higher offer from Chinese insurance giant Anbang. This is good news for Starwood shareholders, perhaps not so much for travellers.

Starwood has more than 1,200 hotel properties worldwide, including brands such as Sheraton, W, and Meridien. It appears likely that a bidding war will develop for Starwood, which could raise the price further.

Takeovers often lead to consolidation or spin-offs, as the new owners try to squeeze more profit from existing assets. The more the acquiring company pays, the more they will need to wring from these assets. It sounds to me as if this is all going to lead to higher prices for customers, except perhaps in very competitive markets.

Chinese companies are gobbling up assets around the world, and while I have no reason to believe they are any more grasping than other major corporations, it is an interesting development.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Deals to Europe, Middle East this Spring

There are some very good prices available now for flights to a number of destinations in Europe and the Middle East from Montreal and Toronto during April, May and June. Considering the prices are in Canadian dollars (worth about 75 cents U.S.) the savings are hard to believe.

For instance, you can fly on Turkish Airlines from Montreal or Toronto round trip to Oslo for $569, to Moscow for $585, or to Kiev for $582. To get these rates, which are only available on certain dates, you need to follow the directions given on the Websites YUL deals or YYZ deals http://www.yuldeals.com You probably will not be able to get them from the airline directly, though it is always worth a try.

Another very good fare from Toronto only is to Amman, Jordan on Saudia via Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Reports from the Middle East indicate that very few tourists can be found these days at places like Petra in Jordan or the Pyramids of Egypt, so if you are made of strong stuff this could be a very good time to visit. I visited Jordan in 2003 when tourism was also decimated by the start of the Iraq war, and found it relaxing to be one of the rate tourists.

Tourism is down in Turkey also, but I was dismayed to read that despite that fact the average double hotel room there still goes for about 100 euros. Obviously, Turkey is no longer the cheap destination it once was.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Affordable Rail Adventures

Rail travel can be the ultimate luxury--seats are big enough, you can walk around, you can get off at stations to stretch your legs further. On some trains you can also dine in splendour and spend the night in an elegant compartment, but you are likely to pay a lot for the privilege.

A company called GAdventures provides the chance to take some very interesting rail trips for a lot less money. One such tour takes 28 days and goes from Budapest to Tehran, with stops for sightseeing in Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Iran. The cost starts at $4199 or about $150 a day. This includes transportation, some nights in hotels or guesthouses, guides and some admissions and meals.

Another intriguing option is a 17 day trip on the famed Trans Siberian Railway. It lasts 17 days and costs a minimum of $2999, and in addition to the train ride itself there are tours of Moscow and some Golden Ring cities, as well as Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk and Listvianka, Ulan Ude and Vladivostok. The TransSib can be a difficult trip to arrange, especially from abroad.

There are many other rail tours in India, Europe, Africa and North America. In addition, GAdventures has all kinds of other tours such as hiking, staying with locals, and still more possibilities. One of the good features of their tours is that on most of them single travellers need not pay extra, unless they insist on a room to themselves.

Below is a typical Siberian house near Listvianka, a town on Lake Baikal.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

European Airlines Lead on Gender Equality

Since today is International Women's Day, a celebration that originated in the Soviet Union and is still very popular in Russia, several European airlines are marking the day by sending all or almost all female crews on some of their transAtlantic flights--Swiss, Brussels, Lufthansa, Austrian are among them.

The last time I flew back from Europe it was on Air France and there was a female captain, the first time I had ever experienced this to my knowledge. Of course, women have been flying almost since the dawn of aviation and have set records, such as Beryl Markham being the first person to fly the Atlantic non-stop east to west. They have also flown in combat and continue to do so--in World War II a Soviet squadron of women known as the Night Witches was greatly feared by German aviators..

However, they have had difficulty making inroads into commercial aviation in large numbers in North America. Part of that may be because they are less likely to serve in the military, where a lot of pilots in this part of the world receive their training.

In any case, it is good to see that some European airlines at least have enough female pilots that they can field all-female crews. If gender equality is important to you, it could be something to consider the next time you fly internationally.

Since I wrote this a little while ago, I have seen that at least two airlines in North America, Air Canada and Southwest, also had flights today with only female crew. However, Lufthansa has more than 100 female captains, so the Europeans still seem to be quite a bit ahead.

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Friday, March 04, 2016

Carpe Dealem

Here is another guest post by my friend Dale S. Brown, on the need to act fast in order to take advantage of good travel deals.

"To Snag A Trip
 Grab It Fast
By Dale S. Brown

My friend and I got a deal on a trip to Australia. We went first two weeks of November, 2015.   The trip was described in a previous blog post. 

We paid $1,884.00 for airfare and 6 days in a hotel in Sydney.   We snagged the trip because we grabbed the trip- by making a decision fast.   It was  best deal we had seen for Australia after several years of studying specials.

Previously, we had tried to buy an equally good deal to China.    But we couldn’t decide if we wanted to do it or not.  We called the travel agency.  We then had conversations with each other.   We called again for more information.  We talked some more.  We went back and forth a few more times.   Finally, we decided we would go for it. 

Well, when we tried to reserve the trip, only a few travel dates were left.  The Yangtze river was freezing cold during those time periods.  So we decided not to go.

My friend noticed the Australia deal.  This time, we conference called the travel agency together.  We talked afterwards, “slept on” our decision overnight, and booked it the next day.  We did spend a little bit more, because we wanted to stay longer and visit other places.

When it comes to budget travel, you have to get the deal quickly.   Several years ago my friend and I snagged a deal to Iceland after missing it two years in a row.  In 2011, she asked if I was interested.  This time I said,  “I am on a deadline right now, but I can go on the trip.  So if you are willing to make the arrangements and let me send you a check for the money immediately, I’m going.”

So she made the arrangements, I gave her the check for my portion, and off we went."

As Dale pointed out, deviating from the included flights by, for example, staying longer, often results in higher costs. In the case of a destination like Australia, I would think the difference in cost would definitely be worth it, since the flight from eastern North America is so long. In the case of Iceland, perhaps not.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Talk for your Supper

If you are a native English speaker with the gift of gab, you have the chance to enjoy a free week at a country hotel in Eastern Europe while conversing with locals. An organisation called Angloville provides programs whereby English speakers spend a week with local adults who are learning English in Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary or Romania.

As a speaker, you receive free room and board, transfers to the hotel from the closest major city of the country you choose, and a one-day tour of that city.  Programs run year-round, and the most opportunities are in Poland. In exchange, you converse with a designated student and participate with them in organised activities for about 70 hours per week. In other words, you earn your keep.

Most of the students are young business people, and most of the Anglos are long-term travellers or expats. However, there are no age limits or country preferences with regard to the kind of English you speak. The hotels look very appealing, but it doesn't sound as if you have much chance to relax at them. Generally the hotels are at least an hour or more from any large city.

Initially I was thinking of applying for this program, but with sober second thought realised I would find it exhausting to be required to spend 70 hours a week conversing with anyone, not to mention someone whose English is not very good. This program sounds as if it is best suited to the very talkative. For them, it could be an interesting opportunity.