On the road in search of Mystery (and discovery)…

california - born in the usa mystery tourAs I return from another successful “scouting trip” across this great land, I come home with the knowledge that another of our popular Mystery Tours is going to be a big hit with our more adventurous travelers. For the past five days, two of us (Ryan Quinn, the man who is redesigning our web site and updating it to be as user-friendly as possible, served as navigator) have wound our way through two states, in search of the perfect additions to our spring Mystery Tour, Born in the USA.

We found some wonderful places to eat, things to see, places to discover. But since it’s a mystery tour, I can’t tell you about them. At least not completely. But what if you could spend a week on the road (ok, technically 8 days) and learn how things are made, how our country grew to take it’s place in the world, and be treated to a variety of cultural and fun experiences along the way? What if I told you you would stay in one of the finest and most exclusive resorts in the country, enjoy the chance to sample wonderful foods and see things you never knew existed? Would that spark your interest?

Mystery Tours are an interesting concept. Give someone a lot of your hard-earned money, and trust them to take you someplace fun and interesting. We’ve been offering these trips for 27 years. They are our most popular travel product. Our travelers trust us to come up with “never-visited-before-places” all across the country. Born in the USA, at the end of April, is no exception. Take the plunge and discover mystery touring. You missed Lewis and Clark’s expedition, you didn’t sail with Columbus, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go in search of discovery…

The End of An Era…Peter, Paul and…

This post has very little do to with travel. It has a lot to do with life. Mary Travers passed away Wednesday, September 16th. Many don’t know her by her last name, but rather by her first. For the last 4+ decades, she has been the “Mary” of one of America’s legendary folk trios, Peter, Paul & Mary.

For some, they were three people who wrote songs protesting the war in Viet Nam and other social injustices. Some probably considered them left-wing wackos (and still do). But I suggest to you they were (and still are) the conscience of the country, often during times of great social stress and disagreement.

They wrote of real places like El Salvador, and of magical characters like Puff, The Magic Dragon. People say to be at one of their concerts was like taking a trip through time, through our country in the last 40 years. That’s what people say. Personally, I don’t know. For despite the fact that Sports Leisure Vacations took people to see the famous trio in concert many times, I was never able to tag along. You know, one of those things you keep putting off, thinking there will always be another chance. This time there won’t be another chance. It makes me sad.

Peter and Paul have indicated they will carry on. It’s reassuring to know they will continue to carry their message of social justice and hope. They have entertained countless millions of people in their careers as musicians. I hope it will be the same, but I know it will not.

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today. Farewell Mary Travers. Thank you for the joy you brought to our lives. Amen.

Airlines Continue to Goose the Flying Public, or, Grab Your Ankles, Here Come the Airlines Again

Airlines continue to tack on fees and added charges anywhere they can in what seems to this observer to be a remarkably effective way to aggravate even the occasional traveler.  Just this past week, three carriers announced increases to checked bag fees.  In fact, if you are flying one of the “legacy” carriers (United, American, US Air, Delta/Northwest and Continental), taking a short trip and checking two bags, it’s entirely possible that the government-imposed taxes on your ticket, combined with the charges to check your bags, could end up being more than the cost of the actual transportation!

Airlines have taken the same tack as rental car companies, who for years have been tacking on everything from the fees they pay the airport to do business there (my landlord calls it rent, they call it a “concession fee” on the bill), to property taxes (I kid you not, take a look at the invoice) to ridiculous charges to refill the gas tank ($5, $6 even $7 a gallon).  It took the airlines a little while to figure out how to play this game, but greed is helping them close the gap quickly, and it’s not good news for travelers.  Baggage fees are rising, literally on an almost daily basis.  You’ll pay for pre-packaged food, a movie, a cocktail; US Air even tried charging for water for a time before public outcry made them rethink their approach.

Isn’t it interesting that among the three major carriers to post a profit in the most recent quarter you can find Southwest and Jet Blue airlines (Air Tran, which does not serve Sacramento is the third).  Neither charges a fee for the first two checked bags.  And while they do charge for cocktails in flight, the rest of the fees, up to now, have remained property of their competitors.   But now there are signs that even Southwest is falling into the abyss.  Last week Southwest announced a $20 round trip fee to secure a lower numbered/lettered boarding pass.

There has been one positive side to the baggage fees.  People are bringing less junk with them on the road.  There seems to be a prevailing attitude that even if you paid $2,000 a person for your vacation, you aren’t going to give an airline an extra $50-$60 to transport that second suitcase.  Down side – people are cramming more into the one bag they check, and carrying on more luggage, creating more competition for the overhead space on the plane.   And that one checked bag tends to weigh 10-15 pounds more than it used to.  As a Tour Director who has to handle those suitcases on an almost daily basis, I can only think of one comment.  Oh joy.

There seems to be no end in sight to the fee-free-for-all.  Ryan Air, a low-cost carrier in the UK, is installing one pound coin slot in the toilets on board their planes.  Don’t have correct change you say?  Hmmm, guess it will be a long trip.  Which US airline will be the first to add this insult to previous injury?  Stay tuned, and keep your hand on your wallet, especially on your way to the airport.  Or the john. – Mark

(Ed. Note – Sports Leisure Vacations is proud of our policy of including any fees for the first checked bag in the price of your trip.  This policy is based on baggage fees as of August 15, 2009, when our annual catalog went to press.)