Tag Archives: hotels

App of the Week -TripIt

TripIt_icon_flatSummer has arrived and people and families all over the country are getting ready for that much needed vacation. The process begins with planning and that is why TripIt is the App of the Week.

A vacation involves planning. Car rentals, hotel reservations, flight plans. All can become an overwhelming task if you are not organized. TripIt brings it all together for you.

To begin with TripIt can organize all your reservations regardless of the airline, hotel or car service.  Once the reservation is made you simply forward the confirmation email to plans@tripit.com and all your reservations are automatically recorded in TripIts’s master itinerary.

TripIt can handle confirmation emails from just about any reservation based service from the moment you leave your home to the moment you return. This includes even railway reservations. Just forward the email and its done. You can also use TripIt on activity planning sites like OpenTable, Evite, Fandango, and StubHub.

You can make changes to any itinerary at will and review your last vacation. TripIt allows you to access your master itinerary on your smartphone, tablet, computer, or other wearable device. Using TripIt you can even access your itinerary offline, while in flight or to avoid roaming charges when traveling abroad.

Other features include:

  • TripIt lets you share all your travel plans with a simple click across social media as well as to the more important people in your life.
  • Sync your travel plans with your personal or private online or mobile calendar automatically. Just sync your trip plans with your calendar of choice. Many different applications support iCal, including Apple iCal (iPhone and iPad), Google Calendar (Android and Gmail), Microsoft Outlook, Sunrise Calendar, and more.
  • Automatically import travel plans from your inbox to your itinerary. No forwarding required.
  • The Traveler Profile remembers everything for you and puts all your important travel documents at your fingertips. The user simply enters all the essential information from your travel documents, like your passport, ID, drivers license, or Global Entry card, for instant access to your documents wherever and whenever your need them.
  • TripIt Traveler Profile centralizes the contacts you need the most like doctors, sitters and other emergency contacts so you can access them while traveling.
  • Traveler Profile lets the user input and store documents for your fellow travelers such as your child’s passport for example. Everyone’s travel information is in one place.
  • All Traveler Profile information is securely encrypted on all devices. A 4-digit PIN is required to access all documents and contacts. More information on TripIt’s security features and policies can be found here.

TripIt is free and available for Apple, Android, Blackberry and Windows platforms



Online Holiday Shopping Series #1

It’s November and the holiday shopping season is upon us again. The African American Cyber Report is launching a weekly series focusing on online holiday shopping. Each week through New Year’s Day we will investigate a different facet of online shopping from safe and secure payments to the apps and websites that get you the best bargain. If we hear of a special sale or online event we will let you know about that as well.

African-Americans are a powerful consumer segment. According to a report from The Nielsen Company entitled The State of the African-American Consumer,” black buying power is nearly $1 trillion. How’s that for a U.S. consumer market segment? Black people are not only a significant market segment but they shop more than other groups, spend less money per trip and spend more time investigating the product before buying. Research indicates black people are smart, savvy shoppers.

Before we examine the choice of credit versus debit cards for shopping online we need to take a quick look at black people and their credit cards. According to a report from the NAACP and public policy research firm Demos entitled “The Challenge of Credit Card Debt for the African-American Middle Class,” approximately 42 % of black households are in debt. These families are borrowing simply to make ends meet and to pay for basic expenses, such as groceries, rent and utilities. Overall black people face greater credit restrictions and are more likely to be subject to harsh credit collection tactics. Many black people pay higher interest rates and fees for alternative financial services that includes pre-paid debit cards and check cashing services. So the picture shows that we have a powerful market presence but we also have problems managing and retaining credit. And I might add that it is not always someone else’s fault.

Credit vs. Debit for Online Shopping

Right off the bat the credit card wins hands down for shopping online. But lets not ignore the benefits of the debit card. Especially if you have a tight budget and need to restrict the spending of yourself or someone else.

Credit cards offer distinct advantages over debit cards.  And if you are holding a credit card now is the time to get real familiar with the protections that come with that card. Make sure you understand what security measures the card offers against fraudulent charges as well as the method for disputing purchases. There are going to be black people who order something from an online store only to discover that it is not what was advertised. As an African-American consumer make sure you know the dispute process . Study it before you hit those online sales. Its your money we’re talking about.

Carrying around a credit card from the right company offers some awesome benefits. These benefits can vary from one card issuer to another so it’s a good idea to study your account agreements for the details. Study that thing and make sure you know it. It can save you some headaches and provide some surprising benefits on everything from buying airline tickets to renting a car to getting a warranty extended. If you’re planning to travel over the holidays then you need to investigate the travel benefits of your credit card. Some credit cards offer travel services like getting a seat upgrade or discounts on luggage fees. Other benefits include rental car upgrades or insurance or hotel discounts and upgrades. Travel insurance is also available from some cards free of charge. Some cards offer help finding a doctor or lawyer. If you buy a product that has a warranty you can actually get that warranty extended for up to a year depending on the credit card. But keep in mind that these benefits are sometimes automatic and others you have to ask for. So studying your card agreement is extremely important. Didn’t I say that before?

The beauty of credit cards is that there is an extra layer between your real money and other people. A debit card or pre-paid card is the same as cash and that is where you find additional, and unnecessary risk. As soon as you make a purchase that money is out of your account.  Any problem with the purchase and its just you and the merchant. And that is a very weak negotiating position. The Better Business Bureau or your bank may be able to help but not much.

By using a credit card, you have a powerful company on your side. This makes disputing charges and getting satisfaction when having to return an item much easier. With a credit card the purchase in dispute is not yet paid for. The card issuer can refuse to honor the demand for payment and that leaves the merchant in a lurch. So that merchant is more likely to respond favorably to your demands. CreditDonkey.com, a credit card comparison website, offers a list of the best credit cards for shopping online.

For all you out of control spenders, credit cards are still better than debit cards. A frequent complaint about using credit cards as a primary form of payment is that the advantages are outweighed by disadvantages for many people. As I stated above many African-American consumers simply can’t handle credit cards without spending more than they can afford. And what happens? Higher interest rates, ruined credit scores, all that.

But overdraft protection on a debit card is even worse. Yes, you can over spend with a debit card. Over charging on your debit card results in multiple overdraft fees which are more than credit card interest rates and late payments. And unlike a credit card bill that arrives once a month your bank account takes the hit immediately. With a credit card, you can close your account and work out a payment plan, but with a debit card you don’t get that option.

Many pre-paid debit cards a very popular in the black community. But being popular is far different from being a good option. Many pre-paid debit cards, while intended to help the African-American community are often doing just the opposite. Pre-paid cards have been criticized for exploiting poor and dis-advantaged black people by charging higher, sometimes exorbitant fees. This is especially so when people make the mistake of thinking of the card as a credit card. But the pre-paid card is a huge and profitable market to the tune of about 500 million cards in circulation channeling billions of dollars in sales. You can find a list of the best and worst pre-paid cards here.

Another payment method you need to consider for your holiday shopping is the retail card. Be aware that these store cards can carry some pretty high interest rates. But at the same time you can take advantage of some pretty good deals by using the store credit card. Some stores will give you as much as 10% off your purchase if you apply for the card at the register. Using these cards does not carry a lot benefits at all. And they are dangerous to your credit report. For example when you fill out that card application it shows up on your credit report and if you close the account it stays on your credit report. But if you are looking for the best retail cards to shop with this holiday season you can find the top ten here.

So as you start hunting for those holiday bargains and eagerly wait for Black Friday or Cyber Monday be aware that there is a difference between a credit and a debit card. Make wise purchases and know what tools and weapons you have at your disposal when using that credit card as you shop this holiday season.

Now you know

Don’t Forget Cyber Security Even on Vacation

canstockphoto4560982Here is some news for you. Seventeen percent of African-Americans take one or more international trips a year. Consider that we spend $48 billion on travel in the United States alone. But black people need to be alert and don’t forget cyber security even on vacation. Taking the time to focus on your cyber security can mean enjoying your days on the beach or trying to get home with maxed out credit cards and empty bank accounts.  Hackers and identity thieves do what they do for one reason, money. So before, during and after that fabulous vacation you need to make sure you are aware and alert to the scams.

Right off the bat you need to be aware that a scam is always out there waiting for you. They begin even before you leave home. For example. We are all looking for the best price on everything. That includes airline tickets. One of the hottest scams running right now is the airline voucher scam. It’s one of Online Scam’s Greatest Hits and works like this. You search Craigslist for tickets to your chosen destination and you find a really good deal. That’s clue number one. The seller needs to sell them right away or they expire and he loses the money. That’s clue number two. And finally he asks that you use a wire transfer to send the money. That’s strike three and you lose. You learn all you need to know about this scam by clicking here.

And here is the latest you better know about. You are comfortable in your hotel room and enjoying your vacation. Now here is the scam. Someone calls the hotel and asks for room #1302. Lets say that’s your room. The operator connects the caller. You answer thinking it must be the hotel since anybody else would call your cell phone. If there is a caller ID it may show the call in coming from the hotel operator.

The next thing you hear is a person claiming to be the front desk. This voice tells you that there is a problem with your credit card and they need the number and the three digit verification code found on the back. Do I need to to tell you that your vacation ends right there if you surrender this information? That is everything a criminal needs to go shopping with your card.

This scam is working because people are too lazy to walk down to the desk to ask what the problem is. You and I both know that if there was a problem with your credit card you would not be in that room. Second, if you been in the hotel a few days then there is no problem and if there is then call your credit card company. You know your business and you know your money. So why would you listen to a voice over the phone? Because these scammers are very good and sound very professional. They can be very convincing. It can happen to you. If you get a call claiming to be from the front desk of your hotel then march your ass down to the front desk and deal with it in person!

Here is a few more steps I suggest black people to take when planning a vacation and also once you are on that fabulous getaway.

When booking your vacation

Before you leave home book your hotel room, beach houses or ocean bungalows first. And use a trusted website or travel agent. Forget using the website with the best deals. You’d be surprised how many people have lost their vacation money to a phony travel website. Or found the service just plain sucks for customer service. Do your homework! Read the reviews for the services you are going to use and re-confirm your booking; not through the website but call the hotels and airlines yourself.

Some people have time shares. Or you may use a friend’s time share. VRBO.com is an outstanding source on staying safe from scams when renting directly from property owners. As matter of fact  it’s a pretty good guide for renting from anyone. Here’s a short list:

  • Ask the owner for referrals from previous renters
  • A popular scam is the phony property owner scam. Check the property for a homeowners association and ask if the person offering the property is the owner or authorized to do so.
  • Ask what company provides professional cleaning services to the property and contact them or anyone else that services the property
  • Make sure you receive a rental agreement or contract specifying all the important terms of the agreement. Check dates, cancellation policy, fees, deposits,insurance, everything! Its your money and your vacation. Don’t play.
  • Use a credit card. Most cards have built-in protections for scams. There is no protection if you send cash or money transfer. And for the record, if the agency or person asks you to do a money transfer that’s a tip off to a scam.  You can also ask to place a deposit with the balance do upon check in.

Securing your devices

We love our devices so if you take one, or more, with you you need to install some form of anti- theft protection. For Android devices Lookout has a security app that works for Apple as well. And Kaspersky labs offers an anti-theft for Android. My best advice is to treat your devices like money. Don’t let it out of your sight! You can find more information at the Kaspersky blog on protecting your devices. Or read my book “Securing Your Digital World.

Write all your numbers down on paper and keep them in a safe place. There is no guarantee you will have internet access or that something won’t happen to your phone or tablet. Write emergency numbers down somewhere just in case. For example, a number of a close friend or relative in case of emergency, hotel number, flight reservation number, any number you may need. Don’t use hotel or public WiFi. Listen, hotels and resorts are hot targets for hackers and cyber thieves. Don’t believe me? Read this.

Finally, diversify your money. Don’t load up on cash. Keep a reasonable amount of cash with you. Have more than one credit card or debit card. And keep them separately. Whatever you are not using keep in the hotel room safe. If you lose one you can cancel it and go to the back up. Keep your passport in the safe as well unless you think you will need it. A good idea is to get a passport card with your passport. Now keep in mind that a passport card has limited use but should be enough in an emergency.

Now you know