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Getting through airport security with CLEAR – My experience

Posted on 11 December 2012 by David

Airport security with CLEAR, what is it?

I received an email the other day that had a headline “CLEAR is now at Westchester airport!”. Having seen a CLEAR entry point at security while flying out of SFO (San Francisco) earlier this year, the email peaked my interest as I was going be flying out of HPN very frequently in the near future.

If you’ve never heard of CLEAR before, the idea is simple.  It is a commercial endeavor aimed at allowing you to bypass the long ID and boarding pass lines at the security checkpoints in airport terminals.   They give you the means to shoot past the long lines and go straight into the screening area.

Great in theory but good in practice?

CLEAR doesn’t operate at a lot of airports so the benefit is, I think, better for business travelers who fly out of the same airport frequently. Since I happen to be flying out of HPN (Westchester airport) often, I decided to give them a try.

Note that there is a process you have to go through before you can use CLEAR at the airport.  You need to physically go to one of their offices and have your documentation verified and you need to have your fingerprints and retinas scanned. It doesn’t take long to do and you’re in and out of the office in less than 15 minutes. Once that’s done, you get your CLEAR smart card in the mail within a week or two.

On my first day using CLEAR at HPN I happened to get there super early (5:30am in fact!).  HPN is a small airport so there’s not that many people there at that time.  There was no line at the TSA ID check so I could have just sped right through that without using CLEAR but since I was eager to try out my CLEAR pass, I went to the CLEAR area instead.

At HPN there are two large kiosks and two friendly CLEAR agents  there who help you get through.  I handed over my CLEAR photo ID smart badge over to one of the agents.  She inserted it into the kiosk and I did a fingerprint scan. It instantly recognized me and the agent signaled the ok to her partner to unlock a special shortcut door into the screening area.

All in all it took about 30 seconds to get through.  It was a breeze.

OK, but did it save time?

Honestly speaking, since there was no line that morning at the TSA ID check, I would have been in the screening area a few moments before I would have walked through the CLEAR shortcut so no real-time savings for me that morning.  However, I’ve been at HPN when the ID badge check wraps around itself a few times so I can see it saving a good 10-15 minutes of waiting when the line is long.

How much is it?

It’s $179 a year for an individual and less for family and corporate accounts.  At that price you need to consider whether it’s something you’ll use frequently.

How does this compare to TSA Pre Check?

I don’t have any experience with TSA Pre Check but from what I have read, the premise is similar.   TSA Pre Check aims at saving you time in the screening area.   One nice thing about TSA Pre Check is that if you already have Global Entry, you can participate in TSA pre-check right off the bat.  You can find more info on TSA pre-check at TSA’s pre-check website.

Where can you use CLEAR?

Unfortunately not at that many places.  Here’s the list as of December 2012.  The latest list can be found on the CLEAR website.

  • Orlando International Airport (MCO)
  • Denver International Airport (DEN)
  • San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
  • Westchester NY Airport (HPN)

Is CLEAR worth having?

For me, it’s too early to say.  $179 is a sizable investment.  It’s along the same lines as asking if paying $400 a year for  lounge access is worth it. If you fly out once a week out of any of the airports with CLEAR and you are constantly short on time, you probably should consider it.

I’ve seen CLEAR at SFO (San Francisco airport) as well and I recall there being a zero line at CLEAR.  At the time I had no clue what it was about, I thought it was for airport personnel.  Now I know better and it would have saved me the 15 minutes it took to get through the TSA ID check line if I had a CLEAR membership then!

Now that I have it, I have to try it out a few more times to find out if it’s worth it for me.  I tend to fly really early in the morning when the lines are short so it may not benefit me as much but like I said, lines do get long at HPN later in the day so if I were to fly more often in the later morning or afternoons, then it might be worth it to save the annoyance of waiting in line.

So it depends on your situation.  If you tend to fly often when the airport is busy it might be worth it.

Have you tried out CLEAR?  Is it the best thing since sliced bread for you?  I’m curious to see what you think.

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My First Day of Scuba Diving Course at Hanauma Bay Hawaii

Posted on 25 November 2012 by onthegroundtravel

 

Diving in Hanauma Bay Hawaii

This is a guest post from Vic Dinovici who writes about his first experience scuba diving in Hanauma Bay Hawaii (on the island of Oahu).  He liked it so much he’s now a scuba instructor for HopTours.com.   Enjoy!

About Vic:

Vic is all about snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, scuba diving and all outdoor activities especially if is about water. In the hot sunny days you will find him going deep into the Pacific Ocean waters, taking pictures with the reef marine life and enjoying a good time with friends on Hawaii beaches.

His Story:

So, scuba diving is kind of a new-found passion of mine. I tried it on the last day of a vacation a few years ago and got completely hooked—unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to explore and dive since we were heading back home the next day. That’s why I recently decided that I was going to take a good portion of my upcoming vacation and spend it all scuba diving and exploring.

When I was figuring out where I wanted to go, I knew that I was going to need a place that was good for beginners (since I had only been once before), but that was also going to be worth all the time and money I was going to spend. That’s why I decided on Hanauma Bay—everyone told me just how gorgeous it was, and it was also perfect for beginners because of it’s shape and calm waters. It’s this protected little piece of paradise that doesn’t have any turbulent water or crashing waves like the open ocean, and it’s also home to this incredible coral reef that has so many different types of fish that you’ll lose count. I decided that I was going to go for my scuba diving certification, and registered with a group that offered a three-day diving course with certification at the end of it.

The first day of my diving course Hanauma Bay, I made sure to arrive at the park bright and early because once the parking lot is full, they don’t allow anyone else in (it’s to cut down on too many visitors causing damage to the reef). After I paid my admission fee, I had to hike a ways down to the beach—although it wasn’t too long, I was so anxious to get into the water that it felt like eternity! Finally I saw the bay, and I was so glad that I had chosen to come diving here: the water was crystal clear, the beach was beautiful with palm trees swaying in the breeze—it was everything I could have wanted. I found my instructor, who had me watch a video that talked about how to take care of the reef and wildlife, as well as gave the basics of scuba diving. Once that was finished, I got to sit in the shade of the coconut trees while my instructor went over the basics of everything—after that it was time to get suited up and into the water! Everything was so beautiful, and I felt so confident in that little area knowing that I was safe from any danger the open water held.

The next two days were pretty similar, except that I spent time learning how to map out my own dives, staying safe while scuba diving, and other necessary skills for my certification. Finally, I passed my test on the last day and was officially certified to go diving in the open water on my own! I spent the rest of my vacation diving in and around Hanauma Bay—exploring the few shipwrecks that were in the area and just generally enjoying my time in the water. It was such an amazing vacation, and I can’t wait to go back!

Are you interested in sharing a travel experience with the world? Email us to discuss your topic and we might select you!

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Comparison of Smart Chip Credit Cards in U.S. – Chip & Pin

Posted on 26 June 2012 by David

Smart Chip Credit Card - Blue

Today is a quick one. There are only TWO chip-and-pin smart chip credit cards available in the USA.

If you are interested in the chip-and-signature smart cards, we have a detailed comparison table created to help you decide.

For a comprehensive list of all the smart chip credit cards available in the U.S., you should refer to the post here.

Not sure if you even need a smart card?  Then you must read this post.

Chip-and-pin Cards Compared

Below are all the chip-and-pin cards at a glance.

Card Name Issuing Bank Annual Fee Foreign Exchange Fees Rewards Sign Up Promotion
GlobeTrek Visa® Rewards Card Andrews Federal Credit Union None! 1% Visa Platinum Rewards

  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
5,000 points after first purchase
The Elite Credit Card UNFCU $50 None Rewards

  • 2 points per $1 at supermarkets and dining
  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
LOUNGE CLUB™ cards allow access to over 350 VIP lounges worldwide

** Please refer to comments box below on how to apply for the GlobeTrek VISA Rewards Card.  We will write a post shortly with detailed instructions.  In the meantime, if you have questions or run into any issues, feel free to drop us a note!

Smart Chip Credit Cards from trips around the world - using credit cards

 

How to Decide Which Chip-and-Pin Card to Apply

 

The best smart chip credit card for you depends on your lifestyle and spending habit.

Why?

This is because everyone places a different value on the various benefits offered by a credit card.

For us, first and foremost, saving money is key.  So, anytime we can save cash or get more rewards to subsidize our travel, we like that smart chip credit card a little bit more.

Let’s look at the easy stuff first.

On Sign Up Promotion, the GlobeTrek Visa Card wins because we will get 5000 points after 1st purchase.  Staying in lounges at the airport is a luxury that we will trade 5000 points for.

On Rewards, we think the Elite Credit Card wins, although not by much.  This is because while the rewards program of the Elite Credit Card is slightly richer, we have another card we use for grocery and dining spend, so we will not likely take advantage of the 2 points per $1 at supermarket offer.  It will be a nice backup card though in case we forget the other card.

Now, the tricky part is how to evaluate annual fee and foreign exchange fee.  It depends on how much you plan to spend overseas.

Essentially, you are trying to compare $50 vs. 1% of foreign spend.

If you think you will put more than $5000 on your new credit card from overseas, then apply for the Elite Credit Card because you will spend more on the foreign exchange fee with the GlobeTrek Card than the annual fee on the Elite Credit Card.

On the other hand, if you think you will spend less than $5000 overseas, then by all means, apply for the GlobeTrek Visa Card because the 1% you spend on foreign exchange fees on that card will be less than the annual fee on the Elite Credit Card.

**Caveat Emptor? We noticed one inconvenience on the Elite Credit Card in that it will automatically enroll you in a 60-day complimentary term life insurance product and the cost of this product will be automatically billed to your Elite Credit Card starting on the 61st day.  If you don’t need term life insurance you can opt-out before the 61st day, but you must call a designated number on the fine print of the application to cancel.  We think this is a very questionable practice to automatically opt-in everyone to this (eventually) paid product.  So all else being equal, we will sign up for the GlobeTrek Visa Card instead.

Everyone has different spending habits, so think about how you spend, then decide on the card you want to apply.

 

Which smart chip credit card are you planning to apply for?  Any questions, drop us a comment below!

 

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photo by: 4nitsirk

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Comparison of Smart Chip Credit Cards in U.S. – Chip & Signature

Posted on 24 June 2012 by David

Smart Chip Credit Card - Gold

Smart chip credit cards are becoming more important to carry on your trip abroad, as more merchants overseas discontinue their support for the magnetic strip credit cards predominately available in the U.S.

We have researched the list of smart chip credit cards you can apply for in the U.S. previously.  Today, we would like to provide a quick comparison of chip and signature smart cards available in the country.  Tomorrow I’ll compare the available chip and pin cards.

Key Considerations in Deciding the Right Card for You

The table below shows all the chip and signature cards available in the U.S. today.

None of the cards carry any foreign exchange fees (which is great news!) and all cards offer a rewards program.  All cards, with the exception of the J.P. Morgan Select Visa Signature Card, give you a sign-on bonus as well.

If you just want to get a smart chip credit card for travel (or bragging right for being ahead of the curve), get a card with no annual fee.  At this time, only the FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa and J.P. Morgan Select Visa Signature offer no fee for the first year.  All cards have an annual fee after the first year.

However, after the first year, you can always cancel the card (just make sure you use up any rewards points in your account before you cancel), or call the bank and see if it will extend the no-fee promotion for you for another year (many banks will do that especially if you have been a good customer to them).

Which Chip and Signature Card We Would Pick and Why

Looking at the some of the benefits and features of each card, it appears that US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa may be a decent card.  It has the lowest annual fee of all the cards, and no fee for the 1st year. That’s something to keep in mind especially if you plan to keep the card longer than a year.  As far as rewards are concerned, this card is currently offering bonus points.  The points will get you $50 for every 5,000 points which is equal to 1% cash back.  it also has a sign up promotion.

If it were up to us, our first choice would be the  US Bank FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa by US Bank and our second choice would be the JP Morgan Select Visa Signature.  Both have no fees for the first year.  But by all means, take a look at the table below and pick the one that fits your spending style the most!

Chip-and-signature smart cards

Below are all the chip-and-signature cards compared side by side.

Card Name Issuing Bank Annual Fee Foreign Exchange Fees Rewards Sign Up Promotion
FlexPerks Travel Rewards Visa USBank $0 first year, $49 thereafter None FlexPerks rewards

  • 2 points per $1 spent on gas, grocery or airline purchases, whichever you spend most on each monthly billing cycle, and on most cell phone expenses
  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
15,000 bonus FlexPoints after the first $500 in net purchases in the first 90 days.
J.P. Morgan Select Visa Signature Chase $0 first year, $95 thereafter None Chase Ultimate Rewards

  • 2 points per $1 on air, hotel, and auto rentals
  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
None
J.P. Morgan Palladium Chase $595
(this is not a typo)
None Chase Ultimate Rewards

  • 2 points for every $1 spent on travel
  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
35k points for spending $100,000 a year
British Airways Visa Signature® Card Chase $95 None British Airways Avios points

  • 2.5 Avios per $1 on British Airways
  • 1.25 Avios per $1 everywhere else
50,000 Avios Bonus after first use
The Hyatt Credit Card Chase $75 None Hyatt Gold Passport

  • 3 points per $1 at Hyatt
  • 1 point per $1 everywhere else
2 free nights at any Hyatt, worldwide, the first time you use the card.

 

Which smart chip credit card did you apply for?  Any questions, drop us a comment below!

 

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Hawaiian Volcanoes – Feeling the Breath of the Earth

Posted on 18 September 2011 by onthegroundtravel

Hawaii is known for its volcanoes.  One of the most mesmerizing moments on my recent trip there was to feel the heat generated by the lava from deep within the crust of the earth through a tiny vent hole on the ground.

The place was the Kilauea Ike Trail in the Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. It was a 3 hour hike through lush green forest and a barren frozen lava field. As we walked across the lava field (which took an hour to walk across), we imagined the hot explosive lava that was once beneath our feet. Today, the only evidence of volcanic activity there is the steam vents that litter across the field. The steam is only visible on a wet rainy day. I think seeing and experiencing the steam was our blessing for having braved through rain and mud to finish this trail that day.

We were forewarned by a park ranger that one could get burned by the steam. As such, we tested the soil around the vent hole first to make sure it was not too hot, and then slowly moved our hands over the hole. We immediately felt the undeniable heat that bubbled through the hole, straight from the lava still active down below! The experience was both humbling and invigorating at the same time. I had my proof that Mother Earth is still alive and breathing that day!  If you are planning a visit to Hawaii, you can not miss the Volcanoes National Park.

Hawaiian Airlines is running a pre-black Friday sale!  Expires 11/26/2012

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