New US Customs app eliminates a form, speeds up air border entry

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This form can be a thing of the past in a few U.S. airports.

If you’ve ever traveled abroad and had to fill out one of those paper slips with information about your trip just to go through Customs, you know it can be aggravating to find a pen, hold on to another piece of paper, and write legibly – all while juggling landing, luggage, and maybe even children.

A new mobile app for iPhone released does away with the paper slips – and allows you to answer the “are you traveling with $10,000 in cash”-type questions on your phone ahead of time, and presenting it to the officer when you’re going through Customs, potentially reducing the time it takes to get through the process, and just making it easier overall.

Per CBP,

“MPC currently offers U.S. citizens and Canadian visitors a more efficient and secure in-person inspection between the CBP officer and the traveler upon arrival in the United States. Much like Automated Passport Control, the app does not require pre-approval, is free-to-use and does not collect any new information on travelers. As a result, travelers will experience shorter wait times, less congestion and faster processing.”

From the looks of it, the process seems pretty easy – and you even get (have?) to take a selfie in the process. CBP provided some screen shots of the app:

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Of course, if you have Global Entry ($100 and totally worth it), none of this is even needed — because Global Entry allows you to zoom through Customs by using a kiosk and answering the questions right then and there. Because you’re already pre-screened and given a background check, there’s a pretty good chance you won’t have to actually talk to a human being — something it looks like you still have to do with Mobile Pass. Don’t forget that Global Entry makes you eligible for TSA PreCheck when flying domestically too.

I didn’t notice the app until recently, and apparently the CBP press release was written about it back in August. Unfortunately, it’s only available in certain airports – Atlanta (ATL), Miami (MIA), Chicago O’Hare (ORD), and Seattle (SEA – SeaTac) – but it sure beats having to fill out that darned paper while landing or waiting in line.

And perhaps if you’re like me and have horrible handwriting, it’s definitely worth its weight in megabytes.

Have you used Customs and Border Protection’s free app yet?

The Westin Restort & Casino, Aruba

New Starwood bonus: 2X + 1000 Starpoints through mid-April

As the hotel company does often, Starwood today announced their Double Play promotion – and although it isn’t going to change your life, it’s certainly more points you didn’t already have if you’re staying at a Starwood property for two or more nights between now and April 15, 2015, and even better if you’re staying for longer.

It’s simple: sign up for the deal, and do what you’d normally do – stay at a Starwood hotel (except these) and rack up extra points.

Stay two or more nights, earn double the Starpoints – and if you stay five nights, you can earn an additional 1,000 points (up to 4,000 points) on top of the double.

For example

It's easy to sign up for Starwood's Double Play bonus

It’s easy to sign up for Starwood’s Double Play bonus

Say you’re staying at the Westin Washington, DC City Center – one of my favorite in the area, primarily because of its location – from Jan 21 through Jan 28. It’s going for $179/night for all those nights.

Normally, you’d earn two points per dollar spent. 8 nights at $179/night normally would score you 2864 points, plus whatever elite status bonus you’d receive.

How it works

Normally, you earn two points per dollar spent.

(7 nights at $179/night) * 2 standard points = 2506

However, this bonus program would earn you double that:

2506 base points plus double bonus = 5012

Then, because you’re staying between 5-9 nights, you’ll earn another 1,000 Starpoints (and, of note, you don’t have to stay consecutive nights to get this bonus).

5012 points plus 5-day stay bonus = 6012 points

You can see how this can add up very fast – and even faster if you have elite status which earns you 3x the base points if you’re SPG Gold or Platinum.

There’s a ton of choices

Remember, Starwood hotels comprise of 1,200+ hotels across the globe, and include Westin, St. Regis, W Hotels, Sheraton, aloft, Element, Four Points, Le Meredien, and The Luxury Collection. Again, just remember not all participate.

But you can still do better

Of course, if you put the hotel charges on the Starwood card from American Express,
you earn an additional 2X the points for every dollar spent on top of the above bonuses.

Although if you signed up for the card with a 25,000 Starpoint bonus, you could have four times the points without the hotel stay after spending $3,000 as you would ordinarily.

Point is: there’s no reason to skip this bonus offer if you’re planning on staying at a Starwood hotel (and paying) between now and April 15, 2015.

Sign up for the bonus

What really happened? The Truth About AirAsia Flight 8501

On December 29, 2014, Indonesia AirAsia flight 8501 disappeared from the skies and is now likely at the bottom of the Java Sea. Bodies are being pulled out from the water, and wreckage is being taken in for investigation. But what caused this tragedy — a tragedy that seems to be occurring on a too-often basis these days?

The simple truth: we just don’t know — at least not yet.

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Looking back at 2014: The White House and more

2014 was a different year compared to the last. Now, while most years are, 2013 was a crazy year – I flew a lot. 82,376 miles a lot. But, alas, this year was much less interesting and less traveled – pretty much all if it was “all work and no play,” meaning there were no wild and crazy trips to Dubai, Hawaii, or anything else like there was the year before.

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29,678 miles flown this year — much of it on award miles – but a far cry from trips the year before.

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United sues 22-year-old over low fare “hidden city ticketing” secret; secret is exposed

Ever heard of “hidden city” ticketing? Until yesterday, most people hadn’t either – until United Airlines and Orbitz decided to sue the 22-year-old New York City entrepreneur who developed an ingenious site called Skiplagged.com to allow people to easily search for this secret way to save a ton of money on airline tickets.

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It appears his site is no longer producing working results, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.

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Love TSA PreCheck? Hate the line? Make sure you know this one trick.

It’s almost New Years, meaning the chaos of travel is either about to start back up (for business travelers) or about to end (for holiday vacationers). But for everyone traveling during any busy season, there’s always one thing that bites – going through security.

If you have TSA PreCheck, you know it’s the best thing to happen to airport security ever. But, because of PreCheck’s popularity, sometimes the dedicated line can be HUGE! Sometimes the PreCheck lines can even be longer than the normal lines!

Fortunately, if you have any status with the airline you’re flying, you’ll also see a line for First Class passengers (to which having airline status will usually grant you access), even if you’re not flying in First Class.

But – which line should you go through? First class will most likely be shorter, but PreCheck will obviously be easier because PreCheck.

The right answer: Go through the First Class security line (again, even if you aren’t flying in First Class).

If you have TSA PreCheck, you can usually just go through the First Class or status lines, and the kind TSA human will shuffle you over to the PreCheck line.

I’ve done this countless times now at half a dozen airports over the years since PreCheck was implemented, and it’s worked without fail. If you have PreCheck and you have status, always go through the First Class or status security line.

Update: This PreCheck trick didn’t work for one user (see comments) at Newark. But in my experience, I’ve never had an issue at a multitude of airports. Happy hunting!

Another update: I got word that it doesn’t work at Orlando on the gates 70-129 side as recently as last week. I have used this trick there before, but this was some time ago and not on the part of the airport.

Is TSA planning to ban carry-on bags and electronics on airplanes?

There’s a laundry list of things you can’t bring on an airplane when you travel. But could carry-on bags and electronics like laptops and iPads be next on the list?

After some “chatter” from U.K. intelligence, U.S. counter-terrorism officials have discussed a possible ban on carry-on items, meaning while you sit in a metal tube for hours, you’ll have no iPhone. No laptop. No tablet. At least, that’s according to a new report from NPR.

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6 great ways to fly for cheap during the holidays

Now that Christmas is quickly approaching, there’s a lot of travel going on – and in many cases, if you haven’t yet booked your holiday travel, it’s going to get really (more) expensive, really fast.

Fortunately, there are solid ways to find pretty inexpensive travel through the New Year – though that’s not to say it’s always straightforward. A recent Wall Street Journal article suggests that Sundays are now the best day of the week to buy tickets, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be significantly cheaper, especially if you’re buying within 7 or 14 days of travel.

Here we go with six ways to save big.

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4 ways to make sure your phone comes home with you

Just recently, Department of Homeland Security issued a new edict to certain airports – if your cell phone doesn’t turn on while you go through security, it won’t be allowed through. Allegedly, it’s to help combat terrorism – but you can form your own opinions on that.

So, as someone who travels frequently and frequently finds himself in airports, airplanes and Metro trains without a place to plug in, what’s a guy to do?

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